In 2015, Executive Director Clare Cameron presented “Hollywood and Mesothelioma” at the 5th International Symposium on Lung-Sparing Therapies for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma.
It’s a subject that has rarely been explored, as most mesothelioma cases tend to focus on jobs such as construction workers, firefighters, and mechanics. Yet, it’s an important area to explore and it shows how frequently asbestos was once used in Hollywood, including on the sets of some of the world’s most famous movies.
The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz remains of the most iconic movies ever seen on television. Keep in mind, however, that each time you watch the popular movie, you’re watching the actors and actresses being doused in one of the most dangerous carcinogens: asbestos. The Wizard of Oz film set was one of the first to asbestos in its most purest form.
During the “poppy field” scene, Dorothy (played by actress Judy Garland) woke up surrounded what looked like real snow. Yet, the realistic-looking set was actually filled with pure asbestos in chrysotile form.
Further, the Scarecrow’s entire outfit was created with asbestos, as was the Wicked Witch’s broom.
In 1939, when the movie was released, officials had already sent out warning regarding the dangerous effects of asbestos. Film sets continued to use the harmful mineral regardless, due to its affordability and ability to resist heat and fire.
It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life, filmed in 1964, is still one of the most popular and adored Christmas movies of all time. Of course, being a Christmas movie, film producers had to make sure there was plenty of holiday snow.
Yet, filming the Christmas Eve scene during summer with 90-degree weather made it impossible to use real snow. Film officials first used white-colored snowflakes and other forms of artificial snow, but the actors walking on the fake snow made crunching noises so loud that it affected the sound.
Asbestos was introduced as an alternative replacement after an RKO studio special effects wizard, Russell Sherman, along with his crew, developed a foamite solution. According to TIME, the asbestos-containing solution was “pumped at high pressure through a wind machine” that resulted in the film scene looking like it was covered with beautiful, natural snow.
Film officials used around 6,000 gallons of the fake snow throughout the movie, which clung to the actors’ clothes, hairs, shoes, and skin.
In 1971, Steve McQueen starred in Le Mans, a “24-hour car race in France” film and documentary. The film featured McQueen Speeding through the streets of France, while his son narrated the film. Hollywood Daily Star reports that McQueen wore racing suits created with asbestos.
However, as a teen and young adult, McQueen worked in shipyards where asbestos was heavily used in numerous areas of vessels and in various constructions parts and wiring. The combination of asbestos exposure eventually took the actor’s life. In 1980, passed away from mesothelioma, a life-threatening cancer that develops after exposure to asbestos.
Colorless microscopic asbestos fibers are impossible to detect with the human eye, but easy to inhaled or ingest. Once inside the body, these odorless, tiny fibers stick the the lining of major organs, such as the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Over time, the fibers begin to irritate the lining, and eventually cancerous cell, and then cancerous tumors form in the body.
The Death of Ed Lauter
On October 16, 2013 actor Ed Lauter died of mesothelioma. Later, his family filed a mesothelioma lawsuit against numerous television, manufacturing, automotive, and electric companies, accusing the businesses of negligently providing and using asbestos on TV and film sets that Lauter worked at. CBS, NBC, Blockbuster LLC, Ford Motor Company, General Electric Company, and Union Carbide are among a few of the many companies Lauter’s family sued.
As of 2017, the case is still pending.
Lauter was well-known for his roles in movies and television shows such as The Longest Yard, Seabiscuit, My Blue Heaven, and The Golden Years. He was also referred to as a “profile character” due to his numerous appearances in TV shows and movies.
“Someone once said to me, ‘Eddie, you’re a “turn” actor.’ What’s that? He said, ‘That’s when a story is going along and your character shows up and the story suddenly takes a major turn.’ That’s kind of neat.” Lauter said in a 2003 interview, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Later, a scholarship fund and an Ed Lauter Foundation was created to help young aspiring actors with their education while honoring Lauter’s work.
Additional Information About Asbestos and Mesothelioma
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