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The Gilded Leaf: Triumph, Tragedy, and Tobacco, Three Generations of the R.J. Reynolds Family and Fortune.

The Gilded Leaf: Triumph, Tragedy, and Tobacco, Three Generations of the R.J. Reynolds Family and Fortune. Patrick Reynolds, Tom Shachtman. Little, Brown, $19.95. Ironically, Dick Reynolds, the eldest child of R.J. Reynolds, died in 1964 from directly inhaling too much oxygen. "It literally exploded in his brain," his son Patrick writes. R.J. Junior's lungs required the pure item. He suffered from chronic emphysema. He had been living as a recluse with his fourth wife in Switzerland, rarely able to go anywhere for the last decade of his life without his oxygen cannister. The Camel-smoking, for-

mer jet-setter died very wealthy, but left nothing to his estranged sons who already had "small" trust funds of $2.5 million each, thanks to their grandmother, Katherine.

Patrick Reynolds' slice of personal geneology, biopsied and found malignant in this book, is nevertheless delivered at times with the nostalgic softness of eulogy. His anger toward his father never quite breaks to the surface in the narrative, though just cause is painfully detailed. Father Dick abandoned his first and second wives and the six sons from the two marriages in short order, echoing the flight of his own mother, Katherine, who remarried and abandoned Dick and his siblings to the care of servants after the demise of the elder R. J. (The marketing genius behind Prince Albert and Camels died of pancreatic cancer, having preferred to chew his tobacco.)

Patrick explains the humble beginnings of the dynasty, taking us back to pre-Civil War Virginia where Hardin Reynolds, a poor, young farmer burned twice by price gougers, vowed never again to be at the mercy of tobacco buyers. Hardin convinced his father that, rather than sell raw leaf to the manufacturers, they could make and sell their own sweet twist of chewing tobacco at a much bigger profit. Later, Hardin's two sons-Abram and R.J.-would follow in their father's entrepreneurial footsteps. R.J. decided to build his own tobacco factory to the south, in the small North Carolina town of Winston, near Salem. Brother Abram set sights on Bristol, Tennessee.

By the turn of the century, R.J.'s deals with the Dukes of Durham had led him into manufacturing cigarettes as well as his "chew."

R.J.-a heavy drinker and notorious philanderer in his youth-finally settled down in his fifties and married his cousin Katherine, then in her early twenties. The four children who followed in quick succession-Dick, Mary, Nancy and Z. Smith-would all inherit vast sums, only to be plagued to various degrees by the dissipation born of an embarrassment of riches and the early loss of both parents' discipline and counsel.

A drunken party at the family man-

sion in Winston left 20-year-old Z. Smith dead with a gunshot wound in the head. Privilege quashed the murder investigation, which remains unsolved and is still the subject of much quiet family speculation today. Mary Reynolds, a heavy user of the family product, died of abdominal cancer one month before her 45th birthday. Sister Nancy, also a lifetime smoker, died of emphysema after Dick. Dick's first wife, Blitz, who smoked Viceroys-a non-RJR brand that she surreptitiously stored in a Winston pack around the family-died of colon cancer at 52.

Dick's second wife, Marianne, the mother of Patrick, died of a heart ailment aggravated by smoking. It's important to note that the story didn't turn out the same way for the other branch of the Reynolds family. As early as the 1870s, R.J. Senior's brother, Abram, was worried about the "sinfulness" of tobacco and said that if the Lord wanted him to quit manufacturing chew," he would find a way. Abram-a staunch Christian and the only known teetotaler in the Reynolds family-did give up his tobacco business shortly after the turn of the century. With his prodigal son, R.S., who had quit RJR to return home to Bristol, Abram helped create U.S. Foil, which later became Reynolds Aluminum. The reader is left to muse between the lines at whether 40-year-old Patrick, the Hollywood actor turned vocal arch-enemy of smoking, has really grasped the full impact and ethical dilemma of his tarred legacy. He makes a back-bending effort at balanced treatment, discussing at length the legion of philanthropic foundations created in the Reynolds name. But Reynolds finally begs the toughest question: "Who is to be held accountable for the 10 million Americans who have died prematurely from smoking?" In fact, in the last sentence of the book, when he uses the word "unwittingly" to refer to the damage inflicted by the product his elders made so famous, Patrick Reynolds undercuts the impact of his entire work.
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Author:Eubanks, Georgann
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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