My Marlboro Man

Carl was born and reared in the California desert where the Great Depression of the 30’s had little impact. Huge Hollywood movie studios were being built that wooed an entire industry westward. Rows of orange crates filled streets lined with eucalyptus trees that stretched up to worship the hot sun. The scent of sage in the breeze was heaven, and before all the cars and freeways came, the purple mountain backdrop would take your breath away.  This was the San Bernardino where my dad was born.

Carl had the looks of a movie star. He was incredibly handsome, his head full of wavy black hair. Carl’s eyes were hazel; slightly light green, deep and penetrating.  Carl always looked tanned even in the winter. I always wondered how his over 6ft frame stayed so muscular because I never in my life saw him work out or lift weights, he was a natural beauty.

Wearing his signature pendleton 2 pocket shirt, about age 30.

As a kid, Carl was like an original “Little Rascal”. He and the kids he grew up with were street-smart and all of them gave each other “little rascal” nicknames like, “Buck” or “dizzy” or “long-neck-Pete”. The nicknames usually had something to do with a physical characteristic but some were about internal character like, “psycho Sal”.  Carl would fist fight anyone who pissed him off and he usually won. He and his pals all smoked cigarettes by age 9 and that brings us to the smoking section of our story.

Human beings have always smoked, and they probably always will. Every culture in recorded history has smoked something, whether as a cure or for pleasure, whether as part of a ritual or as an aspect of popular culture. [1] When Carl grew up, it was more normal to smoke than not.
He and most of his friends and their parents smoked.  Every room had an ashtray–so did all public places in town.

Carl was a manly man. He chain-smoked Marlboro cigarettes and looked cool doing it.  I can’t remember Carl without remembering him smoking. If he wasn’t smoking, he was holding a cigarette. He wore Pendleton shirts with two flap pockets on his buffed chest–pockets the right size for a pack. He kept a lighter in there too, and with a flick of a thumb, you hear the flint snap; then back in the pocket it would go for at least another 20 minutes.

Carl sometimes hung out in the mountain resort area, Lake Arrowhead–a favorite haunt for Hollywood actors. Carl could be seen at the lodge’s local bar drinking right next to John Wayne and Ward Bond. They were all over 6 feet two, all of them good-looking–flirting and filling the bar with cigarette smoke and laughter. Carl fit right in…..

It was rumored he was able to get a few “extra” scenes in Hollywood. I never saw proof but a friend of his still in Town told me recently he thought that to be true. I think if he had had a chance, or the right screen test, he could have been the next Raymond Burr.

Carl moved like James Arness, looked like Marlon Brando, and smoked like Robert Mitchum. He was a man’s man, a woman’s man, and a womanizing man. When Carl was young, the world was his oyster. He was a rebel. He never finished high school but that never stopped the brilliant young man’s wheeling and dealing–the man had charisma.

Carl Jr. was a great talker; and he emerged as the epitome of charm in the workforce.

A perfect job for someone with these qualities made itself known. That’s how Carl became a car salesman. He and Carl Sr. eventually managed to own a big dealership in town.


After the war, Carl met Edith in a restaurant. Carl swept Edith her off her feet and though they were 9 years apart in age, they became soul mates.  They each had failed marriages, bore violent tempers, chain-smoked and cussed like sailors.

They were brilliant, and they were happy for a while.  At least until Edith realized he would always pursue other women, at least in his younger days.

Carl & Edith had one daughter, a very little girl that was unlike her very big daddy.  He would tease her about being small and gave her a few choice nicknames: “squirt”, and my personal favorite, “runt”.  When I entered college, my name became “slim” (loved that one).  One could never feel too hurt by a goofy nickname.  For my dad the christening of a nickname meant you were endeared to him. The “runt” name came from his absolute passion for dogs. Dogs would come and go at our house, and I suppose I was the runt of his litter.

I have so few pictures of him. Especially him and me. I love this one in my cowgirl outfit. Cowgirls were really big in my day. (Ahem! Toy Story -“Jessie” 😀 )

I’d watch Sheriff John on our black and white T.V in this outfit.  In the picture I look so small compared to my dad. I remember how big his hand felt around mine.

I worshiped the ground he walked on.

But..back to smoking, there are some funny memories I have of my dad with all of his ashtrays. Smoking was an Olympic sport in our house, with shelves of trophy ashtrays to prove it.

I still have visions of our dining room table after dinner when we lived with my grandparents for a short time.  Every person lit up after the last bite of food.  Then the mushroom cloud formed above the table.

Here are a few of examples of ones like we had:

1st was the gaudy-ornate-silver-stand model. This thing weighed a ton, had a handle for easy carrying around the house.  I remember it being near the dining table when everyone was playing poker (I guess).

When everyone lit up at the dinner table,  the atom bomb of smoke was released.


2nd. Was the plaid beanbag. These little things could be thrown (and they were during fights) literally anywhere. Some were fashioned after little animals in lovely plaid colors that matched nothing in the room; very tres trailor park sheek–(“chic”.)


And then of course, my dad’s favorite, the Goodyear Tire one he got from his dealership.


I still see him smoking at the dining room table where he played one-man solitaire. He shuffled like a pro, and has he lay each card on the table, his lazy Marlboro lay stuck on his bottom lip. He could talk and take a puff without touching it.

It’s a lost art, smoking cool. You only have to watch Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart smoke on screen. Watch film noir actors hold a butt between their thumb and forefinger, the lit end facing the palm, the permanent eye squint they get inhaling that last puff.  They smoked like Fred Astaire danced.

Now watch an actor today. Most don’t smoke in real life and it shows. They put cigarettes out when they are still 4 inches long, what real smoker does that?


Carl died in 1981.

I haven’t smoked since 1989.  Sometimes when I am having my morning coffee, and I am sitting alone at the dining room table,  I think I almost hear the cards shuffling and the flint-snap of my dad’s lighter.

Many many times with a grin, he would offer me one…., “Cigarette, honey?”



SMOKE, A Global History of Smoking

Edited by Sander L. Gilman

and Zhou Xun

@copyright Marshaleigh 2012 Creative Commons – no edit- no publishing without my persmission.




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