Back in college… back in 1968… I did some work at WERS, the Emerson College FM radio station. Among the stranger things I did was occasionally running the control board for “Country at 88.9.”
Go ahead – guess our dial position?
The hosts of that show were Lloyd Roach and Walker Merryman. Lloyd and Walker weren’t your typical Emerson students. Lloyd had already been in the service and was quite politically conservative at a time when most college students were very liberal.
Walker was at least a year old than I was, but seemed (at least at the time) worlds older. I was from New York City. He was from South Dakota. We could not have been more different.
I liked Lloyd and Walker, and I enjoyed the times I was their board op… especially when I got to play Tex Ritter’s country classic, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.”
Tell St Peter at the Golden Gate that you hate to make him wait
But you just gotta have another cigarette
Over the years I’ve lost touch with both Lloyd and Walker – except when I’d see Walker on TV as the spokesman for the tobacco industry.
A little about his job, in his own words, from a suit brought on by the State of Minnesota:
A. Well I became aware of their interest in hiring someone who was familiar with broadcasting and journalism. Friend of mine who ran a job-placement service for the Radio and Television News Directors Association told me of the position. I applied for it, and they asked for a substantial amount of background material on me, which I submitted, and went to Washington then for a personal interview, and subsequently I was hired.
Q. And what were you hired to do?
A. I was hired to respond to inquiries from the news media about issues that The Tobacco Institute addressed on behalf of its member companies.
Q. What kind of media inquiries were you responding to?
A. Well typically a reporter would call and ask for information on tobacco economics, tobacco history, taxation, smoking bans, smoking and health also on occasion. We responded, if we could, if we had the information, to those questions and were in a position of being the spokesman for the industry on those issues on which there was a common position.
He was a very effective spokesman – at least as far as I could see. Always respectful. Always well spoken.
Of course it was the tobacco industry he was speaking for. I’m not sure that’s a job I would have taken.
Steffie and I went to the theater tonight to see “Thank You For Smoking,” a movie about a guy just like Walker Merryman. And, to bring that point home, the opening credits are presented over Tex Ritter singing “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.!”
Nick Naylor is the tobacco industry’s lobbyist with an ex-wife and a loving son (who speaks a little too much like an adult from time-to-time).
It would be easy to make Naylor into a bad – and isn’t he? He’s defending merchants of death. And yet, it’s not that simple.
Nick Naylor: Oh, is your Mommy a doctor?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: A scientific researcher of some kind?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: Well then she’s hardly a credible expert, is she?
This move had a likable personality (if it’s even possible to ascribe that characteristic to a film). And, even when he was doing the work of the devil, it was tough to dislike Naylor or those around him.
There was lots of good acting here, from people you’d expect, like Robert Duvall, William H. Macy and Sam Elliot. Aaron Eckhart (If I’ve seen him before, I don’t remember it) was great as the complex Naylor.
I’d like to be equally generous to Rob Lowe, but I’ve seen this part before – Jeff Megall, an over the top, heartless, soulless, Michael Ovitz wannabe. Though some of the dialog was good, Lowe seemed to be going through the motions.
Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It’s the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn’t they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it’s an easy fix. One line of dialogue. ‘Thank God we invented the… you know, whatever device.’
Oh, I now understand what Tom Cruise sees in Katie Holmes. I’m also glad she was fully dressed in her simulated sex scenes with Aaron Eckhart, since I was sitting next to my daughter.
On IMDB this movie get 7.8 stars. That’s a very good number from a tough crowd. I agree. I left the theater satisfied I had seen a very good movie.
One more thing. I smoked for 16 years, from the time I was 18 until my mid-30s. Helaine is the main reason… no, the only reason I quit.
Even when I don’t say it, I thank her every day.