Art Imitating Life: Smoking and Drinking in Movies

by Honolulu Mother

I was amused by this Pacific Standard article noting James Bond’s transition from a heavy smoker to a nonsmoker over the course of his cinematic life:

The Smoking Habits of James Bond

It reminded me of some instances of changes in society’s attitude toward something being noticeable when watching older movies — for instance, we no longer see anything like the drunken goose uncle in Aristocats and the moonshine-swigging swamp mouse in The Rescuers, Disney movies released during my childhood. And the ones dating from my childhood were no longer using stereotypes such as the crows from Dumbo (and the portrayal of plantation life in the not-available-for-viewing Song of the South), not to mention those nasty gossiping elephants.

Another old movie trope that just seems weird and fetishy now was the feisty-woman-who-needs-a-spanking, as detailed here by Jezebel:

‘I Don’t Know Whether to Kiss You or Spank You’: A Half Century of Fear of an Unspanked Woman

Do you have any favorite examples of things in old movies that wouldn’t be there in something made today?


105 thoughts on “Art Imitating Life: Smoking and Drinking in Movies

  1. Sexual harassment at work wasn’t recognized by the law in the US until 1977. Some of the scenes that would occur in an office would no longer be acceptable today. I still miss Mad Men, but I don’t miss some of writing about how women were typically treated in the workplace. I alternated between angry and sad when I was watching Hidden Figures. I am grateful that women have different opportunities now and won’t be depicted that way on the screen if they made a film now about women at NASA in 2017.

  2. I would say the “acceptable” professions based on gender, such as men were the doctors, women were the nurses.

  3. In ET, Elliott is about eight or nine and stays home alone when he’s sick. Drew Barrymore is about four at the time, so only just a couple years older than me, and her mom leaves her at home watching TV while she goes to the school to pick up her brothers. (I came home to an empty house a few days a week at the age of eight, but never by myself at four.)

  4. On a tangent, I have talked to a couple people recently with kids DS’s age or younger with kids named Elliott, one was a boy and one was a girl, I love that name

  5. Giving a child a smack on the rear end to correct bad behavior. Having a child go to the store and pick up cigarettes, beer or booze. Leaving a child in a care while you went on an errand.

  6. Having a child go to the store and pick up cigarettes, beer or booze.

    When I was 4 or 5 we used to walk a mile to buy cigarettes from my friend’s mom. At some point they cracked down and we needed to start bringing a note. IIRC kids could also use their parents charge cards with a note.

  7. Not a movie, but the couple of times I’ve read Ramona with my oldest, I always marvel that Beezus (who I think was ten) takes Ramona (age 4) to the park to play in the sand box by herself while she takes an art class inside somewhere.

  8. Regarding smoking one of the things I noted in Hidden Figures was that no one was smoking. We know from footage and other movies (Apollo 13), they would’ve been smoking up a storm in that high pressure situation. I’m not saying the main characters were smokers but it was noticeable that there was no smoking in the NASA scenes.

  9. I don’t know why I’m usually surprised to see actors smoking in real life. I guess because their characters rarely smoke and very, very few people around me smoke.

    Speaking of “acceptable” professions, the actress who played Perry Mason’s secretary died last week. I don’t remember accurately, but wasn’t she portrayed as being “too smart” to be a secretary?

  10. OLD MOM – I leave the kids in the car when I go to pick up the dry cleaning or get 1 thing at the store. I figure the oldest is 9 and she can give the authorities an earful if they show up and ask. (I do leave the car running, though, which IIRC my mom didn’t do in the old days.)

    Scarlett – or even Mrs. Doubtfire!

  11. How about Paint Your Wagon. Hysterically funny, but I can’t see how it is acceptable in any era.

  12. I agree that they would have been smoking in Hidden Figures. The whole movie was a little too squeaky clean.

    I watch old episodes of Wonder Years sometimes, and we won’t see kids or adults without wearing seat belts on the screens today.

    I read several articles about MTM
    last week after she died. I didn’t realize that she pushed to allow Laura Petri to wear pants when she cleaned the house on the Dick Van Dyke show. It’s interesting that CBS wouldn’t allow Mary to be divorced on her own show. There are so many kinds of families on TV today vs the 70s.

    Do you guys really think that Mrs. Doubtfire wouldn’t be filmed now?

  13. I’m unsure the SNL spoof of “Point – Counterpoint” that used to run as part of 60 Minutes, would be acceptable now: “Shana, you ignorant slut…”

  14. I had been watching the old Emergency series with my kids when we prepped dinner in the kitchen (streamed onto the kitchen computer) until Netflix ditched the show recently. The show was actually pretty good, but man oh man was it dated when it came to the role of women. It was made in the era when what was called then “women’s lib” was first a thing, and a lot of conversation is about whether or not women can do various things. Women who do unusual things like be a doctor or reporter are referred to as a lady doctor or a lady reporter. Oh, and lots of plots are about roaming kids who fall down holes or drink chemicals.

