What does todayâ€™s Deseret Morning News editorial have in common with my 1941 copper medal bearing the legend â€œOur Standard Bearerâ€ over the likeness of President Heber J. Grant?
The editorial warns that:
Tobacco ads are like mildew. You just think you have the stuff under control and it crops up again out of nowhere. For tobacco, the latest outbreak is coming in colorful, attractive ads in the â€œbig slicksâ€ â€“ trendy, top-end magazines like Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar. The ads are sandwiched in among features on beauty, style and health to give off the aroma of healthy living.
The truth is, they stink.
June 7, 1941, was the opening day of June Conference, in the days when the church auxiliaries held huge multi-day conventions to present the themes of the coming yearâ€™s work, to engage in festivals of dance, music, and speech, and to listen to counsel from general authorities directed to the needs of the individual auxiliaries. In 1941, the opening day of the M.I.A. conference was capped off with a youth rally in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Planners expected 7,000 to attend. Estimates are that 10,000 crowded into the Tabernacle, stood at the doorways, and strained to understand the scratchy P.A. system from the sidewalks and lawns. The theme â€œNew Pioneers … On the March!â€ rallied LDS youth to recommit themselves to the avoidance of alcohol and tobacco.
The audience joined in a rousing opening song, â€œShall the Youth of Zion Falter?â€ followed by the invocation. Then the crowd fell silent as they listened to a half-hour dramatization of the Mormon pioneer story, broadcast over KSL Radio, courtesy of Utah Woollen Mills, who had surrendered their regularly sponsored program in honor of the grand rally.
Next came the most anticipated half hour of the program, accomplished through state-of-the-art technology. Young people in the Tabernacle engaged in short two-way radio interviews of prominent people throughout the United States: Representatives of ice skater/actress Sonja Henie in Hollywood and automobile magnate Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan; football coach Alonzo Stagg in Stockton, California; LDS radio stars the King Sisters in New York City; co-founder of Johns Hopkins hospital Dr. Howard A. Kelly in Baltimore; Lt. Elwin F. Quinn of the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed in Richmond, Virginia, and others, praised their listeners for turning from the popular image of â€œcigarettes and cocktailsâ€ as necessary to the modern, sophisticated life. Each explained how clean living had contributed to his or her own success.
No one spoke of cancer or emphysema or heart disease, whose link to tobacco was then unknown. Some did address health concerns: Lt. Quinn said that â€œjittery men donâ€™t make good aviators,â€ and Coach Stagg advised them toâ€œgive yourself and your future a fair break. Athletes addicted to use of tobacco do not possess the endurance of athletes free from it.â€
Speakers also addressed the issue of image: Actor Rad Robinson assured his hearers that in Hollywood â€œpeople admire a person who doesnâ€™t smoke or drink.â€ The King Sisters declared that â€œobserving the Word of Wisdom has brought us nothing but respect and admiration, even in the most sophisticated environment to which our profession calls us.â€
Although they were not available for interviews during the rally, movie stars Gene Autry and Jeannette MacDonald, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, sent messages to the gathering, commending LDS youth for their commitment.
Following an additional half hour of music and pageantry, and an address delivered by closed circuit radio from the sickroom of Heber J. Grant, all present pledged, on their honor, to abstain from tobacco and alcohol. Each was given a copper pocket piece to remind them of their pledge every time they fingered the medal.
The speakersâ€™ comments, and even more the printed comments and â€œscareâ€ information in the brochure given to participants, all seem quaint and simple today. Yet they served their purpose, alerting LDS youth that advertising could lie, no matter how clever it appeared, and that good and successful people, LDS and not, stood together in their commitment to what in 1941 was called â€œclean living.â€