Mary Joyce Bochroch was a college sophomore, engaged to her hometown boyfriend, when she crossed paths with the woman who changed everything.
“I was all set and registered for junior year,” Bochroch, now 74, tells The Post. Then, “I met this fabulous young lady who had flown for TWA.”
The small-town girl, who grew up in Allentown, Pa., was dazzled by the idea of air travel, and applied to be a TWA stewardess herself. When she got the job offer in 1965, she broke things off with her fiancé and quit school. “I’m sure glad I didn’t get married,” she says. “Instead, I got to see the world.”
Today, in the age of thigh-squishing seats, overcrowded cabins and endless delays, it’s easy to glorify the bygone days of flying. As the newly opened — and highly romanticized — TWA Hotel at JFK Airport shows, hindsight casts the good old days of air travel with a sleek and “Mad Man”-esque sheen.
That was partly true at the time, too: For an educated young woman in the 1960s, the life of a flight attendant — or stewardess, as the job was called back then — offered a seemingly glamorous alternative to other, typically feminine gigs, such as teaching or answering phones at an office. At the time, the very idea of taking a plane was exciting, with the four biggest airlines, United, American, Eastern and TWA, working hard to ensure that their flights felt swank and cosmopolitan.
But behind the scenes, things weren’t quite so glossy.
Although former flight attendants remember great things about the job — free travel top among them — there were also deeply chauvinist costs that they didn’t anticipate.
“They could fire you in those days for having a pimple,” says Marilyn Detels, who started working for TWA in 1966, at the age of 24. One of the first things she remembers from the job was a fellow trainee getting sent home, because she didn’t meet the company’s harsh grooming standards. “The last week [of training], they fired her because she broke out in a rash on her face,” she says.
The 77-year-old, who lives on the Upper East Side, recalls how the company policed the female employees’ figures.
“If you were overweight, you had to be called into the office and to the scale. You were given a certain amount of time to lose [weight], like three weeks or something.”
It was “humiliating,” Bochroch says, to know that their bodies were so heavily controlled by their employers.
This kind of monitoring was standard across the major airlines, according to the book “Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants” (Duke University Press Books). Author Kathleen M. Barry writes that “even stewardesses who appeared slender enough were subject to regular weigh-ins on most carriers.”
That’s because these ladies had more than one role in those days, Barry explains. (TWA did allow men to be flight attendants, as did some other airlines, but they were very much in the minority.) They had obvious tasks, such as explaining safety procedures, pouring drinks and delivering food to passengers. But they were also required to embody the brand’s ideals, by being attractive, well-groomed and cheerful.
Appearances meant so much that the airlines all competed for the top names in fashion to come design the in-flight uniforms. In its heyday, TWA snagged Oleg Cassini, Pierre Balmain and Ralph Lauren.
Detels says that everything from her haircut to her makeup was strictly regulated, down to the shade of the lipstick. “We used to wear Revlon Persian Melon,” she says. “We had to wear that lipstick and nail polish.”
A good girdle, for curve control, was also mandatory.
“They would check your behind to make sure you had a girdle on,” Detels says.
Emily Lemer, who graduated from Ohio State in 1962 and landed a job with TWA that same year, says these “checks” weren’t handled delicately, either.
“The supervisor would actually pinch your ass,” she tells The Post.
Lemer, 79, remembers that when she first started working for the carrier, the rules extended even beyond the way that they looked. For many years, when a young woman signed up to be a TWA stewardess, she agreed to a contract stating that she would retire at the age of 35 or when she got married — whichever came first. Male stewards, on the other hand, could fly into their 60s.