  15. I didn’t realize that she pushed to allow Laura Petri to wear pants when she cleaned the house on the Dick Van Dyke show.

    When Lucy was pregnant with Little Ricky they could not, under any circumstances, say the word pregnant on the show.

  16. “not to mention those nasty gossiping elephants”

    Even as a kid, I loved those elephants!

    Sesame Street does not do “One of these things is not like the other” any more.

    Going the other way, at least married couples can now share a bed.

    I also loved MTM as a kid.

  17. Hanging my head in shame… I hated MTM. I hated her ugly clothes, and her boring co workers, and the sterile apartment. She made being a working girl seem so depressing. I think I was in middle school at the time.

  18. “Speaking of “acceptable” professions, the actress who played Perry Mason’s secretary died last week. I don’t remember accurately, but wasn’t she portrayed as being “too smart” to be a secretary?”

    I’ve cited Della Street here in the past as an example of a woman who today would probably be in a different occupation. In this particular example, she’d likely be a lawyer herself, and not a secretary.

  19. I enjoy Astaire/Rogers movies, but the plots of most of those are fairly simple. Astaire’s and Rogers’ characters have a chance meeting, he is smitten, she is not. He stalks her until, for some reason, they dance together, and she is smitten.

  20. I would add plots that involve having to meet people at certain places at certain times – the clock at Grand Central Station, the top of the Empire State Building, etc.

  21. “How about Paint Your Wagon. ”

    Tying back to an earlier discussion, Andre Previn composed some songs for the movie version.

    Is it Clint Eastwood’s only musical?

  22. MM,

    It appears that she was in the Victorian from 1970 – 1975 and the high rise from 76 to 77. According to google, the person who owned the house put an Impeach Nixon sign on it so they couldn’t film it anymore thus the writers had to move her to a new place.

  23. I saw an old Sex in the City recently. Big didn’t meet Carrie when he was supposed to. So, she used a pay phone to call her answering machine to see if he had left her a message. Oh the halcyon days of yore!

  24. The Nixon story is true. The woman that owned the home never realized that she would be inundated with curious fans day and night when she allowed them to shoot an exterior shot of her house. The producers wanted to come back in 1973 to shoot more scenes, and she didn’t want this to happen. The owner did put up the impeach Nixon sign to keep the TV crew from coming back to her house.

  25. RMS,

    (For the last two seasons of the show, Richards lived in a high-rise apartment — shown as the 1970s-era Cedar Square West complex in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood — after the then-owner of the Kenwood house, tired of the endless stream of gawkers, objected to its continued use by the producers. An “Impeach Nixon” banner was even hung on the house’s exterior.)

    I imagine LfB’s house looks like that and with a Minneapolis heating bill of $1800/month.

  26. huh I always thought MTM always lived in the high rise too, but I didn’t watch it as much as I watched other shows on Nick at Nite

  27. “Another old movie trope that just seems weird and fetishy now was the feisty-woman-who-needs-a-spanking”

    Diane Gabaldon used this trope in the Outlander books.

  28. I just saw Hidden Figures yesterday and really enjoyed it. I agree on the smoking – when I started work in 1989, one job in my rotation had me in an office next to a chain smoker. My office always stunk. My DH’s issue with the realism in the movie was that he thought the houses and the car of the main characters were too nice. His family’s house (on family property so didn’t have to pay for the lot) in the mid-1960’s was nowhere near that nice, and neither was their car or TV.

    During that movie I kept thinking about my grandmother – there was so little available to intelligent women who wanted to participate in the world.

    Any John Wayne movie with Maureen O’Hara wouldn’t fly today.

  29. “I imagine LfB’s house looks like that and with a Minneapolis heating bill of $1800/month.”

    :-) I only wish my house had that stairwell!

    OT, top of the list would clearly be the N-word — couldn’t make Blazing Saddles any more, that’s for sure. It does lead to some strange moments, though, like watching “Timeless” and the black guy is back in 18xx and referred to as “black,” and you think, you know, I know why you made that choice, but that’s sort of prettifying up the past for the modern audience.

  30. Growing up, Bollywood movies were very formula driven. As critics used to say – song, dance, family drama, action, hero vs. bad guy but no kissing. There were a few “independent” film makers who pioneered non formula movies.
    It’s so different now and the movies are varied and so much more interesting.

  31. Corporal Klinger and Hot Lips Houlihan on MASH would probably not appear today. The premise of Three’s Company would be rejected too.

  32. My DH’s issue with the realism in the movie was that he thought the houses and the car of the main characters were too nice.

    Could it be they had to live in the AA sections of Houston* but were paid GS-X salaries so they were doing pretty well?

