Remember when flying was glamorous and ocean liners operated without Covid fears? Jodi Peckman and John Sayers, in two profusely illustrated volumes, evoke the 20th century golden ages of flying and sailing
Jodi Peckman's Come Fly with Me: Flying in Style (Rizzoli, $65) is a "wistful love letter to the joys of flying and the fun, fashion, and glamour that go with it". Peckman, who spent 30 years working on Rolling Stone magazine as photo and creative director has said, "I think it's really striking a chord in people who have been grounded and shut down and not able to go anyplace".
The 1960's golden age of airlines, such as Pan Am and TWA, is reflected by Peckman in photos of celebrities arriving at Heathrow and Los Angeles. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra are pictured tipping their hats on arrival in London, Sinatra, no doubt, remembering his famous song, in the words of Billy May ," Once I get you up there/Where the air is rarefied/We'll just glide/ Starry-eyed".
It was an era of cocktails, expansive menus and glamorous stewardesses. Thor Johnson, a former Pan Am Vice President, has recalled "those beautiful meals, and people dressed up when they got on the plane", an experience of "seductiveness", as Jason Gay puts it in his foreword, although few would want to return to on-board smoking.
People dressed up was Peckman's inspiration: "I'm really into fashion...Whether the subjects are strutting through the terminal as if in a runway show or consciously masking themselves from the paparazzi, all of them have a stylish, whimsical quality".
Come Fly with Me's celebrities, featured in full-page black-and-white and colour photographs, include Marilyn Monroe in a fur coat; Dolly Parton kicking up her heels in a flared trouser suit; Diana Ross in a fur trimmed leather jacket; Mohammed Ali in a cream suit; Sharon Stone in gold pyjamas; Jane Fonda in a woollen one-piece suit and pearls and Joan Collins arriving at Heathrow with a mountain of Louis Vuitton luggage.
Only Lady Gaga, in the present day, stands out wearing a flared red-and-white mini-dress and red panama hat. Instead, we see Rhianna wearing a whole of body, all enveloping puffa jacket, Justin Bieber with cap, dark glasses and headphone in tracksuit bottom and trainers and Miley Cyrus arriving at Sydney airport in 2014 in what looks like a bedtime unicorns outfit.
Now, most celebrities fly by private jet with no paparazzi photos and dress like "homeless people". Flying no longer resembles a cocktail party with wings, but rather a packed suburban bus with wings, in which passengers endure cumbersome security checks, confined seating and minimal meals. Future Covid regulations will surely entail vaccination certificates for international travel.
Before the advent of commercial transatlantic flights in the early 1950s, the only way to travel between continents was by sea. Canadian author John Sayers' Secrets of the Great Ocean Liners (Bodleian Library, $49.99), spinning off the extensive ocean liner ephemera collection he donated to Oxford University's Bodleian Library, evokes similar travel nostalgia.
With many illustrations from advertising brochures, posters, passenger lists, diaries, ship logs, letters and menus, Sayers' chronology takes the reader from the booking of a ticket right through a voyage to disembarkation. The final two chapters cover liners used as troop ships during the Second World War and maritime disasters.
Interestingly, the P&O liner, SS Canberra, argued by some as one of the most beautiful ships to come out of Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard, was used as a troopship during the Falklands war. More glamorously it had featured in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds are Forever. Ultimately, it became uneconomic during the cheap airline travel boom and was scrapped in Pakistan in 1998.
Sayers' focus is mostly on the liners operating between America, Europe and the Middle East rather than Asia and Australasia. Here he reflects the financial mobility of upper- and middle-class Americans who made up much of the liners' clientele for a large part of the twentieth century.
Ocean liners represented society in microcosm, being divided by travel class, although new money would always ensure entrance to first-class, physically divided off from the rest of the ship. Those in steerage, often migrants, would not experience the lavish dining rooms, art deco rooms, stained-glass ceilings, libraries, jazz bands and string quartets.
Sayers covers numerous issues ranging from on-board romances to the restricted access by women to certain areas of the ship, and, below decks, where the crew had its own race and ethnicity demarcations. In those settings, Sayers moves beyond Peckman, making his book a time capsule for historical enquiry, rather than a simple evocation of nostalgia.
The classic ocean liners themselves had been replaced over the decades by massive cruise ships, often resembling blocks of flats, whose passengers overwhelm popular tourist destinations, like Venice. Perhaps now post Covid is a time for cruise control?