History | 1920s to 1950s

Tobacco companies embraced Hollywood in 1927, the year of the first "talking picture.” From the late 1930s through the 1940s, two out of three top adult movie stars advertised cigarettes while also smoking on screen. In one year alone, tobacco companies agreed to pay stars at least $3.3 million (in today’s dollars) for their advertising services.

Most of these cross-promotion deals were brokered by the large movie studios, which held their stars under ironclad contracts. In return, the movie studios gained national ad campaigns promoting the studios’ stars and plugging their latest movies — all paid for by the tobacco companies.

Studios and stars changed cigarette brands as different tobacco campaigns rolled through Hollywood. In these years, American Tobacco (Lucky Strike), Lorillard (Old Gold), RJ Reynolds (Camel), Liggett & Myers (Chesterfield), and Brown & Williamson (Raleigh) collaborated with Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, MGM, Columbia, RKO, United Artists and Universal. Most of these movie studios are still in business today.

In the early 1950s, tobacco companies shifted their ad dollars to a new medium, television. But commercial collaboration with Hollywood producers surfaced again in the 1970s, after cigarette commercials were banned from TV and radio.