Smoke Filled Rooms

I know it's hard to believe but this is what animators looked like when I came into the business back in the fifties. People sat at their animation desks and a good number of them were smokers. Actually, you were considered somewhat odd if you didn't smoke. When I sat down at my first Disney desk there was already an ash tray on my table. It was automatically assumed you'd be needing one.

Anyone who has been in this business for more than a few years can remember cigarette burns on animation drawings. I remember receiving scenes that had cigarette ashes sprinkled among the drawings. Ashes would fall from the animator's cigarette as he roughed out his scene and would often remain in the scene folder. Some animators continually lit and put out their smokes as they struggled with a drawing. This explains why ashtrays were often filled with half smoked cigarettes. What a mess, eh?

By the sixties, some animation artists were getting fed up with the smoke filled rooms and began to complain to studio management. I still remember Format Films being one of the first animation production houses to institute a “Non Smoking Room” at their production facility. By the seventies, Hanna-Barbera Productions in Hollywood set aside a large space for animation artists who were fed up with smoke. It took nearly another two decades before we finally saw the end of smoking at all the studios. Keep in mind, this was all done by studio management and not some mandate from government. Eventually, laws were passed that forbid smoking in public spaces.

I confess I felt sorry for my colleagues who couldn't kick the habit. I still remember seeing Disney vice-presidents standing outside in the rain puffing away on their cigarettes because smoking was forbidden inside. Suddenly, smokers had become lepers and were scorned by society. I've never smoked and I never liked smoking but I've often felt we went just a little too far. Smoking had been demonized and there was no looking back. Clearly, society has many problems, and I've often felt we jumped on smoking because it seemed an easy fix. Major issues were ignored while we acted as though puffing on a cigarette was destroying the civilized world.

Clearly a loathsome habit, I'm pleased that smoking is pretty much a thing of the past. It's a shame we haven't been able to act on the real problems that continue to plague society. Then again, I guess that would probably be way too difficult.