NEEDHAM, Mass. It’s Thursday night, and Frank Defelice is trying to set the mood for a romantic weekend with his new girlfriend Dianna Holmstead at his bachelor pad in this western suburb of Boston. “Jazz is supposed to be the music of seduction,” he says to this reporter, who he’s allowed to eavesdrop on his assignation for the first half hour or so, as he drops a live Miles Davis album “In Person at the Blackhawk” onto his turntable. “We’ll see if it works its magic on Dianna,” a buxom throwback to the “sweater girls” of the 50’s.
The soft sounds waft through the room as Frank hands Dianna her drink, a “Riunite on Ice,” and he takes a seat on the couch next to her leaving space between them through which a flea circus could squeeze if they walked single-file.
“Think yew veddy much,” says Dianna, who has been practicing a British accent watching this week’s royal wedding in the hope that it will get her a raise when she moves to her next office receptionist job.
“Cheers,” Frank says as he raises his glass, but before Dianna can take a sip, she begins to cough.
“You okay?” Frank asks.
“Are you a smoker?” she asks. “‘Cause I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes.”
“Nope, gave it up long ago,” Frank says, puffing out his chest with pride. “I keep myself in great shape now.”
“Well, it seems awful smoky in here,” she says, then turns her gaze laser-like on the record album. “Is that a live recording?”
“Yeah, it’s a classic from the early sixties.”
“There must be a lot of people smoking in that night club,” she says as she puts her drink down, picks up her purse, and excuses herself to “powder her nose” in the bathroom.
“Well, we’re off to a flying start,” Frank says with muted anger as this reporter excuses himself, hoping to be gone by the time the woman returns and takes her leave.
The date-gone-sour is a by-product of rising concern over so-called “third-hand” smoke, which is one step removed from second-hand smoke, fumes produced by one person but inhaled by others. “Third-hand smoke hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves,” says Dr. Emil Nostrand, who has received a grant to study the long-term health effects of smoke exhaled in works of art. “From tough guys to femmes fatale, smoke can kill off your favorite character or musician, causing emotional distress, dry flaky skin, and yellow waxy build-up.”
Smoking in works of art was common until very recently, as a cigarette, cigar or even a pipe was viewed as a helpful vehicle for stage “business,” the dramaturgical term for incidental activity performed by an actor or actress for dramatic effect. “If Humphrey Bogart didn’t smoke he wouldn’t have seemed so cool,” says film historian Clement de Wine. “Having something in your hands to fiddle with means you don’t have to clasp them in front of you like a stupid glee club member.”
But all that changed when the harmful effects of smoking became established beyond doubt, and works that predate the Surgeon General’s historic warning are now seen as potential sources of cancer-causing agents for those whose only contact with tobacco products is through films, records or books.
Among that group is Kristin Helvig, a devotee of black-and-white films who’s invited some friends over to watch a newly-restored version of “To Have and Have Not,” the Howard Hawks screen adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “I’ve got a ton of popcorn ready,” she says as she buzzes her apartment door to let in Julie Erman and Robing Ingua. “I’m in here!” she cries from the kitchen, but her two guests screw up their noses as they enter.
“Is something burning?” Erman asks.
“No, the popcorn came from the store,” Helvig says, then stops to look around to make sure nothing’s amiss. She doesn’t notice anything at first, then realizes that Bogart has just struck a match to light Bacall’s cigarette in her DVD’s “scene selection” feature.
“I’m so sorry,” she says as she turns to her friends, “I’ll tell him to go to outside.”