Asbestos & the Movies

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has represented victims of asbestos exposure for almost 30 years.  

At one time, asbestos was considered a magic mineral because it was cheap, a good insulator, and resistant to fire and chemicals. Because of these useful properties, it was used in an amazing array of products and industries, some of which might surprise the average person.  For example, asbestos was widely used in making and watching movies. Here are some examples:

Fire retardant clothing worn by stunt men often contained asbestos. In the 1971 film Le Mans, Actor Steve McQueen wore asbestos containing racing suites. He would later die from mesothelioma, and his exposure as an actor and race car driver may have contributed to his death.

Fireproof curtains containing asbestos were commonly used in movie theaters from the 1950s to the 1980s.

In the 1964 movie Goldfinger, and probably other Bond films, asbestos was used in special effects boards and piping used on sets. Carpenters would cut this material, releasing asbestos fibers into the air.

One of the most beloved of all movies, The Wizard of Oz, made extensive use of asbestos. Both the witch’s broom and the scarecrow’s clothing were made out of asbestos, and all of the snow used in the poppies scene was commercial grade asbestos.

Marketed under brand names like “White Magic,” “Pure White,” and “Snow White,” asbestos was widely used in movies to simulate snow during the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1942 film Holiday Inn, where Bing Crosby famously crooned  the song “White Christmas,” stage hands scattered artificial snow containing asbestos.     Although a chemical snow was invented for the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, asbestos snow may have been used to dress some parts of the set.

Prior to the 1930s, flammable cotton batting was often used to simulate snow on movie sets, but in 1928, a firefighter pointed out this created a fire hazard and suggested asbestos as a safe alternative. Painted corn flakes were also used in some movies, but the flakes were so crunchy that scenes with dialogue had to be dubbed over. Asbestos remained the fake snow of choice for moviemakers for many years until military demands for asbestos helped end Hollywood’s use of asbestos in movies.  Today, we know that asbestos can cause deadly diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma and no one would even think of using asbestos to create winter scenes for cinema.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by exposure to asbestos, contact James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. for a free initial consultation. We can be reached at 304-881-0652 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll free) or through our website, www.jfhumphreys.com.

 

Sources

Ernie Smith, “The Slow Demise of Asbestos, the Carcinogen that Gave ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Snow,” Aug. 1, 2016, http://www.atlasobscura.com/…/the– slow- demise- of- asbestos- the- carcinogen- that- gave…

Heidie Davis, “Snow Job: How Hollywood Fakes Winter on Film,” Popular Mechanics Feb. 8, 2013, https://www.popularmechanics.com/…/movies/…/snow-job-how-hollywood-fakes-winter

Kat Eschner, “The Crazy Tricks Early Filmmakers Used to Fake Snow,” Dec. 21, 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/…/crazy-tricks-early-filmmakers-used-fake-snow

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