If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Leonard McCombe’s image that inspired the Marlboro Man campaign is worth over $15 billion.
The photograph above shows Clarence Hailey Young, a foreman at the JA Ranch in Texas. McCombe had set out on assignment by Life magazine to document the real way of life of these cowboys, dispelling the glamorous image of most Hollywood movies at that time for the harsh and difficult work of ranching reality.
Something in that 1949 photo must have caught the eye of legendary advertising executive Leo Burnett who later used it as his template for the Marlboro Man. Young’s wrinkled and unshaven face framed by a large cowboy hat and bandana around his neck looked perfect to the ad executive. The fact that he had a lit cigarette on his lips probably convinced Mr. Burnett to choose the cowboy lifestyle for his advertising campaign.
The campaign for Marlboro was meant to include other macho professions, but the cowboy image emerged to be the clear winner. The choice obviously worked for Phillip Morris as the original filtered cigarettes which were first advertised for women as “Mild as May” became the winning ingredient when one tried to picture the place “Where the Flavor is.” Within two years, sales of the cigarette increased three-fold.
Darren Winfield was the first commercial Marlboro Man, with many other actors and real cowboys following in his footsteps. Similarly, many photographers, including Jim Krantz and Sam Abell were commissioned to make the iconic ads.
While most tobacco companies nowadays have shifted their advertising campaigns away from the cowboy image, the original idea has been considered to be one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. And to think that McCombe’s Marlboro Man shot sparked the idea that would be worth millions of dollars from what was originally a ladies’ cigarette.
Clarence Hailey Long, Jr., often known as C.H. Long (January 9, 1910 – June 29, 1978), was the rugged Texas cowboy sensationalized as the original Marlboro Man. Long, then foreman of the JA Ranch, was catapulted to national attention in 1949, when Life magazine magazine published a series of Leonard McCombe photographs on ranching in the American West. Long was the basis of the popular Marlboro cigarettes advertising campaign for Philip Morris, but other models followed through 1999.
Long was born in Paducah, the seat of Cottle County in the southern Texas Panhandle. He worked on the 320,000-acre (1,300 km2) JA Ranch southeast of Amarillo and originally established by John George Adair, a native of Ireland, and Charles Goodnight, the best known of the Texas cattlemen. During World War II, Long served in the United States Navy in the South Pacific. The then 39-year-old, 150-pound Long was described as a “silent man, unassuming and shy, to the point of bashfulness [with a] face sunburned to the color of saddle leather [with cowpuncher’s] wrinkles radiating from pale blue eyes.” He wore “a ten-gallon Stetson hat, a bandanna around his neck, a bag of Bull Durham tobacco with its yellow string dangling from his pocket, and blue denim, the fabric of the profession.”
Long’s Marlboro photographs led to marriage proposals from across the nation, all of which he rejected. In 1951, at forty, Long wed the former Ellen Theresa Rogers (March 21, 1925 – July 29, 2002), a Massachusetts-born nurse who came to the JA to care for young Cornelia Wadsworth “Ninia” Ritchie, daughter of ranch manager Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth “Montie” Ritchie. The Longs had five sons: Clarence, Roger, Walt, Grant, and John.
His father, C. H. Long, Sr., was in charge of the Hereford herd on the JA, but died when thrown from a bronco. Subsequently, Long Jr. was offered a $20,000 annual contract to advertise beer. His declining of the offer was highlighted in the June 25, 1955, edition of the Baptist Standard newspaper. Long left the JA in 1956.
Long’s tenure at the JA partly paralleled that of Tom Blasingame, known as the oldest cowboy in the American West, having died at the age of ninety-one in 1989, after having worked in ranching for seventy-three years.
Long joked that “If it weren’t for a good horse, a woman would be the sweetest thing in the world.”