It was always called that, I told her. For decades Pan Am considered itself, and was considered by the rest of the world, to be an instrument of the U.S state department, quasi-official, almost like an embassy. Well, in many of the sites in which Pan Am planes set down there was no embassy, no consulate, nothing, only Pan Am. During those same decades the airline’s prosperity depended absolutely on U.S government favor. From the beginning there were the airmail contracts, and Trippe was constantly arguing before congress for higher rates and better, exclusive routes. Always he accentuated purely patriotic motives. All of South America had to be Pan Am, and other airlines, NYRBA, SCADTA and TACA to name a few, had to be taken over or destroyed, in order to guard against possible attacks on the Panama Canal. All those island bases Pan Am needed to hop across the Pacific in 1935 had to be built for use by the navy, if war should come. When the war started, bases had to be built across Africa for the ferrying of warplanes and other materiel. Only Pan Am had the know-how to build them, and of course when the war ended they were there for Pan Am to use. Etc. The government paid for much of everything. Until after World War ll the Congress always agreed with Trippe’s arguments. It seemed to feel that the country was lucky have not only Pan Am, but also this patriotic young man at the head of it, and no other airline should be allowed in. At dinner one night Trippe called me a communist, said I was against free enterprise. I should have laughed in his face but was so shaken I said nothing. Where such an idea came from I have no idea. Especially since for Trippe and Pan Am for years and years there was no free enterprise. There was full fledged government support. This left Trippe to spend much of his time destroying competitors who got in his way. Outsiders, even major airlines could rarely get a foot in the door because Trippe knew exactly how to block them. You can't find a scholarly work on Pan Am because there are none. Trippe never let anyone inside to look. The sources and documentation for my book I gave to the Pan Am foundation archives, though not the minutes of congressional hearings and such stuff which I dug up but which were not mine to keep. The rest is all there, or should be. But much of the effect of the book is between the lines. Why were there no scholarly works written? Who was Trippe exactly?
This scholar’s letter also asked about movies. There were a number in which Pan Am played a role, most of them silly. Nothing about Trippe in any of them. One was called Flying down to Rio. Was that the one in which chorus girls danced on the wings of a plane in flight? And last year there was the TV series featuring Pan Am stewardesses as CIA agents, and the like. It was nice to see those lovely blue uniforms again, and the actresses were all lovely too, and unmarried, and very young, exactly as they used to be in those days when they were in fact called stewardesses, not flight attendants as they are now. But the TV series with its far-fetched stories did not last.
And two and a half years ago a film crew came to my house, took over my house, and the producer/director interviewed me all day, the camera turning, for a documentary for PBS about how Pan Am had managed to cross the Pacific that first time in 1935. Well, there aren’t many people left who know the whole Pan Am story, and who knew the secretive Mr. Trippe more or less intimately. For their documentary the group had a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and later a second grant, the total coming to over $800,000. Since then, nothing. I understood that the man in charge had more or less shelved the project and gone on to something else. I would not be surprised to learn that that's how he makes his living, one grant after another. Maybe I am wrong.