Saturday, December 01, 2007

That Dog Won't Hunt, or, Cigarette Shenanigans

{All photos by Maura.}

Paul Collins at Weekend Stubble has a fascinating post up today about a forthcoming article he's written for the New York Times Book Review [It's now up at the Times site.]
about the cigarette ads that were bound into the middle of a lot of American paperbacks in the 1970s. Though I've come across these when buying used books before, I'd forgotten all about them--and I certainly never knew how commmon they were. (Collins reveals that Lorillard alone ran ads in 540 million paperbacks in one three-year period.)

He links to a creepily nefarious 1986 memo from a Phillip Morris executive noting that he had commissioned a positive review of a book, Robert D. Tollison's Smoking and Society: Toward a More Balanced Assessment, and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to plant it in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I found a real treat buried in the memo: the reviewer, David Hunter (described by the exec as "a freelancer who wants to work for me") submitted the review under the pen name Leigh Hunt.

The English lit fans among you will recognize that name. (And don't you love his louche pose in that portrait?) Friend of Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Hazlitt, among many others, Hunt was in his lifetime well known for his poetry, his political journalism (which he put in the service of liberal political reform), and his integrity. He spent time in jail for attacking the Prince Regent in print, and he remained within at least arm's length of financial ruin his whole life. As his Wikipedia entry puts it, Hunt should be remembered for
his unremitting literary industry under the most discouraging circumstances, and for his uncompromising independence as a journalist and an author.
Dickens called him
The very soul of truth and honour,
while Byron, in his journal, wrote that
Hunt is an extraordinary character, and not exactly of the present age. He reminds me more of the Pym and Hampden times--much talent, great independence of spirit, and an austere, yet not repulsive, aspect. If he goes on qualis ab incepto, I know few men who will deserve more praise or obtain it. . . . [H]e is a man worth knowing. . . . [W]ithal, a valuable man, and less vain than success and even the consciousness of preferring "the right to the expedient" might excuse.

So why did David Hunter use Hunt's name? I think there's no question that he was thumbing his nose at his boss at Philip Morris, whom he could be confident wouldn't know Hunt. Was he also just indicating his utter cynicism, as the taking of the assignment in the first place might suggest? Or could he possibly have secretly been attempting to sabotage the company's efforts--was he trying to set off alarm bells among the review editors to whom the piece would be submitted?

That last does, I grant you, seem unlikely. But people's relationships to cigarettes--and thus to cigarette companies--are often complicated. Take as an example this passage from Luc Sante's spectacular, nigh-erotic paean to cigarettes, "Our Friend the Cigarette," available in his recent collection, Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005 (2007):
Nowadays no one will really defend smoking, even the most unregenerate addicts being inclined now and then to sermonize against their filthy habit. Hardly anyone wishes to dignify the appalling cynicism of the tobacco cartels and their decades of suppressing facts and falsifying statistics. When you see a tract issued by a smokers' rights group, you can be sure that it originated either in the public-relations department of a cigarette manufacturer or else somewhere on the coldly literal-minded fringe of the libertarian movement.
And yet . . .
Maybe there are ex-smokers out there who feel uncomplicated relief at having quit. I doubt there are very many, though. Your cigarette was a friend--the sort of friend parents and teachers warned you against, who would lead you down dark alleys and leave you holding the bag when things went wrong--but a friend nevertheless. It's terribly sad that you can't enjoy a smoke now and again without tumbling into the whirlpool of perdition, the way you can take a glass of spirits on the weekend with no danger that by Monday you will end up filtering the shoe polish after exhausting the cooking sherry.
I wonder whether David Hunter was a smoker . . . in 1986, a man following the sometimes lonely, hand-to-mouth existence that is the life of a freelance writer, taking a distasteful job from a cigarette company to pay the bills? My bet's on the butts.

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