    * I haven’t seen the movie but assume it takes place at Mission Control in Houston not at Cape Canaveral.

  33. Hot Lips Houlihan – why wouldn’t she play today? Other than she’d be a doctor not a nurse.

  34. Hidden Figures takes place in Hampton, Virginia.

    Maybe the same holds true for AAs in Virginia? I know that even today Jews in the DC area almost all live in Maryland as a result of the restrictive covenants that prevented them from living in VA up until the middle of the last century.

  35. Maybe the same holds true for AAs in Virginia?

    Virginia, named defendant in Loving v. Virginia? That Virginia? Yeah, I think they dabbled in Jim Crow stuff.

  36. The tone of the movie implied that they were not necessarily on the same pay scale as white employees with their skill set, even other women. My FIL was a government employee at an Air Force base, no high school diploma or college degree but very good technical skills, so that was his point of reference. My MIL ran in-home daycare, but not sure when she started, but they did have two incomes most of the time.

  37. I started to read the Hidden Figures book. The women that are profiled in the book/movie were considered human computers and that was considered a sub professional level at NASA. They were paid much less even though many had degrees in math, engineering and/or advanced degrees in similar subjects.

  38. We thought Bad News Bears would be a great movie to watch as a family when the kids were young. Watching Walter Matthau hand a beer to a player at the end of the movie was not what I was expecting.

  39. That Virginia?

    That’s what I mean. Did you get more bang for your buck as an AA buying a home in an AA area because you weren’t competing against better paid white people.

    But, I bet my theory isn’t correct. The more likely explanation is they didn’t put all that much effort into making it precisely historically actuate in terms of SES, home decor, etc.

  40. I assume you’d have the same thing in a movie about the 50s with a family of 5 (or more?) living in an 750sq/ft Levittown house. It would be hard to shoot and the audience wouldn’t get the reference.

  41. “top of the list would clearly be the N-word”

    How about “Japs” and “Nips” from McHale’s Navy.

    And Pekin High School in Pekin, IL would never have been able to have the mascot (now changed) they had when a former colleague of mine graduated…the Chinks. Yep. Look it up.

  42. One thing to note about the movie compared to reality is that the move condenses the timeline to the Kennedy years. In truth, Katherine was a computer in the 50’s and by the Kennedy years was promoted to an aerospace technologist. There are other discrepancies regarding Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Johnson too but I don’t want to spoil the movie. The only other thing I will say (and it speaks to what Rhett says all the time), Katherine could do the job and everyone there knew it. Look up some of her interviews and she gives a different take on her experiences at NASA in regards to racism. The movie combines a number of events and experiences and I think shows what life was like in general for African Americans but Katherine herself because of her knowledge/skill set had proved her value and was treated accordingly.

    Regarding pay, yes they were paid less then their white counterparts, but they were better paid compared to those outside of NACA/NASA see link or relevant passage below. So it is not unreasonable that they could’ve had better lodging.

    Though the job (at $2000 a year) was far better paid than most available for educated women at the time, such as nursing or teaching, the black mathematicians, or computers, faced segregation in Hampton, Virginia, where NACA set up its research lab. They worked in a separate facility from the white computers, had to use separate washrooms, and had to sit at a colored table in the cafeteria. A few years into the program, the unmarried white computers were housed in a fancy dorm. Meanwhile, the unmarried black computers had to find lodging in town, which wasn’t always easy. The lab was even on the site of a former plantation.

  43. Della Street was Perry’s lover (nothing explicit of course in those days) in the original books. He asks her to marry him and she says no. If I become Mrs. Perry Mason I will just have to sit home and some other woman will be sharing your real life.

    And Rhett, it is a not true today that upscale Northern Virginia has only a few Jews. I have family who have lived in MacLean for 30 plus years, and my kid’s condo is also on that side of the Potomac. There are plenty of synagogues. When I was a child in the DC metro area 55 years ago, it was another story – Montgomery County MD was generally the most hospitable. But there were still restricted neighborhoods in Chevy Chase/Bethesda and in certain neighborhoods of NW in the District.

  44. “How about “Japs” and “Nips” from McHale’s Navy.”

    I remember someone commenting about McHale’s Navy, that for a show with such fantastic and absurd plot lines, they did an amazing job getting all the little details right. For example, when the medical officer visits the island, he has the precisely correct insignia to indicate his staff branch.

  45. I have a brief hijack. I have loved Houston’s packing cubes for clothes. Now I need something similar for toiletries. My large toiletry case tore during last week’s travel, and I was thinking how handy it would be to have a set of very small packing cubes to separate out shower toiletries, odds and ends, makeup, and medicines/bandaids/first aid. Amazon is letting me down. Does anyone have the perfect toiletry packing system?

