Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2002 / 5 Shevat, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- FRIENDS, smokers, Marlboro Men: I come to praise and bury Don Tennant, the ad genius who made Marlboro the world's most macho smoke.
Doing so, he sold untold cigarettes and, indirectly, respirators, coffins and tissues. Not good, agreed. But he also changed the way the world sees America and the way America sees its men - for the better.
Tennant died last month at age 79 after a long advertising career, including 20 years at the Leo Burnett agency, where he was in charge of the Marlboro account in the early '50s.
Back then, Camels were king of the pack. Pathetic Marlboros were limping along as a lady's smoke, "Mild as May." They even had red filter tips designed to hide lipstick stains!
When Tennant got the account, he realized the brand needed, well, a makeover. But what could possibly make it manly enough to obscure its tearoom roots? Enter William Thourlby, a not-so-great-looking guy.
At 6-feet-4, with deep-set eyes, a battered nose and a history of modeling - as the tough guy grabbing girls on the cover of countless "True Confessions" - Thourlby was just plain rugged.
Still, his agent sent him on a casting call, and a few months later he stood barechested on billboards across America, smoking the supertough cigarette with the vaguely familiar name.
The horses came later, as did the cowboys. But starting with Thourlby (alive and well, living on Central Park South, by the way - it was two later Marlboro models who died of lung cancer), Tennant's campaign was at least partly responsible for changing the American ideal of male beauty.
"Up till that time," recalls Thourlby, "the good-looking guys were Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor - so handsome, they were beautiful!" Tennant was smart enough to realize "there were a lot more guys who looked liked me." So he made ordinary cool.
Fifty years later, the tough guys are still trumping the pretty boys.
But the ad campaign did more than just improve the image of the average guy. "It proved the power of advertising," says Fred Danzig, former editor of Advertising Age. Now, worldwide, one out of every four cigarettes smoked is a Marlboro.
The brand's appeal comes not just from the cowboy, but his surroundings, a place so ingrained in the world's imagination that foreigners actually ask their travel agents about tours to Marlboro Country.
These days, as we learn more and more about the many nations that see us as corrupt and depraved, it's at least a little comforting to think we are also considered the land of pristine vistas and independent cattlemen.
Don Tennant may have sold millions of would-be cowboys on smoking. But he also sold American women on plain old American men, and the American ideal to the world.
That's nothing to cough at.
01/08/02: Hospitals make me sick