2017-01-26 / Life in Leelanau

Mile-high memories include girdle checks, celebrity run-ins

Lived at Playboy Mansion
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


KATIE ROBERTS, pictured then and now, was part of a 1978 class action discrimination lawsuit against United Airlines which challenged rules preventing stewardesses from getting married, pregnant and working pat the age of 32. KATIE ROBERTS, pictured then and now, was part of a 1978 class action discrimination lawsuit against United Airlines which challenged rules preventing stewardesses from getting married, pregnant and working pat the age of 32. Several Leelanau County women were stewardesses in the early 1960s, which is when the play “Boeing, Boeing” takes place.

Here are some of their stories:

Katie Roberts

Katie Roberts, of Leland, was 8 when she first thought about being a stewardess. It was after her family had a house guest who flew for Pan Am.

“She was astoundingly gorgeous and filled my head with her exotic tales about the job,” Roberts said.

When Roberts turned 20 she had two years of college under her belt and was looking for adventure. She filled out an application for United Airlines and was accepted.

Roberts, now 74, flew to Chicago in 1963 to start a six-week intensive training program, which included a full week learning emergency procedures.


MARLIS MANN, right, of Leland, and her sister Inge Fasterding were both stewardesses in the 1950s. The sisters were born in Germany and Mann flew with the German airline Lufthansa, while Fasterding flew with Pan Am. MARLIS MANN, right, of Leland, and her sister Inge Fasterding were both stewardesses in the 1950s. The sisters were born in Germany and Mann flew with the German airline Lufthansa, while Fasterding flew with Pan Am. Roberts passed her training and was assigned to Chicago, where she shared an apartment with two other young women. She began flying two-, three- and four-day trips.

The rules for the appearance and behavior of a stewardess were very strict. Off-color language was not allowed and Roberts had to wear white gloves, a hat and a girdle, with a supervisor occasionally doing a “girdle check” before she got on the plane.

Roberts’ apartment was in the suburbs and she and her roommates wanted to live downtown. One of her roommates met a passenger who knew Hugh Hefner. He told her that ‘Hef’ would love to have stewardesses living in the Playboy Mansion and told her who to call.


JANE KIERNAN, pictured then (above) and now (below), spent two years traveling around the globe as a Pan Am stewardess in the early 60s. JANE KIERNAN, pictured then (above) and now (below), spent two years traveling around the globe as a Pan Am stewardess in the early 60s. “So we moved into our own apartment within the mansion,” Roberts said. “What an adventure for this naive 20-year-old.”

After about four months United got wind of it and asked them to move out, Roberts said.

“So we did, but certainly not before we enjoyed some lively parties and met many celebrities,” she said. “Hef did not want us to move.”

Hefner was hoping the classy stewardesses would have a positive influence on his Playboy bunnies, who weren’t so classy, she said.

Roberts flew from 1963 until 1966, when she got married. In those days there was a rule that stewardesses could not be married. They could not have babies and had to sign a waiver that they would not work after age 32.

The rules were challenged by a class action discrimination lawsuit in 1978. Roberts had her day in court and was given her job back as a flight attendant and flew until 1998.

In her early days there were still smoking sections in airplanes, which could be unpleasant. The hours could also be long and arduous, with weather delays and mechanical problems, she said.

“But travel back then was a unique experience. People dressed up, they were polite and it felt very special to be there. All in all, I hold very fond memories of my days as a stewardess.”

Judy Smart

Judy Smart was 23 when she signed up for what would be a fiveyear stint with Pan Am. The company required its stewardesses to be conversationally fluent in another language. Smart, a college graduate, spoke French.

“I love to travel and it sounded very adventurous and fun, seeing the world when you’re young,” said Smart, of Omena.

Smart also trained for six weeks in Miami, learning all aspects of the company’s aircraft, safety, handling emergencies, serving and cooking meals and drinks, first aid and grooming.

Smart flew 70 to 80 hours a month, once flying 85 hours that consisted of five round trips to London from Chicago.

One of the best things about being a stewardess was meeting new people, Smart said. While a stewardess, she met everyone from the king and queen of Spain to astronaut John Glenn to rockers Ike and Tina Turner.

“I loved my round-the world trips ... on my favorite plane, the Boeing 747,” Smart said. “The flight went from Los Angeles to London to Beirut to Delhi to Bangkok to Tokyo to Honolulu to L.A.”

