The Time Walter Cronkite Angered R.J. Reynolds

LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images
LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re a stickler for the correct usage of “who” versus “whom,” or if you find yourself seething over the “10 Items or Less” sign at the grocery store, you have something in common with Walter Cronkite.

As a respected journalist and news anchor, Cronkite was very careful about his words, from his enunciation of them to the tone in which he said them—so you can imagine his indignation at being asked to deliver a line with purposely incorrect grammar.

In 1954, shortly after being named the host of a morning show on CBS, Cronkite was tasked with a live-read of a Winston cigarette ad. Though it’s hard to imagine Anderson Cooper or Lester Holt concluding a segment with an earnest plug for Budweiser or McDonald’s, anchor-read endorsements were commonplace in the 1950s. Cronkite had a problem with the commercial, but it wasn’t the product he took umbrage with—it was the tagline: “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”

Though it may sound fine to most ears, the word “like” is actually used inappropriately. Traditionally, “like” is used as a preposition and “as” is used as a conjunction, but the Winston ad treats “like” as a conjunction, or a connecting word.

Here’s the line in action. Just a warning: If you’re a grammar purist, the phrase “tastes real good” is also sure to raise your hackles.

Cronkite refused to say the line as it was written. Instead, he delivered it the correct way: “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.” His former English teachers may have been beaming at their television sets, but the execs at R.J. Reynolds, Winston’s parent company, weren’t so happy, and neither was their ad agency. The agency pounced on Cronkite’s correction, but he remained unapologetic. “I can’t do an ungrammatical thing like that,” he told them.

Wording wasn’t the only problem—his smoking, or lack thereof, was also an issue. Cronkite wasn’t a cigarette smoker, but after delivering the offending line to the cameras, he was supposed to take a puff from a Winston. Though he obliged, he didn’t inhale. The agency reprimanded Cronkite for that as well, feeling that a spokesperson who clearly didn’t use the product couldn't convince viewers to pick up a pack. They asked Cronkite to inhale on camera—and that’s where he drew the line. “Let’s just call this thing off,” he says he told them. “CBS was up in the rafters, of course, about it at the time.” It was Cronkite's first and only commercial.

Here’s the story straight from the anchor himself:

For the record, Cronkite wasn’t the only high-profile person who had a problem with the Winston wording. “Like goes Madison Avenue, like so goes the nation,” Ogden Nash wrote in The New Yorker.

Years later, Winston tried to capitalize on the controversy with a commercial that depicted a professor lecturing his students about the sloppily worded slogan. The students doth protest, jumping up in unison and saying, “What do you want, good grammar or good taste?”

Unimpressed, The Wall Street Journal responded to the question in a 1970 op-ed: “It doesn’t matter which you want. In a Winston ad, you don’t get either.”

Winston Churchill Once Got a Doctor's Note So That He Could Drink Alcohol in Prohibition-Era America

 Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Winston Churchill never went long without pouring himself a drink, even while traveling throughout Prohibition-era America. As producer and photographer Meredith Frost pointed out on Twitter recently, the future British prime minister and World War II leader got a doctor’s note in January 1932 which claimed he could drink an “indefinite” quantity of alcohol—federal laws be damned—to facilitate his “post-accident convalescence.” He had been struck by a car while on a speaking tour in New York in December 1931, which caused him chest pain in the immediate aftermath. He also suffered bouts of depression amid the aftershock, and it reportedly took him two months to fully recover.

Unfortunately for Churchill, Prohibition didn’t end until 1933. In fact, last week (December 5) marked the 85th anniversary of the repeal. He didn’t let that stop him, though. He admitted he once went to a speakeasy—"as a social investigator," of course.

This wasn’t the only time that Churchill refused to play by the rules insofar as alcohol was concerned. Once, after being told he shouldn’t drink or smoke during a meeting with a Muslim king, he replied through an interpreter, “My rule of life prescribed as an absolute sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.”

However, several historical accounts have argued that Churchill's drinking was for show and that he wasn’t actually an alcoholic. “It has been said that Winston used alcohol as a prop to his persona, rather like the cigars and pet bulldog, and that he rarely got monkey-arsed, or reached the falling-down, slurred-words state,” author Robert Sellers writes in An A-Z of Hellraisers: A Comprehensive Compendium of Outrageous Insobriety. “Total inebriation was something he abhorred, which says much for what must have been a steel constitution.”

The Christmas Book Flood: Iceland’s Literature-Loving Holiday Tradition

iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov
iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

In Iceland, the most popular Christmas gifts aren't the latest iProducts or kitchen gadgets. They're books. Each year, Iceland celebrates what’s known as “Jólabókaflóðið:” the annual Yule Book Flood.

The holiday season is the Black Friday of the Icelandic publishing world—but it’s not just about one day. According to Reader’s Digest, at the beginning of November, each household in Iceland gets a copy of the Bokatidindi, the Iceland Publishers Association’s catalog of all the books that will be published that year, giving residents a chance to pick out holiday books for their friends and family. September to November marks Icelandic publishers’ biggest season, and many sell the majority of their yearly stock leading up to Christmas. Even grocery stores become major booksellers during the Book Flood season.

The Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) tradition dates back to post-World War II economic policies. Iceland separated from Denmark in 1918, and didn’t become a fully autonomous republic until 1944. During the Great Depression, the country created a rigid, intricate system of import restrictions, and its protectionist policies continued after the war. High inflation and strict rations on imported goods made it difficult for Icelanders to get their hands on many products. The one imported product that was relatively easy to get? Paper. As a result, books became the nation’s default gift purchase, and they still are, more than half a century later.

The "flood" in Christmas Book Flood has more to do with the deluge of books hitting bookstores than it does a flood of books flowing onto individual bookshelves. To take advantage of the tradition, most hardback books published in Iceland come out in the months leading up to Christmas, when Icelanders will be purchasing them for friends and family. (Cheaper paperbacks often come out a few months later, since people are more apt to buy those for themselves rather than their loved ones, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knútsdóttir.)

While family traditions vary from household to household, most Icelanders unwrap a book on December 24, according to Reader’s Digest. Some people get a book for every member of their family, while others do a swap exchange where everyone brings one title and everyone gets to pick one from the pile. After the exchange, many people cozy up with their new volume and get reading, preferably in bed, with chocolate.

As Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir explained in a blog post in 2008, people in Iceland “will typically describe the pinnacle of enjoyment as lying in bed eating konfekt [filled chocolates] and reading one of the books they received under the tree. Later, at the slew of Christmas parties that inevitably follow, the Christmas books will be a prominent topic of conversation, and post-Yule the newspapers are filled with evaluations of which books had the best and worst titles, best and worst covers, etc.” Sounds like a pretty good tradition to us.

It’s not surprising that Iceland places such high importance on giving and receiving books. The country reads and publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world, and one in 10 Icelanders have published a book themselves. (There’s an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.)

But the glut of books that flood the Icelandic market during the latter months of the year may not be as completely joyful as it sounds, some critics warn—at least not when it comes to the stability of the publishing market. Iceland is a nation of just 338,000 people, and there are more books than there are people to buy them. Some publishers, faced with a lack of space to store the unsold books, have had to resort to destroying unpurchased stock at the end of the holiday season. But marketing books outside of Yuletime is a relatively budding practice, one that Icelandic presses are still adapting to. It’s hard to beat the prospect of curling up after Christmas dinner with a freshly opened book and a bunch of chocolates, after all.

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