Up in the Air (For Now)

It looks as though if I’m going to blog about my new guilty pleasure, ABC’s Pan Am, I’d better do it right now. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, its
audience dropped from 11 million the first week to about half of that on the fourth week. Timothy Malloy of Reuters cited it as one of this season’s struggling shows, in an article
last week announcing that another early 60s counterpart, Playboy Club, had already been cancelled.

As a Boomer, of course, I have a soft spot for the early 60s. I have already written on how much I loved Burke’s Law, which had the same gloss and lush lifestyle as Pan Am and lives in the same era. Pan Am takes place in 1963, an idealized postwar, pre-uproar world, in which Jack Kennedy is still the inspirational president and the globe is just beginning to become smaller. The deployment of the long-range Boeing 707 jet in 1958 had social ramifications that have faded in time – but some cultural historians have postulated that baseball couldn’t have expanded to the West coast in the late 1950s without the ability to transport the teams cross-country in a timely fashion.

Pan Am’s wonderful twist is that in this prefeminist world, it focuses on the flight attendants (when they were still called stewardesses) instead of the pilots. They are an
engaging quartet: perky, intelligent, and questioning. One ran from the altar to Pan Am. Her sister has already gotten involved in the Cold War by becoming a courier, since who would suspect a stewardess. Another one is French by birth, orphaned during the war and conflicted about changing attitudes toward Germany. The fourth just seems to want to have fun on a global scale and looks fantastic doing it.

I have always had a soft spot for aviation. Arthur Hailey’s Airport was the first adult novel I ever read. Before I went into technology, I spent nine years as a travel editor (I shot the photograph you see above while on assignment in Marrakech). I once wrote a novel in which the main character was the female scion of a family that owned both an airline and a hotel chain (think the Pritzkers or the Marriotts).

I won’t deny that Pan Am is a lot like cotton candy. The pilots, rather than being the ex-World War II officers that populated the cockpit of the time, are wholly miscast young hunks. One of them jumped the seniority line only because he ran into Pan Am founder Juan Trippe in the elevator at the airline’s iconic Manhattan headquarters. It’s wholly unrealistic that the flight attendants would always be on the same flight together, and that they never seem jet-lagged.

But stepping back into a time when so much seemed so brand new – jets, Idylwild Airport (later renamed for Kennedy), the proximity of the foreign – is like taking a mini-vacation for an hour on Sunday nights. Please join me on the journey, before the whole crew gets grounded permanently.


About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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4 Responses to Up in the Air (For Now)

  1. Judit Sarossy says:

    I like your new pleasure. It feels good to watch something which has no violence in it it is just a nice story. At that time being a stewardess was a great job. I remember in Europe they were paid well, they had to have a college degree, speak many languages and finally they had to be pretty. So no wonder you like to watch it. I am for equality, but I am so not a feminist. I think it was nice, when it was okay to be a “woman” which does not mean woman could not have any job they want and capable of, but it was nice when men treated women differently. I guess this is my old fashion side???

  2. Faith says:

    It’s an interesting concept–and, for me, a guilty pleasure (because I could spend that time reading). I’d be interested to know who came up with the concept and how it was sold to the network.

    • It’s clearly capitalizing on the success of “Mad Men” and its early 60s vibe. But what fascinates me are the intellectual property issues. Who actually owns the rights to the Pan Am logo? How did the producers go about licensing them? I’m sure there’s a terrific backstory there.

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