Bookworm: ‘Hello, Molly!’ is gonna make you roar

‘The Great Stewardess Rebellion’ is a book that’ll fit your cravings

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Hello, Molly! A Memoir”

  • By Molly Shannon
  • c. 2022, Ecco
  • $27.99, 304 pages

The audience roars. That’s music to a performer: the best you can ask from a group of people expecting to be entertained is approval for your efforts. Laughter, for a comedy. Gasps for a drama. Tears for a tragedy and tapping toes for a musical, that’s what you want. But remember as in “Hello, Molly,” the new memoir by Molly Shannon, not all of life’s a stage.

"Hello, Molly! A Memoir" by Molly Shannon.

For most of her life, Molly Shannon’s mother stood off to one side, a main character with a big role but few lines. She was killed in a car accident when Shannon was just four, as if she made a cameo appearance and then was off the script.

But not entirely. With the help of family and friends, Shannon’s father, Jim, raised Shannon and her sister, Mary, to remember their mother and to seize life in every way possible, encouraging his girls to be bold and “wild.” Once, when Shannon was thirteen and her best friend was eleven years old, Shannon’s father planted the idea in her head to hop a plane. The girls ended up stowing away in plain sight on a flight from Cleveland (near their hometown) to New York City. He paid for their trip back home.

And yet, being Jim Shannon’s daughter wasn’t all fun and games. He was an alcoholic, as was his father and his father-in-law; when he was sober, Shannon recalls parties, spontaneous trips, loving encouragement, and permission to skip school. When he was drunk, she says that she and her sister were always watchful for his mercurial moods and his propensity for a different kind of “wild” behavior.

She couldn’t wait to leave home.

And yet, through college, a fledgling career, and a popular spot on “Saturday Night Live,” her father was always there, always a touchpoint for her past but also an irritation; enormously proud of her, but with a short wall between them.

It wasn’t until she was well into her adulthood that Shannon realized he harbored a secret, and then everything made sense ...

You don’t expect a terrible, gasp-worthy accident to be the foundation for a funny story, but there it is, the opening number in “Hello, Molly.”

Quickly-quickly, though, author Molly Shannon pulls readers in – somewhat awkwardly, at first, but in the same excited way that your fourth-grade BFF did when there was something important or interesting that you simply had to see. That, in fact, is the feel you’ll get in the first part of this book: like you’ve been taken by the hand and pulled toward something that was going to make this the best day ever.

As you read on, that’s not much hyperbole. If you like Shannon’s work, you’re going to adore this memoir, which appears a lot like her skits: hectic, heartfelt, hold-your-sides hilarious, honest, and always, always arms-wide charming. Bring your sense of humor here – but bring tissues, too.

So, take a look, fellas. Here’s what you want in a book, fellas. “Hello, Molly!” is gonna make you roar.

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“The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet”

  • By Nell McShane Wulfhart
  • c. 2022, Doubleday Books
  • $30, 320 pages

Your backside barely fits. There’s not much wiggle room but you’re grateful for the seat; you could use more leg room, but the inconvenience is worth it to see the world again. You were welcomed aboard, you don’t even mind the loud talker in the seat in front of you, and you’ll be taking off soon so now’s the time: get “The Great Stewardess Rebellion” by Nell McShane Wulfhart from your carry-on and buckle in.

Patt Gibbs’ parents had given their children an interesting life. They’d traveled, owned retail businesses and restaurants, and each of the kids worked with the circus at one time or another. So, when Patt was nineteen and ready for change again, her cousin suggested she apply to be a stewardess with American Airlines and it seemed like a good idea.

"The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet" by Nell McShane Wulfhart.

That was in 1961 and Patt moved to the “charm farm” to learn to walk in high heels, style her hair identical to that of her co-workers, wear the ultra-strict underwear-to-outerwear uniform, and to cater to businessmen on the short flights she was assigned. It wasn’t until she accidentally became a member of the stewardess union – a time that coincided with the Women’s Movement – that she and other women began to question those stringent rules, and others.

The government had just passed the Equal Opportunity Act, so why didn’t women have access to better jobs with the airlines? Why was the pay different for men and women, for the same work? Why were men’s work-rules more relaxed? Stewardesses began to file grievances over issues, which led to lawsuits on behalf of a growing number of women in an industry that was itself growing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went to work. The Teamster’s Union was briefly involved. Every time they were denied better and equal working conditions, the stewardesses found other ways to fight...

“The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet” author Nell McShane Wulfhart.

From the beginning in 1930, when Ellen Church became the first “stewardess,” female flight attendants labored under interesting and often chafing rules. So what happened? As author Nell McShane Wulfhart shows in “The Great Stewardess Rebellion,” there were a variety of pressures from inside and out.

Primarily, though, the reason for change and for this book were the women who worked side-by-side with a burgeoning awareness of inequality.

In Wulfhart’s stories, their predicaments seem, at first, as merely old-fashioned, like the girdle-and-bubble-hairdos they’re forced to wear but as times change inside this book, so will readers’ minds. Outrage expands then and Wulfhart acts as a teacher of culture, showing how American society altered the way women worked and vice versa. That part of the story touches upon more than just white women’s rights, and it’s almost made for Hollywood.

What happened 50 years ago may bring to mind the issues flight attendants can have on today’s flights, which makes this book all the more relevant, astounding, cringey and cheer-worthy, and you’ll admire your attendant doubly if you’re flying this summer. Whether you’re in business-class or not, “The Great Stewardess Rebellion” is a book that’ll fit your cravings.

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For a peek inside the cockpit, you’ll also want to read “This is Your Captain Speaking: Stories from the Flight Deck” by Captain Doug Morris (ECW Press, $17.95). This book answers your questions about how planes operate, what those scary noises mean, how pilots manage to avoid one another in the air, and other head-scratchers you’re eager to understand. It’s funny, interesting, and perfect for white-knucklers, too.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.