Marlboro Man

by Jenny Novac on July 25, 2011

The Marlboro Man is a figure used in 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 advertisements were originally conceived as a way to popularize filtered cigarettes, which at the time were considered feminine.

Marlboro cigarettes advertisment

Marlboro cigarettes advertisment



Marlboro Man – The rugged cowboy character seen in a number of TV commercials and print ads since the 1950s. Philip Morris had introduced Marlboro brand as a woman’s cigarette in 1924 but decided to revise the brand in 1955. Dropping the idea of a red-tipped cigarette with the slogan “Fresh as the month of May”, the Leo Burnett Agency changed the former feminine brand into a masculine product that soon began to sell millions.

It featured a close-up of a rugged weather-worn 39-year-old Texas ranch foreman named Clarence Hailey Long with a cowboy hat on his head and cigarette in his mouth.

Marlboro cigarettes ads

Marlboro cigarettes ads

Actors to portray the Marlboro Man were Darrell Winfield (who appeared the majority of the print ads), Dick Hammer, Dean Myers, Robert Norris, Tom Mattox and John Bryant (best remembered as the original “Marlboro Man.” He went on to play Dr. Robert Spaulding on the TV western, THE VIRGINIAN). In 1964, the company revived the cowboy and gave him a mythical land all his own known as Marlboro Country.

The Marlboro TV commercials were discontinued when tobacco advertisements were legislated off the air in the 1970s (and later radio, billboards and print advertisements in youth markets.)

Even with the TV ban, Marlboro became the No. 1 tobacco brand in the world in 1972. Marlboro slogans included: “Come to Marlboro Country”; “Come to where the flavor is”; and “You get a lot to like with a Marlboro.”

Marlboro Man ads

Marlboro Man ads

Although extremely successful and one of the top ad campaigns of all time, the Marlboro campaign was at odds with logic. Why? Well, here is a man who is out in the middle of the wilderness, riding the range at the foot of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains and having immediate access to all the fresh air he could ever possibly want, but for some reason (nicotine addiction?) he has the need to light up a cigarette and pollute his lungs and stink up the air. I just don’t get.

Wayne McLaren, rode rider, actor, Hollywood stuntman and one of the Marlboro cigarette cowboys, became an anti-smoking advocate after he developed cancer., A former pack-and-a-half day smoker, he died in 1992 at the age of 51. The original Marlboro Man, David Millar, Jr. died of emphysema in 1987. The widow of Marlboro Man David McLean, who died of lung cancer, sued the company for damages.

Other tobacco spokesmen such as David Goerlitz, the Winston Man from 1981 to 1987, was disabled by a stroke in his mid-30s. He lost feeling in his left leg, left side of his face and lost his sense of taste. Will Thornbury, a Camel model, died of lung cancer at age of 56 in 1992; and Janet Sackman, a former Lucky Strike girl in the 1950s lost her voice box and part of a lung to cancer (Plain Truth April, 1993 p. 28).

Marlboro Man advertisment cig

Marlboro Man advertisment cig

In 2003, Marlboro changed their company name to Altria Group, Inc. Their name may have changed, but the cancer their cigarettes causes still remains the same. One of the most ironic things about Altria Group, Inc. is that they produce anti-tobacco commercials warning of the dangers and addictive nature of smoking.

The ad features the voice-over narration of a sympathetic female telling the viewers that “There are not safe cigarettes.” Yet Altria Group, (Philip Morris) knowing full well, the dangers of tobacco use, still manufactures them. So much for the corporate love of the almighty dollar over the real health and well-being of America.


Philip Morris & Co. (now Altria) had originally introduced the Marlboro brand as a woman’s cigarette in 1924. Starting in the early 1950s, the cigarette industry began to focus on promoting filtered cigarettes, as a response to the emerging scientific data about harmful effects of smoking. Marlboro, as well as other brands, started to be sold with filters. However, filtered cigarettes, Marlboro in particular, were considered to be women’s cigarettes.

Advertising executive Leo Burnett was looking for a new image with which to reinvent Philip Morris’s Marlboro brand to appeal to a mass market. In particular, Philip Morris felt that the prime market was “post adolescent kids who were just beginning to smoke as a way of declaring their independence from their parents.”  Most filtered cigarette advertising sought to make claims about the technology behind the filter.

