Theatre and Film in Cigar Box Labels

Far fetched?  Many of you may think it’s odd to associate theater and film to cigar box labels. Actually there has been a symbiotic relationship between the cigar industry and the entertainment world that stretches from the late 1800’s up to present day.

Let me explain.  As far back as the 1870’s cigar box labels portrayed actors and actresses. If you remember, cigar smoking was a status symbol for the ‘Upper Class’ and one of the elite’s favorite past times was going to the theater.  Many towns across America had opera houses as their focal point for social activities. Gentlemen and Ladies could be found patronizing theaters and mingling in the lounges. The genteel, while enjoying a good cigar, would chat about the play, and applaud their favorite actors.

Aware of this social behavior, Cigar Manufacturers shrewdly used celebrities to endorse their products and help boost sales. Being seen with a cigar of one your favorite actors was good business for all involved.  There were many actors and actresses that graced the inside of cigar box lids.  Used as min-billboard for the  “who’s who”  of the rich and famous. It gave well-to-do men and women something to blather about.

Below is a  cigar box label from the 1870’s depicting 5 famous stage actresses of their day.

Julia Marlow – American Actress 1868 ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’

Ellen Terry – English Shakespearean Actress 1865 ‘The Winters Tale’

Elenora Duse – Italian Actress 1870 – Was an innovator of a technique described as ‘Elimination of Self’ to connect with a character & allow expression to occur.

Gabrielle Rejane – French Actress  1868 ‘Zaza’

Agnes Sorma – German Actress 1863 – ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Othello’

As theatre turned to vaudeville which eventually turned to silent film, actors and actresses continued to grace the Cigar Box label.

Lillian Russell – Actress/Opera singer 1881 ‘Pirates of Penzance’

William Gillette – Actor/Playwright/Director – 1894 ‘Sherlock Holmes’

Katy Barry –  Comedic Actress Vaudeville  1902 ‘A Chinese Honeymoon’

Ollie Mack – Comedian Vaudeville/Burlesque  1904

John Drew – Theatre Manager/actor 1865 – Great-great grandfather of Drew Barrymoore

John Barrymore – Silent Film Actor 1920 ‘Dr. Jeckyll Mr. Hyde’

Rudolph Valentino – Silent Film Actor 1921 ‘The Shiek’

Douglas Fairbanks – Silent Film Actor 1922 ‘Thief of Bagdad’, ‘Robinn Hood’

Tom Mix – 1940 Cowboy Matinee Film Star

Melodrama – The cigar box label pays homage to the theatre

Motion Pictures are still using allusions from the past that could also be found on the Cigar Box label. In fact, it would be behoove motion picture studios to study vintage cigar box labels. There is endless symbolism, history, and famous people that might make for a good script.

Today, despite the negative connotation of smoking, many actors/directors  grace the covers of cigar related advertisement. Could this be due to the tradition of actors associating themselves with cigars or the status it portrays to the sophisticated upper class?