As the artist who painted the Bette Davis stamp, I can unequivocally state that in the original reference photo Bette was not smoking a cigarette. It just ain't so...though looking at the position of her fingers I can see why people might think otherwise.
In a supplementary drawing I did to accompany my James Dean postage stamp of 1995, I was indeed asked to remove a cigarette dangling from Dean's mouth, and the resulting picture definitely lacked some of Dean's inimitable cool. But what else could be done? As a smoker, I can say that cinema has romanticized a habit that is slowly destroying my lungs, and to keep it in the drawing would have been at the very least a subliminal endorsement of tobacco.
Ironically, no one has picked up on what actually was changed in the Bette Davis stamp: Ms. Davis' coat. In the original photo Bette was wearing a mink, and contrary to the old expression, in this day and age fur will not fly. Not any more so than a cigarette would. Had I depicted her in mink, there would likely have been an outcry (perhaps rightfully so) from the folks at PETA, accusing the Postal Service of endorsing fur as fashion.
I therefore had an acquaintance pose in red velvet to replace the mink, and then combined the two images for the final oil painting, which led to the slight alteration in the position of Bette's hand. And yes, you are correct: the model was simply clinging to the coat's lapel, but hopefully in a way reminiscent of Ms. Davis' inimitable style.
The trouble with all this is, in our time historical accuracy often gets pitted against political correctness. So what is an illustrator to do? Keep the cigarette, mink, or whatever in the picture, and be damned by public interest groups for encouraging vices? Or take them out, and be accused of Orwellian revisionism? It's kind of a lose/lose situation. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you simply can't please all of the people all of the time.
In either case, I hope this letter, straight from the horse's mouth, helps lay this particular ghost to rest...though I'm sure the bigger debate over historical accuracy versus political correctness will go on. And on....
With kind regards,
Michael J. Deas