For more than six decades the beloved Pan American World Airways roared through the skies blue on an international itinerary, a global ambassador ushering in the jet age of travel and some of the most gracious, luxurious experiences some 30,000 feet in the air.
Stewardesses wore trim blue suits with pristine hats and white gloves. Meals were served on fine china. Passengers often wore their Sunday best, some flying for the very first time.
After three decades as a flight attendant, Joan Nell Bernstein glows in the memories, then offers simply: “Pan Am wasn’t just a company. It was an icon. It was a lifestyle.’’
And then, after 64 years in the air, Pan Am flew no more, the last flight traveling in the winter of 1991 from Barbados to Miami, the airline’s home for much of its run.
Twenty years later, Pan Am is soaring again — as a moment in pop culture that taps into a historic era and a particular brand of nostalgia. Interest has never been higher since the iconic airline was grounded, stoked by a television series that promises adventures in the skies, documentary and book projects and an exhibit that celebrates Pan Am’s meaningful role in the city’s aviation history. The Broadway play Catch Me If You Can, inspired by the earlier movie, chronicles the adventures of a con man who once impersonated a Pan Am pilot, finished its run earlier this month and the musical will tour the nation next year.
And in October, more than 500 former Pan Am employees, along with friends and family, will hold a reunion in Coconut Grove to celebrate a time gone but far from forgotten.
“Pan Am was this really cool airline that opened up the world to travelers,’’ says Christina Favretto, head of special collections at the University of Miami’s Otto G. Richter Library, which holds some 1,600 Pan Am documents and photos. “It was part of a time period when America was between an older way of doing things and a much more modern paradigm.’’
ABC’s Pan Am, which debuts Sunday night, offers a prime-time look at the lives of young flight attendants in the early 1960s — then called stewardesses — who are on the cusp of the cultural revolutions. In a socially rich era marked by the civil and women’s rights movements and the Cold War, the stewardesses and their colleagues in the cockpit, capture the energy and excitement of the jet age while dealing with everything from love to espionage.
The series, understandably compared to the equally 1960s-centric Mad Men, is based on the experiences of executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis, who was a flight attendant on the airline for seven years, at one point based in Miami.
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