By Yvette Yurubi
A few months ago, we were honored to have former Pan Am stewardess, Daniele Desmoulins Perez-Venero, visit us to donate some of her papers to supplement our Pan American World Airways, Inc. records and our World Wings International, Inc. records. When asked to enrich her donation with some biographical tidbits about her time in Pan Am, she shared with us a few of her fondest memories of how she began as a stewardess and her years working for the glamorous airline:
“It had barely been two months since I had arrived in New York coming from Paris in a Norwegian cargo boat. I was 24 years old and fearless.
I arrived alone in October of 1964 with 200 dollars in my pocket, no job in sight but possessing a precious green card. I was lucky to get hired as a secretary by the Cultural Department of the French Embassy about a week after my arrival and before all my money ran out. About a month and half later when I saw an advertisement in the newspaper that Pan American World Airways was looking for stewardesses, I was ecstatic. This had always been a dream of mine! So I hurried to make an appointment for an interview and decided to miss work on that day.
After dressing up in my second-hand blue suit, white blouse, and high-heeled leather black shoes, I presented myself at the appointed time and place. The waiting room was full of anxious-looking young ladies like me. When my turn finally came to be called, I was ushered into a dark room where someone -I assume was a psychologist- started asking me questions about myself and about pictures projected on a screen. Then, I was led into a small room with a window where a panel of four friendly looking people was seated. They asked me the usual questions: why do you want to work for Pan Am, how many years of college do you have, what other languages do you speak… I answered everything to their satisfaction. Then they asked me to tell them a little about myself, so I recounted the story of my arrival in New York and also how I had managed to learn English and Spanish fluently. They seemed to be so impressed that they decided to hire me on the spot! They asked me not to tell anyone because this was not done according to their usual long procedure where they would send letters weeks after the interview to let the candidates know whether they had been accepted or not. Of course, I was flattered and left the room beaming.
After about a month of training and after graduation, Pan Am offered us a choice of destinations for our first flight as trainees. They let me have my first choice which was New York to Paris (with a layover in Paris) and Paris to Monrovia, Africa, where we stayed for a couple of days before flying back to New York. I thought the flight to Paris was a favor to me on the company’s part. They knew how delighted my family and I would be to see each other when I arrived at the Paris Orly airport in full regalia!! And since it was January, I was wearing the same winter coat that I gave to the Special Collections Library of the University of Miami with long black leather gloves. In warm climates, we would wear short, white gloves instead. The Pan Am uniform was actually quite nice-looking. It consisted of a blue-grey gabardine suit, a short sleeves white blouse underneath, a pillbox hat as was the fashion in the sixties, black high-heeled shoes, and gloves appropriate to the season. We changed once on board the plane. We took off our jacket, hat, white blouse, and put on a smock. We also changed our shoes to low-heeled shoes. To illustrate these looks, I provided some photographs of myself in uniform and also wearing a smock inside the plane to the Special Collections Library at UM.
In those days undergarments were mandatory. We had to wear a girdle and a full slip… and those could be checked, as well as our weight, before flying time. Our hair style could not touch the collar. We could be reported for any transgression; I remember, for example, being reported for having worn green instead of blue eye shadow on a flight.
Because Pan American Airways needed flight attendants who could speak Spanish for their Boeing 707 flights from San Francisco to Guatemala and Panama, they sent me to be based in San Francisco. I remained on the same route for several months, which was a disappointment to me because it was not my first choice. The flights to the Pacific and the Far East sounded more exciting. When my two roommates commented on their flights to exotic destinations like Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, Tahiti, Sydney, I could not help feeling rather envious! Finally, my turn came, and they let me fly all their other routes. Some of the countries I flew to that I remember are Japan, Thailand, Guam, England, Australia, Tahiti, and, of course, Guatemala and the Republic of Panama. We often made stops in Hawaii on our way to the Orient or Anchorage on the way to Japan. The company was so big, I never flew with the same people.
We were allowed to bid for the trips we wanted and according to our seniority we got it or not. We always stayed in the best hotels (such as The Intercontinental, Sheraton, Hilton, or other five star local hotels) and were treated like royalty. It was a dream life.
On my first vacation, in April of 1966, I invited my mother to fly around the world with me. I had kept the Pan Am itinerary papers as a souvenir, and I have given them to the Special Collections Library of the University of Miami recently, along with other papers and memorabilia.
I had to have a valid visa for every stop the plane made along the way, even if we did not plan on staying there. This was a good precaution as we unexpectedly got loaded off in Beirut. It was a time of turmoil before the war and people were trying to get out. However, we did not regret this unscheduled stop; we were able to visit some interesting places like the ancient city of Byblos, and we ended up buying two beautiful hand-made oriental carpets at the free zone in Beirut! We were able to continue on our way the following day. This free travel was one of the wonderful perks of working as a stewardess for Pan American Airways.
I later became a purser but not for long. I got married in Panama and had to quit flying, but I am still in touch with my Pan Am family as a member of the World Wings Miami Chapter.”
These memories are now immortalized in her collection, the Daniele Desmoulins Perez-Venero papers, housed here in the Special Collections department and can be accessed by anyone who wants to relive the captivating world of Pan Am in the 1960s.