Some of her memories include a hijack scare on her way to Panama — a false alarm, but it scared her badly. Another time the plane Smart was on blew nine of its 18 tires on its take-off from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

“We landed safely in Tokyo, but they had closed the airport for us and had all the emergency vehicles ready to go,” Smart said.

Other memories are better, like the time she was laid over in Tahiti for five days — a great paid vacation.

“I flew for Pan Am when flying was fabulous, classy, everyone was courteous and we were always completely professional ... the food for everyone was delicious, with shrimp cocktail in economy. Imagine that!”

Travel then was fun and hassle-free compared to today, Smart said.

“Flying was hard on your internal clock but it was worth every minute.”

Jane Kiernan

After graduating from college, Jane Kiernan interviewed for a job with American Airlines because being a stewardess sounded like a glamorous job.

She didn’t get that job. But while she was working as a secretary in the Rockefeller Center in New York City, a friend got her an in interview with Pan Am. She didn’t speak a foreign language — a Pan Am requirement — but got the job anyway.

That was 1961 and Kiernan, now 78, only flew for the airline for two years, quitting when she got married. It wasn’t against the rules to be married, but some of her trips had her away from home for up to 10 days.

“I thought that really wasn’t a great way to start a marriage,” said Kiernan, a Leland resident.

Kiernan trained at Idlewild Airport, now John F. Kennedy International Airport, and when finished was based in New York, where she shared an apartment with a couple of classmates.

“The girls I was training with were all very nice, but they were a little more advanced than I was,” she said. “It was an eye opener.”

The job took her to Paris, Lisbon, Hong Kong, Karachi, Tehran and Beirut, to name a few cities. Layovers would be at least 24 hours, and she had some great experiences.

Kiernan also flew a lot of local charter flights. One notable trip was from New York to Pittsburgh, where they picked up the Pittsburgh Steelers and flew them to Washington, D.C., for a game.

Kiernan was dating the man who would eventually become her husband and he told her to watch out for one passenger — Bobby Layne, who apparently had a reputation as a ladies man.

The plane had just taken off when a man who turned out to be Layne motioned her over and gave her a note that said, “Meet me Monday night at Dante’s,” a club in D.C. He also gave her his phone number and the room where he would be staying.

She ignored both.

“Then they lost and we had to take them back,” she said.

She also remembers flying planes full of newlyweds to Bermuda for their honeymoons. There were three seats on each side of the aisle and some couples would be separated and have to make do with holding hands across the aisle.

On the trip home they didn’t really care where they sat, she observed.

Marlis Mann

After World War II everyone wanted to see the world, said Marlis Mann of Leland.

Her sister had gotten a job as a stewardess with Pan Am and Mann wanted to follow in her footsteps, but at 20 years old was too young. At Pan Am you had to be 21.

She then interviewed with Lufthansa, the German airline, where she had to read, translate and tell the funny side of three Readers Digest stories in English, French and Spanish.

“I also had to serve coffee so the Lufthansa staff could see how I walked,” said Mann, who grew up in Germany.

Her training lasted about six weeks and she was taught what to do in an emergency, how to handle passengers who got sick, were angry about delays, or upset about seats, food or drinks. She also went to “glamour school,” where she learned all about make-up and hair styles.

“But most of all we were trained to know about everything about the planes that we would fly on,” Mann said.

Mann was based in Frankfurt, Germany, and flew about 75 hours per month. She later became chief stewardess and had the job of briefing all the new girls.

Mann remembers one time when she flew above the Rhone Valley in a thunderstorm. The planes were not pressurized and Mann was called to the cockpit, where the captain asked her to collect as many trays as she could, as the plane was flying through the weather.

“I did, and then we dropped,” she said. “The coffee was on the ceiling, I was thrown backwards into the galley and watched a lady taking potato salad out of her bra.”

Another time she had to land in the dark on a runway in Tetouan, Morocco. The runway was lit by fire in steel drums.

“Was I scared? No, our pilots knew what they had to do,” she said.

Mann worked as as a stewardess in the late 1950s, but had to quit after just three years, as Lufthansa stewardesses were not allowed to get married.

“I missed flying very much,” she said. “I flew many charter flights, taking German track and field teams to Budapest and Helsinki in 1957 and to the World Soccer Championship in Stockholm in 1958, and flying government employees.

“I made friendships with many lovely people with whom I still correspond after 60 years.”

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