The notion of "political correctness" that Ctein and others brought up yesterday with regard to the mystery of Bette Davis's cigarette reminded me of a story. You'll notice that in the Bette Davis portrait, and on the stamp, she's wearing a fur coat. Back during the relatively short period of time (seven years or so) when I was a "real" photographer, I got hired a number of times to cover demonstrations. (There are demonstrations and protest marches happening all the time in D.C., large and small.) Usually it was the organizers of the demonstration who had hired me, so I wasn't a reporter—I was there to show the effectiveness of the demonstrators in the best light possible. My proudest achievement along those lines was a craftily composed picture showing a big homemade protest banner, six protesters, and two policemen, all jammed into the frame as if they were part of a much larger crowd. What the picture didn't show was this: total number of protesters at the demonstration: 6; total police presence: 2. I managed to get three shots that day that didn't make it immediately obvious that nobody had shown up. 'Twasn't easy.
The wearing of fur, like smoking, is more controversial now than it was back in Bette Davis's time. I can't actually remember if I was there covering the event for somebody or if I just happened upon it while I was out and about, but I remember getting caught up in the middle of an "anti-fur" demonstration in Georgetown one weekend afternoon. There were a lot of protesters at that one, many of them screaming at passing cars and harrassing passers-by who happened to be wearing fur, which occasioned a number of interventions by the police. So the mood was a bit tense.
I caught sight of two tourists heading boldly into the fray: a short, stocky man who looked pretty much just like a movie gangster, in a dark overcoat, smoking a big cigar, arm in arm with a flashy-looking and considerably younger woman who was about a head taller than he. She was clearly dressed for a night on the town, and—unfortunately, given the circumstance—her attire was topped off with a gorgeous white fur jacket. The man looked confident; his fur-clad companion looked a good deal more uncertain. As the two of them made their way along the sidewalk, the man with the cigar and several demonstrators traded words that I couldn't quite make out. But as they neared me, a ragged young woman with a protest sign jumped out from the crowd and began following the pair closely. As they passed me, the protester yelled at the two, "So how did you manage to get all the blood off that coat, anyway!?"
Without breaking stride or skipping a beat, the man removed his cigar from his mouth, and said, aggressively and loudly, in a thick New Jersey accent: "I sucked it off wit' a STRAW. An' it tasted good."
No police protection required....