    On topic, we’re watching all the old classics with our kids (Ferris Bueller, Back to the Future, Star Trek, ET) over the past few months. Super fun. And soooo many things went over my head as a kid. I must have been so oblivious.

  46. Lark, I need those zipper pouches too – I’ve been scouring Amazon for the past few days with no luck. The influx of Chinese-sourced unbranded stuff that can’t easily be filtered out of the search results is making Amazon a much less appealing choice for clothes and accessories now, just like eBay.

    We were reading Curious George – an early copy that I got at a used book sale – and my kids had no idea what a pipe was! They have seen so few cigarette butts that I have to yell at them not to pick them up, because they have no idea what they are and want to investigate.

  47. Milo,

    I was trying to think what percentage of writers, actors, camera crew etc. would have been in the Navy WWII, Korea, etc. at some point in the mid 60s.

    2. The number of officers and enlisted personnel that served in the Navy during World War II.
    7 Dec 1941 – 31 Dec 1946 was 4,183,466 (390,037 officers and 3,793,429 enlisted)

    Adjusted for population that would be almost 1 million officers and 8 million enlisted.

  48. Rhett – that’s what I figured. the writers/costume people were more likely to know from experience.

  49. “we’re watching all the old classics with our kids (Ferris Bueller, Back to the Future, Star Trek, ET)”

    DS joined me in watching some Astaire movies over the break, paying close attention to his clothing.

    A bunch of real classics will be shown on TCM. 31 Days of Oscar, A to Z, starts tomorrow.

  50. I haven’t tried it, but I noticed my friend was using a makeup bag from Joy Mangano that had mini sections. I asked her about it, and she got it at Macys. I just googled, and it is also sold in different colors at HSN.

  51. I was thinking of my favorite movie Desk Set. The plot of a number of these movies involved happy go lucky bosses and their female staff that did all the work. The last of this genre was probably 9/5 with Lilly Tomlin and Dolly Parton. I assume that was a fairly typical scenario in corporate America when smart women didn’t have very many options.

  52. Looking at TCM’s listings, I notice that the Blazing Saddles is categorized as a Western.

  53. A bunch of real classics will be shown on TCM. 31 Days of Oscar, A to Z, starts tomorrow.

    Oo, thanks for the heads-up!

  54. Off topic –

    I have been listening to a BBC podcast – 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy, and I know some here would like it. Each looks at something that changed the world/made the current economy possible. Things like paper, the light bulb, and then also the Billy Bookcase from IKEA. They are short – about 10 minutes each – and really interesting. Would be fine to listen to with children as well.

    OT –

    I always lament how many episodes of Seinfeld make no sense in the age of smartphones. I loved that show though.

  55. I remember an episode of Leave it to Beaver that was based around Eddie Haskell setting up Wally with a girl that was taller than him.

  56. “We were reading Curious George”

    How do you explain to your kids that he isn’t a monkey?

  57. I just noticed our local high school guidance department is on Twitter. Some of the top administrators are on, and maybe some other departments. Are your schools on Twitter?

  58. “I know that even today Jews in the DC area almost all live in Maryland as a result of the restrictive covenants that prevented them from living in VA up until the middle of the last century.”

    Not sure that reason is true, as Meme points out, but it is true that there are still far fewer Jews in northern Virginia than in DC or MD. Most of the synagogues and Jewish schools are across the river, as are most of the kosher delis, Jewish retirement homes, etc. The Fairfax county schools don’t close on Jewish holidays, as Montgomery county schools do. My firm was mostly Jewish, and virtually none of the partners lived in Virginia, though the associates were more geographically diverse.

  59. My guess is that he’s a chimp, although I guess he could be a bonobo. Notice that he has no tail, which indicates he’s not a monkey.

  60. Also, I don’t suggest ever image googling ‘curious george tail’ with your children.

  61. Just wanted you all to know-

    Baby Rhode #2 made his appearance yesterday. A couple weeks early but 7 lbs and doing great. 2 little boys to love now!

  62. Lark: I am of no help on the toiletry bag question–I use quart sized ziplock bags–one for toothbrush/toothpaste/etc, and one for make up. Ebags has a lot of options for you to check out.

  63. Congrats Rhode !
    A new baby is like the beginning of all things – wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities.
    Eda J. Le Shan

  64. Congratulations, Rhode! How is toddler Rhode taking it? Is he excited to be a big brother?

  65. Rhett, I didn’t see that one. Thanks for sharing. It is so interesting to see how things have changed since the paper started the column.

    I am watching Victoria on PBS and I didn’t know that Victoria had to ask Albert to marry due to her position.

  66. I tried Trunk Club – their choices were good. However, they did disregard my instructions not to send certain items which I could see right away that I wouldn’t want.

  67. Rhode congratulations to you and your growing family!

    Will the little one’s nickname be Digger? ’cause

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