They began serving passengers as college-educated TWA "hostesses," wearing hats and white gloves. They catered to movie stars and foreign dignitaries seated next to travelers in their Sunday best.
Decades later, the glamour is gone. Their airline is about to be merged out of existence. But they still are flying, five flight attendants who have seen commercial aviation change radically along with the country's attitudes toward women and the workplace.
Attendants at other carriers may have more seniority individually, but no other cabin crew in the nation is like the "golden girls, " as they call themselves. Together they have more than 200 years of experience. They've been on the same flight schedule for three decades.
TWA Flight 894 recently left Los Angeles International Airport for Washington, D.C., with all five aboard. Some of them first flew when Elvis Presley was hitting the charts and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Now they are the airline's most senior flight attendants, working with pilots who are children of pilots they once flew with.
Beverly Sanford was one of the youngest among the group, with 37 years under her pin. She was working first class with Dolores "Dodo" Narz, the No. 1 attendant at TWA, who was in her fifth decade with the airline. "We've been like a sorority in the air, but that's sadly coming to an end," Sanford said.
It was one of their final flights as a group. Today, they begin working separate shifts now that their direct Los Angeles-to-Washington route has been eliminated.
Trans World Airlines was acquired in April by American Airlines, which plans to take the TWA name off aircraft over the next year and give flight attendants new uniforms.
It marks the final chapter for a once-stellar airline that had many notable firsts: the first to serve freshly brewed coffee in-flight (1957), the first in-flight movie (1961) and the first all-jet fleet (1967). It also once dabbled with paper dresses for flight attendants until the crews complained about how they tore and didn't keep them warm in the winter.
The golden girls--all based in Los Angeles--had seen and lived through most of it, from TWA's glory days to an airline that struggled to keep financially afloat. In an ignominious send-off, Forbes magazine earlier this year dubbed TWA the worst airline for bumping passengers on overbooked flights.
"It does bring tears to my eyes to think of what an airline it was," said Sanford, who began flying as jet planes began to enter service. "TWA has had its day."
The same cannot be said about the senior attendants, who plan to keep flying two or three times a week.
On the flight from Los Angeles to Washington, Cathy Gordon, a 36-year veteran at TWA, boasted to an incredulous passenger that not only was her uniform older than he but that she was the youngest attendant in the cabin.
Gordon, 56, a native of Mattoon, Ill., is considered a baby among the crew that includes Narz, who is completing her 48th year with TWA, according to airline officials. Narz, a legend in the industry, doesn't much care for the No. 1 title and refuses to divulge any information or give any hints that could help someone trace her age. TWA sources put her age at 72.
"I really don't like titles," she said before kneeling to grab a can of apple juice that had fallen under a seat.
"See the glamour?" Narz said as she felt a tear in her pantyhose.
Narz estimates she has worn out about 15,000 pairs of hose. At an average of three pairs per flight, which is what she said she wears out, and two flights per week, that would place the start of Narz's career at a time when the propeller-driven Lockheed Constellation filled the skies. Narz said that her first flight was in a Martin 202, a 36-passenger twin-propeller airplane built in the 1950s.
Charmed by Narz's sharp, barroom ripostes and cackling laugh, actress Joan Crawford once volunteered to help her serve dinner, perhaps the first time that a movie icon worked the aisles.
And once, Narz consoled Elizabeth Taylor as the actress was flying home after a headline-grabbing breakup with Richard Burton. And there was the time when she had a fling with Cary Grant. "He was a private person, a real gentleman," Narz said, declining to provide further details.
Youthful indiscretions aside, Narz, who has been happily married for more than 30 years to Jack Narz, one of television's original game show hosts, said flying was a far different experience back then.
Passengers wore their best suits and dresses, even if it meant sitting on the plane for a cross-country trip that took as long as 10 hours. The "hostesses" were expected to fit a Barbie-like image: blond with blue eyes, wearing a size 6 dress with stockings, hat and white gloves. Long hair was forbidden--short "Kookie" cuts, as they were called, were mandatory. Everyone had to use Revlon's Persian Melon lipstick.