The Smokin' Babes

(by Heather St. Claire, 20 February 2005)


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The Smokin' Babes
By Heather St. Claire

Brittany Murphy, lead reporter for the syndicated television newsmagazine
"Inside Report," sits in her cluttered office, surfing the Internet for story
leads and ideas. Smoke curls up from the Marlboro Light 100 burning in the
ashtray beside her computer. From time to time, she takes a long, deep drag,
and then returns the cigarette to the ashtray. 

Murphy is 30 years old, and has been with the program for almost 10 months
now. It's been a quick rise from college to local television to the top of
the heap.

She momentarily thinks back to her job interview with the show's executive
editor. Hannah Thomas. Thomas is a still-striking woman in her early 50s.
Murphy walks into the office feeling self-assured, but quickly finds herself
overcome by nerves-and the first pangs of nicotine deprivation.

She finds her prospective boss smoking a Virginia Slims 120. "Sit down, Miss
Murphy, please," Taylor says. Glancing briefly at her cigarette, she says,
"Would you prefer that I put this out?" 

"Oh-not at all," Murphy replies. "As a matter of fact, I wish I could have
one now."

Thomas smiles. "You're a smoker, Miss Murphy?"

"Please, call me Brittany. And yes, yes I am."

"Well, there's no reason not to have one in here, Brittany," Thomas says,
waving an arm through the cloud of smoke in the office.

"I didn't bring mine."

Thomas quickly reaches for her pack. "Here," she says with a smile. "Have one
of mine."

As Murphy lights the Virginia Slim, Thomas says, "You don't have any reason
to be nervous, Brittany. I've reviewed your tape, and talked to your present
and former bosses. I think you're exactly what I'm looking for. And finding
out that you smoke seals the deal."

Thomas, suddenly much more relaxed, laughs, takes a long drag and says,
"Really?"

"Oh yes. I find that smokers are more confident, more aggressive, and have
more style-all the traits I'm trying to bring to the program. In fact, I
thought about making it a job requirement, but the lawyers would have killed
me." Both women laugh. "When can you start?"

Brittany is tall-almost five feet ten-with long legs, a slim figure, long
neck, oval face framed by wavy blonde hair. After 10 months, she's earned a
reputation for developing memorable stories with high human interest that
also illustrate larger trends.

The day after getting the green light on the story, she boards a plane at LAX
for Eugene, then transfers to a commuter plane for the hop to Mill Valley.
After two days of interviews and taping, she's back in Los Angeles. Another
day of writing and editing, and she's ready to show the finished story to the
boss.

She pops the tape into the VCR; both women light cigarettes, sit back and
watch.

The story opens with Murphy standing on a hillside. She's wearing tan slacks,
a cream-colored blouse, and a beige jacket. As she presents her opening
standup, the camera pans down for a panoramic view of Mill Valley, population
15,000. "A court fight in this Oregon town has just come to close. It's a
battle that pitted adults against teens, parents against parents, those who
believe in individual freedom against those who think they know what's best
for others."

The next shot finds Murphy in front of the Mill Valley Courthouse. "In this
courthouse, Judge Albert Thompson has just ruled in favor of a group of high
school students seeking to maintain what they say is their right to
self-expression. They're seniors at Mill Valley High, and they call
themselves the Smokin' Babes.

The camera cuts to a medium two-shot of Murphy with a bosomy, round-faced
girl with jet black hair. She wears a cheerleader's uniform and a blue satin
jacket.

"The Smokin' Babes have been at Mill Valley for 25 years," club president
Juanita Simmons tells the reporter. "There are just a few basic
qualifications. You have to be a senior girl, 18 years old, and you have to
smoke."

"Why do you have to smoke?" Thomas asks.

"It's our form of bonding," the girl replies. "Some girls do it to feel more
grownup. Some simply enjoy the feeling. Some do it because-." She hesitates.

"What?" the reporter asks.

"-because it makes them feel sexy," the girl says, blushing slightly. On a
cue from the reporter, she turns to reveal the back of her jacket, which has
"Smokin' Babes" written in script across it.

"So is the club just about smoking?"

"Oh no," the girl says, regaining her composure. "We do all kinds of
volunteer work in the school and the community, like helping out with drives
for the food bank."

The camera cuts to a shot of Thomas outside a local convenience store. "In
Oregon, like the rest of the country, smoking is still legal for those over
18. The Mill Valley School District doesn't allow smoking on campus, but had
pursued a hands-off policy on what students did away from school-until new
Principal Dan Chalmers arrived last year."

