I don't know of anyone who smokes a pipe, do you? (I'm talking traditional tobacco pipes, not hookas and those used for drugs.) Today, when we think of pipe smokers, the images that come to mind most likely include Sherlock Holmes, old sea captains, General Douglas MacArthur, and Santa Claus. However, just a few decades ago pipe smoking was quite the fashion among younger men, a fact that is not lost on the writers and producers of Mad Men - the intellectual character of Paul Kinsey, as played by Michael Gladis, is often seen puffing on a pipe, and Gladis is a pipe fan offscreen. My own father picked up the pipe habit in the 1940s or 50s and was a lifelong pipe smoker, never opting for cigarettes or cigars.
Pipes have been around for centuries, but despite mass production and distribution of cigarettes in the 20th century, pipe smoking really seemed to have taken off in America by the 1950s. By then they had become part of the quintessential image of men, particularly fathers. Even children's books depicted dads smoking a pipe - this image is from a 1959 children's book called Cowboy Andy:
These two 1950s ads, for Van Heusen and Izod, show men with pipes:
I have a theory that pipe smoking was bolstered, in part, by ads such as these (which come from VintageAdsandStuff) meant to show the habit as sophisticated and attractive to the opposite sex. A man with a pipe was thought to be sexy, and the pipe's aroma irresistible to women. I don't know, my mother and I found the smell of my dad's Half and Half most times to be anything BUT intoxicating.
I saved the best for last. The man lighting up in this one is the hit of the party - and the blonde with his arm around him is declaring that she is in love with the tobacco that he's wearing, and the other blonde is wondering if he's married!
I will admit - partly because of my upbringing - that there is something homey and attractive about seeing a man with a pipe. My favorite performer, Bobby Darin, loved to smoke a pipe in the 60s, and was often photographed with one:
Darin was even photographed with a pipe on the cover of his album "Love Swings." Kevin Spacey later said that while filming the Bobby Darin biopic "Beyond the Sea", that the art crew chased him around for days with a cap and pipe, to try to get him to recreate the album cover for the movie.
Then of course we have Hugh Hefner, who was rarely seen in the Playboy mansion without his essential pipe and smoking jacket:
Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons smoked a pipe on the show:
Other famous pipe smokers are said to include (via FujiPub) Yul Brenner, Bill Cosby, President Gerald Ford, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So why did pipe smoking - at least in public - fall so out of fashion? I have a few theories. First, it's hardly a portable smoking habit - you need to carry around with you a pipe, a packet of tobacco, and a lighter. Secondly, smoking pipes is all about relaxation and taking your time and slowly getting that nicotine high - a pastime way too slow for our fast driven, instant gratification world. Lastly, it DOES cause cancer and is no safer than cigarette or cigar smoking.
Still, I can think of habits far worse than smoking a pipe - and what a way for a man to stand out today.
Hi, I'm Pam - thanks for visiting Go Retro! If you've ever been called an old soul like I have, or you were lucky enough to actually live during the mid-20th century in America, then you're in the right place!
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