Did They Really Use Asbestos in Artificial Snow?

Artificial snow is something that many of us have seen in movies and on television, but did you know that it once contained asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber which has been used over the years as insulation, fireproofing material and more. As we now know, it is incredibly dangerous and inhaling the fibres can result in serious health complications like lung cancer. It seems incredible, therefore that people willingly sprinkled asbestos snow around their homes, and that it was used in big-budget movie productions!

In terms of artificial snow, it was used to give it a realistic look and feel. However, due to its hazardous properties, this use has long since been discontinued. In this article, we look at the history of asbestos in artificial snow including famous actors who died from exposure to it.

It Was Used in Hollywood Movie Production

Yes, asbestos was used in artificial snow in Hollywood movie production! In the 1950s during the Golden Age of Hollywood, there was some practices which at the time really helped improve production quality, but today, would simply never be used.

Asbestos artificial snow was one such practice. At the time, it looked incredible and realistic! You will see in the below list that many of the greatest films of all time utilized this hazardous mineral. Today, the sheer idea of it is lunacy, but back then, they didn’t have the same scientific knowledge and understanding, therefore, asbestos was used everywhere!

Below, we have listed some of the most notable examples of Hollywood films that used asbestos snow during production.

The Wizard of Oz - Snow-Covered Poppy Fields

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films of all time, and part of its charm lies in the idyllic landscapes featured throughout the movie. One such landscape is the snow-covered poppy fields that Dorothy and her companions travel through on their way to the Emerald City.

While these fields may look beautiful on screen, there was a darker side. The glistening snow that covered those poppies was actually made from asbestos! It was also reported that the actor who played the dim-witted but lovable scarecrow, Ray Bolger actually filled his costume with asbestos as a protective measure during scenes that had pyrotechnics!

It's a Wonderful Life - George Begs for Forgiveness

It’s a Wonderful Life is an all-time classic and such a memorable film due to the characters and the story of George Bailey and his redemption. George has made many mistakes throughout his life and this culminates in a disastrous financial scheme that will land him in prison.

We all know the rest – he wants to take his own life but the lovable angel Clarence appears and shows George just how much the world would miss him if he never existed. The film looks fantastic, has incredible music, and some wonderful Christmas backdrops.

Many of the scenes such as when George begs Clarence to live again on the bridge include snow. Yes, you guessed it – the snow used in It’s a Wonderful Life was made with asbestos!

Holiday Inn - Magical Snow Scenes

The Holiday Inn is a sublime musical film from the 1940s staring legends like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale. It tells a fantastic tale of business, Christmas time, and has some incredible music, dancing, and songs. The most notable of which is Bing’s own song, “White Christmas” which remains a treasured Christmas Tune.

Due to the Christmas setting, there are multiple scene throughout this engaging music where snow gently drifts in the landscapes and streets. This was white chrysolite asbestos.

Famous Actors Who Died From Asbestos Complications

As you can see, asbestos was used in Hollywood on many films – and not just in artificial snow. This meant that many actors inhaled the fibres and ended up having complications from asbestos-related diseases. We have listed some of the most notable names below:

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen was exposed to asbestos while filming The Towering Inferno in 1974. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1979 and died from the disease in 1980. McQueen will forever be immortalized as Virgil Hilts or the Cooler King in the WW2 epic The Great Escape, and Jake Holman in the naval epic The Sand Pebbles which landed him an Academy Award nomination.

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds was exposed to asbestos while filming The Cannonball Run in 1981. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018 and died from the disease in 2019. Reynolds was another classic American power actor who had an illustrious career mainly during the 1970s and 80s. His most notable films include Deliverance, White Lightning, The Longest Yard, and Smokey and the Bandit.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman was exposed to asbestos while filming The Hustler in 1961. He developed lung cancer and died from the disease in 2008. Newman was a multi-award-winning actor including an Academy Award, three Golden Globes, and a Primetime Emmy Award. His most iconic film was arguably The Hustler, but other top hits included Hud, Harper Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Asbestos Snow Was Also Used in Households for Decoration

In the past, asbestos snow was also used in households for decoration. Asbestos fibers were mixed with other materials to create a fluffy white substance that could be used to simulate snowfall.

This was a popular way to decorate homes during the holidays, as it created a festive atmosphere. There has been numerous social media posts that have shown photos of old boxes of asbestos snow from the 1950s entitled “Asbestos Pure White Fire Proof Snow”. It’s still quite unbelievable today that this is what happened, and that people willingly sprinkled this dangerous substance around their homes, but they did!

We hope you have found this article interesting. As you can see, asbestos was used in many ways until it was largely regulated and banned in the USA. Artificial snow has to be one of the more unique and bizarre uses for sure!