Sunday, January 15, 2017

Miss Pat Clark, Air Hostess

Pat Clark in 1948, one of the first airline hostesses for TWA. 
She's wearing the uniform designed by Howard Greer.

Air hostess, stewardess or flight attendant -- while the title has changed through the years, the job has always been connected to a sense of adventure, independence and glamour. In early December, I organized a tour of the "Fashion in Flight" show at the San Francisco International airport. I wrote about the show here. Among the twenty tour attendees was one of the first TWA (Transcontinental and Western Air) air hostesses, Pat Wunderling. She is the mother of a friend of mine and I was thrilled to have her there and hear firsthand about her experiences.

She was a WAVE in Naval Air Transport in WWII, flying between Oakland, California and Hawaii. She applied to TWA but was turned down because she didn't meet the minimum height requirement, but she persisted. Once they considered her military experience she was hired. Flying before the jet era, she was an air hostess on the prop planes DC-3's and Constellations ("Connies"), flying the West Coast region from 1947-1949. She married in 1949 and had to leave her job as it was against regulations to be a married air hostess.

Howard Hughes was her boss and TWA was known as the "Airline to the Stars" as a lot of Hollywood people liked to party in San Francisco. Pat remembers having Mickey Rooney on her flight a few times, along with other celebrities.

The erudite John H. Hill, Assistant Director for the SFO Museum, led us on a fascinating story and fact-filled two-hour tour of the "Fashion in Flight" exhibit.

Pat is standing on the far right in the tweed turtleneck. She is looking at a copy of the TWA uniform she wore while John explains the history of the uniform designed by Howard Greer. Pat remembers uniform regulations were strict and if they weren't followed it could mean losing your job. She told us the story of one colleague showing up to work in open-toe shoes, which was not regulation. Pat thought fast and advised her friend to stuff the toe with carbon paper, so the black paper blended in with the leather.

The darling and daring Pat Wunderling, with her custom-made uniform. She brought it to share with the group. She'll be 93 next month and is still looking fabulous.

Above is a detail of the famous flap on the TWA uniform. The flap unbuttons to cover the logo when the air hostess is having a cigarette or cocktail.

Pat generously gave me one of her original business cards. She also offered one to John Hill, but being the thorough and ethical conservator that he is, he refused it because he could not document receiving it at that moment. They made plans to talk later so Pat could officially share some of her stories and memorabilia with the museum.