Celluloid Smokers

I find it fascinating to pick out instances of pipe smoking in films and print. Whether it be found in  “almost films” like television productions  or internet digital media, or perhaps in more unusual places like bumper stickers or tattoos (not a montagereference to Fantasy Island), it seems the recurring problem is the relatability to the average onlooker. I’m always achuckle inside when a youthful person loves to count the likes of Tove Lo among the great artist-philosophers of all time, but draws a blank when faced with Brian Wilson because he was “before their time”. Well, so was Shakespeare, but then, let’s not make a this a bitter indictment of cultural awareness gaps, and just talk tobacco.

 

In a main hallway of our facility is a classic poster for Opal Cigars that I did a double take on when I noticed a copy adorning the walls of a banquet room in an episode of Big Bang Theory. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up in the kind of world where we wouldn’t have to seek out old Edward G. Robinson movies on TCM or harken back to Middle Earth vignettes to catch a glimpse of what passes for real life herfin’ and puffin’. I sometimes hearken back in disappointment to one of my first pipe purchases. It was a nicely etched gourd calabash, bent to full Sherlock Holmesian contours. My constant companion cried out “looky here” on my behalf as I bellowed out real smoke upon the assembled multitude. Now, sadly, I find myself hard pressed to find any representations of my old beloved in any accessible literary art. Nor is there any Basil Rathboneish or Nigel Brucian filmage of said same pipe extruding from the lips of the sagacious sleuth. All measly briars and such. And lo, even now, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a cigarette junkie!

 

So if being stuck in the past is essential to our cause, why is it that a film often touted as a veritable love letter to pipe smoking has NO poster art of the hero brandishing a pipe? In fact, I can find more screen shots of co-star Melvyn Douglas with a pipe than good old Mr. Blanding himself! Come on, man! MUST I freeze frame to see what tobacco Cary Grant is loading up? And must I speed search past the centerfold to see how many bents and how many straights the Dead Poets are sporting during the sax solo in the cave? Why doesn’t the Duke ever match a briar like Barry Fitzgerald and the rest of the drunken pub-sodders? If he’s such a Quiet Man, he should have plenty of opportunity to stoke up some Peterson Irish Flake, or at least some Sutliff Irish Creme in his Brandy (or would it have been a Billiard)? Now I’m getting mad! I need a better cache of memories on film to keep alive the noble pipe and bowl traditions so desperately in need of resuscitation. Must we settle for Kevin Costner ponderously plotting violence while stereotypically toking away at a corn cob with his Hatfield in one hand and his McCoy in the other? Help me Obi-Wan G. Robinson, you’re my only hope!

 

Speaking of which, I hear there is a great scene in a 1938 epic called I Am The Law that reminds me of a cool move I made with the aforementioned Calabash. It was a college party night at a  friends house off campus. I was all decked out in a wild plaid sport coat reminiscent of Ralph Kramden going roller skating. Amazingly, likely due some potent potables coursing through my confidence, I was engrossed in conversation with a beauty beyond my wildest expectations. She must have fallen for the luscious aroma of the Amphora. As I exuded savior faire from every pore and wry remarks about all things intellectual, I suddenly realized I was actually dancing up a storm with the lucky lass! This was great! Thank you Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and pipe makers the world over – this was sure to lead to greatness! We undulated and over indulged for what seemed like hours. Unfortunately, it was only a minute or so when I felt a cautious tap on my shoulder.

 

“Excuse me, Sherlock, … you’re on fire!”

 

I wondered for a moment, expecting he merely noticed my incredible skill with Lady Luck. Then I realized why I wasn’t making my partner choke with second hand aromatics. In my rush to paradise, I had excitedly placed my smoking lure in my jacket pocket – which was now ablaze with irreparable holey-ness. After a few manic moves to smother the flames with my left hand, I found my right hand still wonderfully secure around the waist of said temptress. She smiled understandingly and we danced into the night. At least for a moment or two. I recall leaving the party quite alone, so I guess she thought twice about engaging a knucklehead whose pockets could not be relied upon to contain the necessary composure one would need to slide into a ninth inning win. If this had happened in more recent times, it surely would have gone viral. Flash forward?

 

*And oh yes, allusions aside; if you expected this article to bear a harder resemblance to a certain brand of pipe cleaners, or to gutter locations of the mind, or to films more suited for bachelor parties or storage behind highly partitioned display areas, … then the aging adage of reading the end of the book before the beginning to see how it all turns out might  have been in order. Just see the movie.*

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