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A real honest-to-goodness Black Cat Cigarette Girl - Meet Millie Schnaufer (1918-2008)

Millie Schnaufer the Black Cat Cigarette Girl Millie a la francais

Take your pick - in English or in French - it all says the same! Image sources from my private collection (English image on left as you look at the screen) and my thanks to for the French version (as seen on right as you look at the screen)

I was thrilled to pieces when Millie's 73-year-old son Mike Read got in touch with me after finding this image of his mother on my website. He regaled me with his mother's modelling successes and her subsequent family life and provided me with another of those coincidences you know by now that I love. Millie and my late mother were born in the same year - 1918 - two remarkable and beautiful women.

Mike is also justifiably proud of the fact that his mother was the 1953 Coca Cola Menu Girl and featured on a tray designed typically in the style of the day.

'Have a Coke - Thirst knows no season'

A little more information about Millie has been sourced from two obituaries (abridged for this page)

Mildred Verna Ruth Read (nee Schnaufer) passed away at the Village at Smith Creek in Kelowna, BC on July,16, 2008. She was predeceased by her parents, George and Bertha Schnaufer and her brother Norman. She is forever remembered by her children, Don Case (Kelowna), Michael (Ellen) Read, (PEI), Russ (Erin) Read, (North Carolina), Deborah Fraipont, (Kelowna) and her wonderful sister Elma Beauchamp, Houston, Texas. She also leaves behind twelve grandchildren, Joy, Angela, Roselyn, Donna, Brodie, Geordon, Tyler, RJ, Hope, Cara, Courtney and Spencer and her furry friend Bauer. Millie was born in Montreal and worked as a model for many years, appearing in numerous magazine covers and posing in ads for Coca Cola, Pepsi and Black Cat Cigarettes. She visited Hollywood for a screen test and became acquainted with Bing Crosby and other stars. She eventually worked for Holt Renfrew in Vancouver before retiring to Kelowna in the early 90's. She will be remembered for her kindness and her loving spirit. - Sources : Kelowna Capital News |

Wartime Experience

M. Empson

Both my sisters worked at Carreras, the cigarette factory, known as 'The Black Cat' it was the biggest local employer. Connie worked in the office as a shorthand typist and Ivy worked in the factory. Connie enquired about a job for me, but as they didn't take office staff under 16, they suggested that I work in the factory for two years and then I could transfer over. That was a laugh, two years, I lasted about two weeks and if I hadn't given notice I would have been sacked, I'm sure.....

On walking into that huge factory the first morning, the thing that struck me most was the smell of tobacco, it was overwhelming, but not unpleasant. I was put onto examining packets, ready for distribution. There were lots of long benches and the women sat either side. I was given big boxes, which contained packets of 20. I had to take out a row at a time, put a hand at each end, then turn them over, all the while, looking for damage. The kindly woman opposite showed me how. It looked so easy when she did it, she just flipped her wrist, forward, then back, replaced them and removed the next row, all it seemed to me, at the speed of light. I was useless at it. Every time I picked up the packets to turn them over, all the middle ones shot out, over to the other side of the bench. Packets of 10, being smaller, were even harder to manipulate. At first she smiled sympathetically and handed them back, but by the end of that first day, her smile had become strained and the errant packets were being 'shoved', rather than handed back to me. After a few days, I was taken off that job (much I imagine to the relief of the suffering woman opposite) and given a trolley.

I must describe these trolleys....They were huge and very heavy to push, even when empty, and I was at 14 quite small. These trolleys were double deckers on which were stacked, in rows, wooden cases, which held thousands of 'Craven A' brand cigarettes. Looked at from the front with all the corked tips facing, they looked like giant honeycombs. My job was to push the loaded trolley to the hopper, a large conveyer belt which ran vertically, through every floor, from top to bottom of the factory. I then had to unload the cases onto the floor and stack them in two rows, one atop the other. My week finished worse than it had started, I had unloaded the trolley, and was already on the return journey, when there was an almighty crash, behind me, I looked around, shocked, and there on the floor were cigarettes, cigarettes by the thousands, a veritable sea of the things, and looking like half submerged shipwrecks the empty cases from the improperly balanced stack, which had toppled over. I carried on pushing my trolley, trying to appear nonchalant, telling myself that it had nothing to do with me, but feeling sick inside. I was soon hauled back to the scene of the crime, by one of the dreaded foreladies, and given a terrible dressing down. It seemed that every person on that floor was witnessing my humiliation, including my sister Ivy, who received a severe lecture from my Mum for not sticking up for me. My Mum was very naive, she also said that I was to give in my notice the next day, which I did, thankfully....

Source :  'The BBC asked the public to contribute their memories of World War Two to a website between June 2003 and January 2006. This archive of 47,000 stories and 15,000 images is the result. The archive can be found at here'

Image of Instructions enlarged

Enlarged image of the instructions to for making up the Black Cat costumes - full story here

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