Liz Smith: “Pan Am” Lifts Off In Swinging Sixties Style!

And more from our Gossip Girl: Relief for the “dis-invited” to the Fete de Swifty … three female authors join forces … and this year’s Living Landmarks

“PRODUCER-creator Jack Orman takes you back to a time when air travel was an adventure. Flight destinations were exotic ports of call and your food, blanket and pillow were gratis. Welcome to the world of Pan Am … it’s 1963 and a new generation is leading the way to the future…”

This is a promotion piece for the new series “PanAm,” which bowed Sunday night on ABC. I hope you didn’t miss it, or if you did, you can catch up with this phenomenon about what the high life was like back in the sixties, when everything seemed possible.

One imagines that this idea of the now defunct but still glamorous Pan Am was long a’borning in many creative minds. But there is no question that the raging success of the nostalgic “Mad Men” has benefited this idea of — not when knighthood was in flower — but when air travel was alluring beyond belief.

When I first began touting “Mad Men” back in early 2007, there was doubt that “nostalgia” programming could pay off. Now, “Pan Am” has happened and it has Thomas Schlamme as an executive producer. (Mr. S. is wed to my longtime actress friend Christine Lahti, so we already know this multi-award-winner is a genius.)

“Pan Am” is the greatest fun with its girdle-wearing beautiful girls — because in the sixties, Women’s Liberation was brewing, and everybody working for airlines had to be physically gorgeous. (Check out actresses Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie, and Karine Vanasse offering you all that good food, exotic drinks and high-flying service as this series takes off with exotic accurate details and a lot of deft suspense.)

“Pan Am” brings back checkered taxi cabs … layovers in famous cities like Tahiti, Fiji and Auckland, New Zealand … stewardesses with Geneva Convention cards that gave access to discount retail and restaurant services in the world’s greatest cities … James Bond claiming Pan Am as his favorite airline … Japanese-speaking flight attendants only in Hawaii … round-the-world flights for consumers … flights that broke every record … some first classes with double-decker sittings rooms and private staterooms … The Beatles on their first flight to the U.S.

The official lipstick of Pan Am was Revlon’s Persian Melon. And I am still wearing this shade (#702) and accepting compliments on it, even in beleaguered 2011.

But was I smart enough or good-looking enough to become a Pan Am flight attendant and marry a wealthy business man? No, I was trying to make it in journalism and TV production. Let’s hear it for the women of “Pan Am.” At the very least they were the harbingers of true glamour and lots of fun. And you can nitpick all you like, but there is a world of authenticity in this TV series.

* * *

I hope all the people who think they were not invited to the annual September “Fete de Swifty” event (it brought a lot of us together in a tent on East 73rd Street to raise dough for The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York”) realize that they were not dis-invited, but that the Fete did not take place! (So many, too many people I meet ask me in a pained voice why they were not invited).

“Wiser heads” in the Mayor’s office made the decision and I have never known why such was decided. It deprived the Fund — and the subsequent helping of battered women and children — of from $750,000 to almost a million bucks each year.

We raised this money for at least eight years, with the help of Nicole Kidman, Mariska Hargitay, Joe Torre and so many others.

* * *

COMING TO a bookstore near you are three women who married over the age of 35, all pros and really good friends. So, I’d advise you to get Love for Grownups by Ann Blumenthal Jacobs, Patricia Ryan Lampl and Tish Rabe. It’s a relationship guide for growing mature females, published by Harlequin’s non-fiction division.

These three have interviewed women all over on everything from furniture to finance, and then some.

You can get these ladies from Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon.

There has been a terrific boost in Kirkus and the Library Review. Harlequin once only published romance novels, but decided to woo these ladies for hot, candid, brilliant advice to the married-who-waited-a-bit.

* * *

If you care about saving New York parks, monuments, churches, famous buildings, historic lovely places and you don’t want to be surrounded by unending ugly modernity, I do hope you will think about coming to the “Living Landmarks” gala of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, happening at The Plaza Hotel on Nov. 2. This year Angela Lansbury, Lewis B. Cullman, David Dinkins, Danny Meyer and Louise Kerz Hirschfeld will be inducted.

Last year, dancing around onstage, I fell backwards ass-over-tea kettle on a sound speaker. It didn’t hurt anything but my dignity, which was already suspect. But I have to think of something to do this year with the help of Peter Duchin’s orchestra that will be half that spectacular.

Call 212-995-5260 for tickets. If the Conservancy is charging too much, bargain with them!

17 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Grace OMalley says:

    How did the mayor pull the plug on Fete de Swifty?  That’s just horrible.  No, I’m not posh enough to have ever attended that event, but I did love reading about it here and on New York Social Diary where DPC always published photos of the event.  Wow.  That really lowers my opinion of Mayor Bloomberg alot.  I sure hope you and the event organizers will try again next year. 

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I suspect the reason why “Fete de Swifty” was cancelled was security. Supposed or real threats are something we are all going to have to live with.  Maybe next year. Maybe not.

