The impression we get from talking with several Islanders who formerly worked for Pan Am World Airways is that the TV show set in the glory and glamor days of big league air travel, is light years from real life, even back then.
Ellen Kiernan is a neighbor of ours who flew in the mid 1950s (and her “stewardess” uniform still fits.) She has mixed emotions about the show and has vivid memories of those days.
“The layovers were fabulous, often a week in one place. People loved to fly then. It was very glamorous. You were treated very, very well. When you got off the plane you could take the champagne with you.
“We had white tablecloths, silverware, champagne glasses. It was a pretty good life. And everyone dressed up with hats and gloves. When you got off the plane, you really knew all the people by the time you got where you were going, because the flights were 10 or 12 hours.
“The best flight of all was the Bermuda round trip. You got on at Idlewild (now JFK in New York) Friday night. We stayed at the same hotel as the passengers and we all got to party. Then we brought them back on Sunday morning.
“The dollar was so strong at the time and on some foreign flights the girls would take lots of dollars with them and they would change money on the other side and do very well. They got a supplemental income from that.
“There was some fooling around, but most of the girls were there to travel, to see the world and not have to pay for it.
“The captains were all older and most were family men. They came back from the service after the war. And there were no young guys like on the TV show. They wouldn’t have lasted very long.”
We asked Ellen about the names “stewardess” and “flight attendant.”
“The first group of attendants on the planes in the earliest days were male stewards, copied after the ships. So they had white dinner jackets.
“Then four or five years later the airline decided to hire women too. After that the stewards were called pursers and they were dressed like the captains. You had to look at their shoulder insignia.”
Why did she go airborne with Pan Am?
“Vince (who later became her husband) got drafted to go to Korea, so I thought, ‘If he’s going to travel around the world, I might as well too.’ ”
Ellen’s most memorable passenger?
“Charles Lindberg. He was on the oard of directors of Pan Am. We were told he was coming and warned us that he didn’t want any attention. When he boarded I said, ‘Good afternoon Colonel,’ and he said, ‘Just leave me alone. I’m going to my seat in the back, pull up my collar and sleep the whole time.”
Ellen sums up her view of the Pan AM TV show this way:
“There are too many subplots and flashbacks, but it’s well put together and mostly authentic, except for the hats. We never wore the hats in the cabin.”
Marco’s own ‘Pan Am’ people – kinda sorta
Our pals the party kings and queens of Marco in the adjoining photo are not only fun-lovers; they also often are ahead of the costume curve.
Several months ago they were showing up around town in Pan Am stewardess uniforms. Their menfolk dressed up as a Pan Am pilot and as D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a jetliner in 1971, extorted $200,000 in cash then parachuted from the plane.
“I bought the outfits before we even knew there was a Pan Am TV show,” says ringleader Susie Walsh. “We wore them at Fantasy Fest in Key West and later at the Esplanade here. Some people shared their own Pan Am stories with us and one guy even bought us a drink. It was all in fun and we had a ball.”
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV, in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Fridays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: email@example.com.