Before its dangers became apparent, asbestos found its way into numerous products, from fake snow to oven mitts to the walls of countless homes. With its range of uses, it was even brought into movie productions! Want to know what some of the films in question were? Here’s a list of 5 classic movies that used asbestos on set.
5 Movies that Used Asbestos
1. Wizard of Oz
Imagine having to lie down in a field dusted with pure white chrysotile asbestos. This is exactly what Judy Garland had to do when she played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. In an iconic scene, Dorothy awakens in a poppy field covered with snow. White asbestos served as the “realistic” snow that showered upon Dorothy and her friends.
Asbestos took up a supportive role in other parts in the film as well. For one, the broom handle of the Wicked Witch of the West was crafted from asbestos. Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow, also stuffed his costume with asbestos to protect himself during scenes that involved fire.
Interestingly, the movie came out in 1939, the same year when officials had issued warnings about the detrimental health effects of asbestos. However, The Wizard of Oz was just one of the first movies to use the dangerous material.
2. Holiday Inn
This 1942 Yuletide musical film ended with a performance of “White Christmas,” which would later become the world’s best-selling single. While lead characters Jim and Linda sing a romantic duet, snow pours down throughout a Christmas-themed montage. As jolly as these interspersed outdoor scenes are, the thick snow in this montage is really white chrysotile asbestos. Just imagine how much asbestos remediation had to follow!
3. White Christmas
The song “White Christmas” took audiences by storm and became the center of the 1954 film with the same title. Right after the lead characters confess their love at the end of a Christmas Eve show, a stage backdrop is removed to reveal snow falling outside. However, the fact that the snowfall is essentially a rain of white asbestos is the exact opposite of romantic and whimsical.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life
In this 1946 movie’s climax, main character George begs his guardian angel to let him live, contrasting his depression at the start of the film. He stands on a bridge and weeps as the snow starts to fall. The scene unfolds into an ending so heartwarming that it made It’s a Wonderful Life into a beloved Christmas movie. It’s just that the bridge and all other outdoor sets are coated in powdery white asbestos snow. On top of that, George touches his lower lip shortly after leaning on the asbestos-covered bridge, possibly getting fibers in his mouth!
5. Le Mans
Films finally stopped using asbestos snow towards the end of the 1950’s, but the hazardous material still showed up in film productions. One key example is Steve McQueen’s asbestos racing suit in the 1971 film Le Mans. When McQueen developed mesothelioma in his final years, he felt that racing suits and helmets were one contributing factor. Aside from this, he was also repeatedly exposed to asbestos during his years as a Marine.
Fortunately, fake snow and racing suits have come a long way from asbestos. However, asbestos continues to appear in innocent-looking products like baby powder. Only time will tell if this hazardous material will be completely banned in the near future.
Visit our blog for more articles and news about asbestos.