    A friend joined Pan Am in the still-roaring 70s.  She wasn’t interested in marrying a wealthy businessman. But certainly dated quite a few. And has the condo overlooking Waikiki Beach and the house in Bali Hai on Kauai to remember them all by. She definitely had “layovers” in some of the world’s most fascinating cities. Emphasis on the lay. It wasn’t really that she was out to dig gold but rather their tossing the gold at her feet. Although she would stand in front of Tiffany’s so to speak admiring a ring or bracelet. Wondering how much stock she could buy with it ten years down the road. She was stunning as they say. So she collected quite a few rings and bracelets. And she of course always jokes about “so many men, so little time.” Her real love was really Pan Am.

  3. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Pan Am will certainly bring a huge contrast from the heyday of flying to the cramped seats, service and security of flights today. I would pay more to get a little of that ambiance back.

  4. avatar JCF4612 says:

    A former colleague was a Pan Am flight attendant in the late ’60s/early’70s. After a blazing round-and-round-and-round-the-world courtship, she married a Pan Am captain, who subsequently retired and insisted she quit flying, too. Didn’t work.

    Watching him drink beer with buddies while repairing motorcycles in their backyard didn’t measure up to their previous globe-hopping lifestyle …  drinks in SanFran bars, sushi in Tokyo, strolling boulevards in Buenos Aires, etc. 

    Divorce was quick and she never looked back as she switched careers. While dating with abandon after that (from doctors to lawyers and assorted chiefs), remarriage was never even remotely considered. Her Pan Am stories were priceless, though. I’ll be watching the show  in her memory. She died quite unexpectedly last year.

  5. avatar Lila says:

    We flew Pan Am often in my childhood. We still have the Pan Am carry-on bags… tiny by today’s standards, barely even a decent-sized tote. Suitcases were smaller, carry-ons were smaller, and we had to dress nicely to fly. No sweats or flip-flops.

    My final Pan Am flight was on a 747 charter in the summer of 1991, with a good chunk of my unit headed home from the Gulf War. The back of the plane was a haze of smokers; the senior officers sat in first class, and the rest of us cozied up in the forward coach section. First stop, Rome. Oops. It was foggy and the pilot missed the runway as well as his landing rotation; basically, we flew into the ground. Hard. Grass and dirt were sailing past the windows. The oxygen masks deployed and some of the overhead compartments detached (but glad to note, they are held in place with a safety strap). Then, looking out the window, there was pavement and runway markings, and we taxied to a halt. The pilot appeared and announced that the “plane got bent,” specifically – the flaps would not retract.

    So we taxied out to the far reaches of the airport. The Italians did not want a bunch of armed US troops in the terminal. The plane baked on the tarmac for seven hours, with all the doors open to get a cross-breeze. We dozed. Finally, a replacement plane arrived from Paris and we set up a detail to transfer all of our bags to the new plane (the Italians did not help with that, either).

    The arrival at JFK was much more interesting. As it was a charter, the cockpit door was open and we visited the pilots, M-16 rifles and all. Strange, no? I was lucky enough to visit late in the flight and they allowed me and a couple of other troops to stay in the jump seats and watch the landing. Awesome! Well worth baking in Rome for a few hours.

    Final stop, Davis-Monthan Airfield, the “Boneyard,” and then the buses back to base. We were, of course, more than 7 hours late and it was the wee hours of the morning, yet the families and the Rear Detachment officers were there waiting for us! Out came the colors and guidons and we formed up and marched onto the field, got a gratifyingly short welcome-home speech and were released.

    Thanks, Pan Am!

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I miss the old days when people “dressed to fly” as if they were off to a cocktail party. Which they were. Particularly when the jets got bigger and you had actual lounges. Then the 90s arrived and suddenly everyone dressed as if they were off to a barbeque at the beach. Then the seats got smaller and the “no smoking” sign was turned on permanently. Just wasn’t the same. Particularly if you smoked.  Some worked around that little problem by flying AeroMexico to Mexico City then flying from Mexico City to wherever. Then the “no smoking signs” went on again on the international flights. Which caused a boom in the private “share a jet” flights. Some still “dress to fly” on those and still enjoy the cocktail party. The flights aren’t really that much more expensive. Until you add the cost of the pack of cigarettes!

      • avatar Lila says:

        Snooks, “dressed as if they were off to a barbecue”…? Ha! These days it seems more like, off to Wal-Mart or perhaps to a slumber party. It’s gotten absolutely slovenly. And while clothes don’t make the man, they DO say something about the wearer…

  6. avatar Rho says:

    Would love to watch it, but it’s opposite another program I prefer.  Maybe I’ll tape it.

  7. avatar mary burdt says:

    I had the pleasure of watching “Pan Am” last night and I was so glad that I decided to give this new show a try. I loved it. I felt young again. It was the sixties and I was part of that time. The happiest time of my life. Taking a flight in those days was a big part of your vacation. The vacation started when the doors closed. How wonderful it was, a cocktails, magazines, friendly service and even Stewardess Wings for the youngsters. Oh my, I miss those days.

