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Edward L. Bernays and selling tobacco with a grand 'Green Ball'

The home of Edward L. Bernays was a bit like a museum. Sadly, unlike Julia Child’s kitchen, it was not preserved after his death. Books were stocked from floor to ceiling. Comfy and well-worn chairs and couches were assembled like a royal court. And at the center sat Dr. Bernays. He loved to entertain. He loved talking to young people. And, if you believe his biography by Larry Tye, after the passing of his wife, Doris Fleischmann, he had a midlife crisis - in his 80s. While I have no direct evidence of his supposed womanizing – it was not hard to imagine. He was charming, disarming and clearly brilliant.

He had a way with people. And could tell one hell of a story. Now, in his later years listening was not a strong point – if he asked a question it was so he could tell you the answer – and open up a tale from his Arabian nights.

But you could hear the rumors – which he would seek out a young Harvard coed to live with him and trade cooking and cleaning for room and board.

Bernays had a way about him, and that seemed to apply to women – after all he had gotten them to wear green.

Not long after his opening up the world of smoking to American women– his client American Tobacco came to him with a new issue. It was 1934 and women smokers shunned their main product, Lucky Strike. At issue was the color of the green packaging of the cigarettes – they clashed with most fashions. Bernays suggested the obvious – repackage Luckys – but the client refused, insisting they had too much invested in green.

So, Bernays' mind went to work – if he could not change the wrapper – he had to change society and make green a fashionable color…

He came up with an idea… one hell of an idea. He called it the Green Ball – held at the new Waldoff-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The Ball was hosted by leading society women with the pretext of raising funds for charity. American Tobacco’s name was nowhere to be found. But an unnamed sponsor would give a big donation to charity of New York’s finest showed up in green gowns. Bernays let all the leading stores know about the ball well in advance, and made sure every major fashion magazine was covering it, Green, it turned out was the new black.

Yes, it worked, and yes, Lucky sales continued to grow. But, even this was not enough- women continued to shun Luckys – So in 1942 the company saying that the copper it used to make a green label was needed for the war effort – made a switch to a white label. The real reason may have been to sell to more women smokers, but with the tale of wartime sacrifice in place, the company ran ads saying, “Lucky Strike Green has gone to War!”

Bernays, it turns out, never smoked…

That was Edward… the genius who could look into your mind and see what buttons to push… After all, he could sell you Dixie Cups based on the idea that common glasses were unsanitary in a world before the dishwasher – he could do anything.

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