Cut to a shot of Chalmers in the hall of the school, talking to a teacher.
He's a wiry, middle-aged man, and even though the reporters' voice-over
continues, we can immediately see from his over-animated gestures how
high-strung he is.

"Chalmers instituted a no-tobacco on school premises policy-even if students
didn't try to smoke at school. This included random searches of lockers,
backpacks and purses. Then he tried to ban the Smokin' Babes. He issued an
edict forbidding them to wear their jackets to school. That led a group of
parents to file their lawsuit."

The camera cuts to a shot of Chalmers, sitting behind his desk. "It's been a
nightmare," he says with a deep sigh. Nervously running his fingers through
his thinning hair; he adds, "Don't these kids know what they're doing to
themselves? Oh, I shouldn't ask that. You wouldn't believe how many calls
I've had from parents who regularly buy cigarettes for their kids-and tell me
how proud they were that their daughters had been invited to join this club."

The next cut finds Murphy sitting in the booth of a local café. A table full
of smokers can be seen in the background. "One of those proud parents is
Misty Taylor, whose daughter Anne, a junior, is hoping to join the club next
year."

The camera pulls back to find Anne Taylor next to Murphy. She's an attractive
redhead with a confident smile and perfect complexion. Thomas turns to her
and asks, "Why is joining the club so important to you?"

"I guess it's because of what smoking's done for me," she replies. "I started
last fall. At the time, I was almost 30 pounds overweight and had really bad
hair and skin. I didn't have too many friends."

"So what led you to start?"

Anne smiles at the memory. "I was in the parking lot and a girl from one of
my classes came up to me, and asked me if I wanted to try smoking. I said,
`No way!' But she said, `Oh come on, give it a try.' Something inside me told
me to do it. So I did."

"And you're happy you did?"

"Oh yes," the girl says, propping up a snapshot in front of her. "This is me
a year ago." The photo is of a chunky girl with moderately bad acne. "When I
started smoking, I found myself starting to lose weight immediately. All of a
sudden, chocolate didn't taste as good. And my skin began clearing up."

"Is that all?"

"Oh no," she responds. "I began to make new friends hanging out with the kids
who smoke. The girls, especially, seemed so confident and outgoing. I found
myself becoming more like them. And I haven't told you the best thing," she
adds, a broad smile spreading across her face. "For the first time in my
life, I've got a boyfriend. He acts so gentlemanly, always lighting my
cigarettes."

"So you're glad the Smokin' Babes will be allowed to continue next year?"
Anne pauses to light a Newport 100. She exhales and says with a smile. "You
bet."

The next shot finds Murphy standing in an empty courtroom. She looks into the
camera and says, "It was in this courtroom that the school district did
battle with the parents of the Smokin' Babes. Surgeon General's reports were
pitted against the First Amendment. For Judge Thompson, it finally came down
to a matter of personal choice."

The next shot finds Thompson, a distinguished looking man in his mid-50s,
sitting at his desk. A wall of law books is behind him. "For me, it came down
to a couple of simple matters. Is it legal for 18-year-olds to smoke? The
answer is clearly yes. Is it legal for the school district to restrict free
speech? The answer is clearly no." 

The judge pauses, reaches into a desk drawer, pulls out a pipe, and lights
it. "I suppose I should tell you, in the interests of full disclosure," he
says, pausing to take a draw on the pipe, "I'm a smoker."

The final shot finds Brittany Murphy, back on the hillside overlooking the
town. She's wearing the same outfit as in the opening shot, only this time,
the blazer is replaced by a blue satin jacket.

"The losers of this case promise an appeal," she declares. "Still, the
parents, and advocates of freedom everywhere, are hailing this decision as a
landmark in the battle for free choice." She pauses, reaching into the
jacket's pockets. "And, in the interests of full disclosure," she says,
pulling out a cigarette and lighter, "I should tell you that I grew up in
Mill Valley. And I'm a smoker too." She places the cigarette between her lips
and lights it. "And 12 years ago, I was a member of the Smokin' Babes. This
is Brittany Murphy for Inside Report, in Mill Valley, Oregon."

 The screen goes to black, soon replaced by color bars. As the women put out
 their cigarettes, each exhales a final cloud.

"Brittany," Hannah exclaims, "That was wonderful. Isn't it time we talked
about raising your salary?"

"It certainly is," she says with a laugh, lighting another cigarette.

THE END


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