    I will be watching this show with great enthusiasm.

  8. avatar Mary says:

    I loved it! Like Mary Burdt, it took me back!  I love and loved everything about flying and travel and my dreams of becoming a stewardess in the late 60’s were dashed only because at that time I was 1/2 inch too short. The airlines were very strict about height and weight , they put a emphasis on some education and language requirements and poise, manners etc.  Now it is a different story.  Then I was going to the playground and swinging from the monkey bars upside down  trying to stretch myself every single day, nothing worked. 

    I would have been a pilot then if I could of too, but that was not a option for women at that time.  Instead I took up sky diving.  It was not the same but fun. 

    No longer are there stewardesses, they are flight attendance.  Men and Women, all ages, heights, weights and if you are lucky you get one who actually will get you a blanket . Then you got a nice meal, a cocktail and it was complete service to fly.  Now it is almost dehumanizing.  First you are searched, scanned and boarded onto a airplane that was meant to hold two seats per row and now has 3 and 4, and you always have either screaming children or a big man who insists on leaning his seat all the way back so that you cannot move but have a not so pleasant view of his head. No one dresses for the occasion and if you are lucky you will get a one inch piece of cheese that is not real and 6 almonds to tide you over.  You may realy want that cocktail but you may or may not be so lucky.  When you get off the plane you are praying tht your suitcase made the trip with you in one piece and if you have to make a connection , well, good luck.

    I sure hope this show continues to be good. At the least I hope for the good memories to continue.    

    • avatar Mary says:

      Sorry for the sloppy grammar.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      Amen, Mary!
      It IS dehumanizing!
      My recent flight back from Michigan to Portland, OR was only 4.5 hours, but it felt like an eternity: swamped gate, packed flight, minuscule seats, parents “reasoning” with three screaming no-neck monsters on and off for the ENTIRE flight, an attendant whose fat ass bumped me every time she bulldozed by, the huge guy in front spilling out of his cramped seat and launching his reclining in my direction… ugh. The non-stop intercom prattle and those damn carts are more diversionary tactics than customer service.
      I felt like Elaine in that classic “Seinfeld” episode!

      • avatar Lila says:

        Rick, this is exactly why I drive practically anywhere in the US now. I MIGHT be tempted to fly if going from one coast to the other but otherwise… it hardly seems worth it any more, it’s so unpleasant.

  9. avatar Jody says:

    I had a Pan Am carry-on bag when I was a kid back in the 70’s. Wish I had that bag now! I checked online and it will cost me $80 to replace it.

    People don’t dress for it anymore because men stopped wearing hats after Kennedy was assassinated. After that… fashion went to hell in a hand-basket. Women quit wearing girdles and hosiery with garter belts. In a way, I’m glad. That’s a lot to go through in the morning! Yet, I feel the pendulum has swung too far the other way now, and we are just frumpy. I find myself hoping shows like this and “The Playboy Club” will help to bring back a sense of what it means to dress and be empowered by it as a woman. For the past several years I have purchased some 40’s-50’s retro clothing, some even pin-up style. I have curves and it gives me a sense of “owning” what I’ve got. My boyfriend happens to like it too!

    • avatar Lila says:

      Jody, there may be hope. I have seen a few articles over the past couple of years talking about how young people are starting to dress more neatly and conservatively than their late-boomer or Gen-X parents, perhaps partly thanks to the influence of these retro shows. And in stores, after a few very annoying years in which it seemed that the only clothing available to teen girls basically resembled lingerie, there are FINALLY some pretty classy pieces appearing. Now please, please make the sleazy little miniskirts go away….!

      Being in uniform, my civilian-clothing needs amounted to weekend wear, so for while, it was jeans and t-shirts… like my young peers… I broke out of that habit while stationed in Europe (Europeans tend to have a sense of class) and I find that dressing it up a bit is not so hard and you actually seem to get more respect when you are out and about.

  10. avatar LandofLove says:

    I think you have to take these movies and TV shows about the “good old days” with a grain of salt, because the good old days had a lot of bad old stuff going on. Like the pilot jobs reserved for the men and the stewardess jobs reserved for the “girls.” Like the pilot jobs requiring applicants to be intellectually skilled and the stewardess jobs requiring applicants to be physically gorgeous. I don’t pine for those days.

  11. avatar ladycascadia says:

    I enjoyed the pilot for “Pan Am.” I especially could relate to the end where you see the little girl with her nose pressed to the glass watching the four flight attendents walk by. That was ME 35 to 40 years ago! When I was little girl and teenager, I thought several times I’d like to be a stewardess when I grew up. To me it was the coolest and most glamorous job because of the travel ops and the outfits. No, I never got to be a ‘stew’ but in ’79, I did go into the Marine Corps where we got the same Image Development course that Pan Am stewardesses got. So different uniform, but I still got “the Look” when I was 18 and at my trimmest and most fit in my life! At any rate, I hope the show is a huge success 🙂