Marlboro Man advertisment

Marlboro Man advertisment

Through the use of complex terminology and scientific claims regarding the filter, the cigarette industry wanted to ease fears about the harmful effects of cigarette smoking through risk reduction. However, Leo Burnett decided to address the growing fears through an entirely different matter; creating ads completely void of health concerns or health claims of the filtered cigarette.

Burnett felt that making claims about the effectiveness of filters furthered concerns of the long term effects of smoking. Thus, refusing to respond to health claims matched the emergent, masculine image of the New Marlboro. 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. The new Marlboro also included images of other masculine occupations such as sea captains, athletes, and gunsmiths. However over time, the focus became on the cowboy as the image of the Marlboro Man.

Finding the Marlboro Man

Initially, commercials involving the Marlboro Man featured paid models pretending to carry out cowboy tasks.

However, Burnett felt that the commercials lacked authenticity, as it was pretty clear that the subjects were not real cowboys and did not have the desired rugged look. Leo Burnett was not satisfied with the cowboy actors until they came across Darrell Winfield, who worked on a ranch.

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson and Marlboro man

Leo Burnett’s creative director was awed when he first saw Winfield: “I had seen cowboys, but I had never seen one that just really, like, sort of scared the hell out of me.” Winfield’s immediate authenticity led to his 20 year run as being the Marlboro Man, which lasted until the late 1980s, upon Winfield’s retirement. After Winfield’s retirement, Philip Morris reportedly spent $300 million searching for a new Marlboro Man.

After appearing as the Marlboro Man in 1987 advertising, former rodeo cowboy Brad Johnson landed a lead role in Steven Spielberg’s Always (1989) with Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss


The use of the Marlboro Man campaign had very significant and immediate effects on sales. In 1955 when the Marlboro Man campaign was started, sales were at $5 billion.

By 1957, sales were at $20 billion, representing a 300% increase within two years. Philip Morris easily overcame growing health concerns through the Marlboro Man campaign, highlighting the success as well as the tobacco industry’s strong ability to use mass marketing to influence consumers. The immediate success of the Marlboro Man campaign led to heavy imitation. Old Golds adopted the tagline as being a cigarette for “independent thinkers.” Chesterfield depicted cowboy and other masculine occupations to match their tagline of “Men of America” smoke Chesterfields.


Three men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements – Wayne McLaren, David McLean and Dick Hammer – died of lung cancer, thus earning Marlboro cigarettes, specifically Marlboro Reds, the nickname “Cowboy killers”.

McLaren testified in favor of anti-smoking legislation 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, considering Winfield as the holder of that title. McLaren died before his 52nd birthday in 1992.

The actor and model Christian Haren portrayed the Marlboro Man in the early 1960s and later became active in AIDS prevention education.


In many countries, the Marlboro Man is an icon 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. It still continues in Japan (on tobacco vending machines for example) where smoking is widespread in the male population.

“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.

Philip 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’sKRON aired the documentary in 1982. Since then it has been seen around the world.

In popular culture

The Marlboro Man was portrayed by Don Johnson in the 1991 film Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Although the name “Marlboro Man” was used, like several other products that shared the same name as one of the characters, the company did not sponsor or endorse the film itself.

In My Name Is Earl, Earl is referred to as Marlboro Man at a fast food restaurant, where he is working to make up for an item on his list, by his boss, played by Jon Favreau, in season 1 episode 12, “O Karma, Where Art Thou?”.

Sam Elliot plays a cancer stricken former Marlboro Man in Thank You for Smoking.

In Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, the character Prior despairs of his former lover’s current boyfriend, Joe, and Joe’s handsome, masculine appearance, declaring “He’s theMarlboro Man, he made me feel beyond Nelly…”

In the Seinfeld episode “The Abstinence”, Cosmo Kramer sues a tobacco company but settles out of court, his settlement being the placement of his face as that of the Marlboro Man’s on a billboard in Times Square.

The band Alabama refers to the Marlboro Man in their song Cheap Seats, “We sit below the Marlboro man, above the right field wall”

The band Harvey Danger refer to the Marlboro Man in their song “Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, “The Marlboro Man died of cancer and he wasn’t a rocket scientist when he was healthy.”

In the Paula Cole song Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?, the last line of the song says “Where is my Marlboro Man? Where is his shiny gun?”

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