Cowboy killers

Marlboro Man

The Marlboro Man is (or, in many areas, was) part of a tobacco advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes. In the United States, where the campaign originated, it was used from 1954 to 1999. The Marlboro Man was first conceived by Leo Burnett in 1954. The image involves a rugged cowboy or cowboys, in nature with only a cigarette. The ads were originally conceived as a way to popularize filtered cigarettes, which at the time were considered feminine.

The Marlboro ad campaign, created by Leo Burnett Worldwide, is said to be one of the most brilliant ad campaigns of all time. It transformed a feminine campaign, with the slogan 'Mild as May', into one that was masculine, in a matter of months. Although there were many Marlboro Men, the cowboy proved to be the most popular. This led to the 'Marlboro Cowboy' and 'Marlboro Country' campaigns.


In 1963 Camel was the top selling cigarette. In order to compete, Marlboro's Advertising Agency, Leo Burnett, introduced a new advertising campaign called "The Tattooed Man." The advertising was effective, and Marlboro sales made big gains. The goal, however, was to overtake Camel. In pursuit of this goal, they studied "Tattoo," and quickly learned that the most effective parts of the "Tattoo" campaign featured cowboys in the advertisements. In early 1963 they took the best parts from Tatoo and began a new campaign. This new campaign would soon not only replace Camel, but the campaign would become recognized as the best in history, and the cowboy would become legendary. This new campaign was named, "Marlboro Country." The cowboy featured in the campaign was called "Marlboro Man."

The Marlboro Country campaign opened without a "rugged" Man. The first "Marlboro Men" were really "Tattoo" inserts. They were soft, "mild as may" types, with a gentleman-like, 1950's look. A typical early Marlboro Country advertisement, for example, would feature a cowboy that looked more like Richie Cunningham of "Happy Days," than the rugged Marlboro Man we think of today. However, the cowboy who opened the Marlboro Country campaign would soon lose that soft image, and beocme "rugged."

In early 1964 the Leo Burnett Advertising Agencey began looking for an artist to create this "rugged" cowboy for Marlboro Country. At some point in their search, they met with Helen Wohlberg, an agent for artist Bruce Bomberger. She showed a piece from his portfolio, a cowboy illustration from a magazine. It portrayed a cowboy, in Africa, tossing a lasso at an African lion. This was exactly the "rugged" cowboy image they desired. Bomberger was hired to create a new "rugged" Man. The introduction was to take place in a series of five magazine advertisements. Each advertisement would add pieces of "rugged" cowboy persona. In effect, creating a new Marlboro Man in a piece by piece fashion. On 10/23/1964 on the back cover of Time magazine Bruce Bomberger did his first "Marlboro Man" illustration. In this advertisement the cigarette, rope, glove, and a small body part are introduced. Another Bomberger advertisement appeared 11/23/1964. Added was a stirrup, and saddle strap. Then on the back cover of Life magazine on 12/18/64, and Time 1/15/65, we saw the Marlboro man face, and his famous cowboy hat. But the persona was still not complete. In Time magazine on 7/2/65 Bomberger added more of the famous body to the recently introduced face, and the saddle appeared for the first time. In addition, what was to become the complete legendary jingle also appeared, "You get a lot to like with a Marlboro-filter, flavor, pack or box." Finally, on July 22nd 1966, the last advertisement appeared on the back cover of Life Magazine. This advertisement is more like a portrait then an ad. The new "Marlboro Man" of "Marlboro Country" almost poses as he squats in front of his finally introduced horse. In the advertisement you can see together for the first time, all the newly introduced pieces that made Marlboro Man a legend. After that advertisement ran, the use of illustration stopped. "Marlboro Man," with the "he-man" persona, as dreamed by Phillip Morris and Leo Burnett, and created by Bruce Bomberger, had been introduced. Assignment complete. Bomberger moved on.

Simultaneously, and throughout the Bomberger Introductory Sequence, the living Marlboro Men had, in their own Marlboro ads, been frantically shedding the old "Tattoo" elements, and adding the Marlboro Man ruggedness that Bomberger illustrated. With Bombergers departure, the live actors, and real cowboy Marlboro Men, ran with the new "persona" straight into history. And history attests, they ran well. So well, in fact, that in a short five years after Bomberger completed the introductory series, 1971, "Marlboro," replaced "Camel," as the worlds top selling cigarette. In the process, "Marlboro Man" had become an icon, a sex symbol, a person so recognized, that when people, anywhere in the world, imagined an "American Cowboy," they immediately thought, "Marlboro Man." In fact, this "Man," and this "campaign," is accepted worldwide, as the best advertising campaign in history.

The image that illustrator Bruce Bomberger portrayed in the final advertisement of the introductory sequence, as seen on the back page cover of Life magazine on July 22, 1966, became the standard Marlboro Man persona that all future living actors, who portrayed "Marlboro Man," attempted to emulate.

Robert "Bob" Beck was the first Marlboro Man; and who later became recognized worldwide as the rugged adventure-seeking "Camel Man" for Camel Cigarettes. Actor and author William Thourlby is said to have been the second Marlboro Man. The models who portrayed the Marlboro Man were New York Giants Quarterback Charley Conerly, New York Giants Defensive Back Jim Patton, Darrell Winfield, Dick Hammer, Brad Johnson, Bill Dutra, Dean Myers, Robert Norris, Wayne McLaren, David McLean, Buster Hobbs and Tom Mattox. Two of them, McLaren and McLean, died of lung cancer. George Lazenby (who played James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service) was the European Marlboro Man.

In October 2006, Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Slater listed The Marlboro Man as #1 in their book 'The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived'.

Origin of the Marlboro Man

Philip Morris & Co. (now Altria) had originally introduced the Marlboro brand as a woman's cigarette in 1924. In the years following World War II, Advertising executive Leo Burnett was looking for a new image with which to reinvent Philip Morris's Marlboro brand. Burnett's inspiration for the exceedingly masculine "Marlboro Man" icon came in 1949 from an issue of LIFE magazine, where the photograph (shot by Leonard McCombe) and story of Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey Long caught his attention.

There are also claims that the original idea for the Marlboro Man came from the Chase Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico; it is said that, for this reason, on all pictures of 'The Man' there is a heart brand (The Chase Brand) on his chaps and his horse. The origin and validity of this claim is unknown.


Two men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements - Wayne McLaren and David McLean - died of lung cancer, thus earning Marlboro cigarettes, specifically Marlboro Reds, the nickname "Cowboy killers". McLaren testified in favor of anti-smoking legislation before his death at the age of 51. During the time of McLaren's anti-smoking activism, Philip Morris denied that McLaren ever appeared in a Marlboro ad, a position it later amended to maintaining that while he did appear in ads, he was not the Marlboro Man. McLean died at age 73.


In many countries, the Marlboro Man is a figure of the past due to increasing pressure on tobacco advertising for health reasons, especially where the practice of smoking appears to be celebrated or glorified. The deaths described above may also have made it more difficult to use the campaign without attracting negative comment. The image continued until recently at least in countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic.

"Death In the West" a Thames Television documentary, was an exposé of the cigarette industry centered around the myth of the Marlboro Man that aired on British television in 1976. Phillip Morris sued the filmmakers and in a 1979 secret settlement all copies were suppressed. In 1983, Professor Stanton A. Glantz released the film and San Francisco, California's KRON aired the documentary in 1982. Since then it has been seen around the world.


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