BRAINS AND BEAUTY: Pan Am stewardesses in the golden age of travel

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Liz Brown A Pan Am Stewardess Serves Some First Class Guests on a Boeing 707. CANADIAN PRESSURE A Pan Am Stewardess Serves Some First Class Guests on a Boeing 707. CANADIAN PRESSURE

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A new book celebrates the undisputed feminists of the 1960s, women who used their college education, language and diplomacy skills and specialized security training every working day.

You know them as flight attendants.

Celebrated for their beauty and the widespread – but misconception – perception that they were at the forefront of the sexual revolution, the flight attendants finally got their role in Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am, a book by Julia Cook that can finally overcome the misconceptions of the time.

Yes, women were hired because they were beautiful and, yes, they lived lives of dizzying glamor and excitement, especially compared to what most women of their age and stage did in the 1960s. (When the Beatles first came to America , for example, was on a Pan Am flight.)

However, police flight attendants also did critical and sometimes dangerous work. To quote one of them, “I think of myself as someone who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down and in the water.”


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Cooke shows how these fearless women managed to be both the female ideals of the day and pioneers of feminism – a subtle act of juggling that gave them a card to explore the world at large and to the forefront of the massive social upheaval of the 1960s.

Their wonderful lives included parties with rich and famous and endless fantastic adventures – long before the international trip was common, these women visited the Taj Mahal, went on safari in Africa or just made the beach in Beirut.

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However, there were also balloon flights outside the danger zones, the occasional threat of hijacking and special armed forces of “R&D” flights made by American soldiers for a break from the battle in Vietnam.

Come Fly The world is a lot of fun – a lot of fun even when looking at the political landscape and issues of race, age and gender bias.

Cooke interviewed several former St Pan Pan extensively about the book. To find the job, these young women had to be between 5-feet-3 and 5-foot-9 and between 105 and 140 kilos, and under 26 when they were hired. hoped to retire by the age of 32. They had to have a college degree and also speak two languages.

There were Asian and black flight attendants, although the latter had to go to court for that to happen. Hazel Bowie, one of Pan Am’s first black flight attendants, is interviewing for the book.

Cooke is a culture and travel writer whose father was a former Pan Am executive. He has written about art and architecture and attended a Pan Am event several years ago to see Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK, where the gathering took place.


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While there, he was found talking to former flight attendants all the time.

“I was impressed,” Cooke said in a recent interview. “They talked as if they were used to having a martini with presidents and CIA agents. They talked about world capitals with real power.

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“But I must admit that it surprised me -” So you know the geopolitical issues of the time and its complications? Why did it surprise me?

“Six years of research later, you understand that patriarchal stereotypes will do that. I realized that what was written did not reflect the reality of what these women experienced … I realized that I should let them guide me. “

Cooke was surprised by some of the things she discovered, especially about Pan Am’s involvement in Vietnam. Commercial airlines – including flight attendants – transported young American soldiers to war and also offered R&D flights to these men, taking them away for a few days to Tokyo, Bangkok or Hawaii.

The flight attendants saw the results of the war first hand.

And the women were there for Operation Babylift, taking part in the emergency evacuation of thousands of orphaned babies during the fall of Saigon.

These women are not the only reason to read Come Fly The World. Now that air travel has degenerated into kids in baseball caps making it an elevated space, the book offers a glimpse of the time when people dressed in airplanes ate four-course meals in the first class.

No wonder it was called the Golden Age of Travel.

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