Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
Attention All Passengers by William J. McGee
c.2012, Harper $26.99, 354 pages, includes index
You haven’t gained weight. Not an ounce. That’s what you were thinking as you looked at the airplane seat to which you’d been assigned. You hadn’t gained weight, so the only explanation was that the seat was made for first-graders. If you could’ve gotten your knees out from under your chin and pulled the tray-table down without committing Hara Kiri, you might’ve even been comfortable.
You thought you’d save a few bucks by booking the flight yourself, on an airline you’re not used to flying. Was that a mistake? For an answer, grab Attention All Passengers by William J. McGee, and strap yourself in…
You have an important event that you absolutely can’t miss, and it’s in another corner of the country. So, like a smart consumer, you went online, found a flight and booked your trip. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that ticket costs vary, depending on time and location of purchase. What you might not realize, though, is that where you got your ticket and how much you paid determines the customer service (or lack thereof) that you’ll get (or won’t).
Wasn’t flying supposed to be enjoyable? Yes, there was a time, says McGee, when “flying was fun.” You got on the plane without having to near-undress. Luggage went along, fee-free. Yes, it was a rare treat, it could be very expensive for the average Joe, but it was an exciting pleasure.
And then came deregulation.
McGee says it was assumed that airlines would regulate themselves but that didn’t happen and it made things worse for consumers. Load factors are now at “theoretical maximum,” so airlines impose ancillary fees to create revenue. They also overbook—something no other business does—and who you book with may not be who you fly with. Seats are jammed together with mere inches left for “comfort.”
But those are just annoyances, compared to deregulation’s effects on safety. Airlines are reluctant to ban unrestrained “lap babies.” Cabin doors are reinforced, but sometimes not very well. Food is rarely inspected, we aren’t informed enough on emergency survival techniques, and airplanes are frighteningly accessible to people without clearance. What’s worse: plane maintenance is usually outsourced, often overseas.
For 27 years, author William McGee spent working “in and around aviation,” and when he started this book, he vowed to his mother that he’d make it “good.”
He kept his promise. Attention All Passengers is eye-opening, irritating and downright disturbing, despite that flying is, statistically, safer than other modes of travel. McGee had access to experts, officials and government agencies in the researching of this book, which gives it an air of authority without sensationalism; that, and the extremely useful hints on individual safety make this an invaluable read for any traveler.
If planning a business or pleasure trip gives you personal turbulence, this won’t soothe your fears one bit. But if the sky’s the limit for your travel plans and you want to take a good book along with you, I think Attention All Passengers is just the ticket.
Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them by Frank Langella
c.2012, Harper $25.99, 356 pages
Admit it. You’re kind of klutzy sometimes. And clumsy. That’s you, as pillows are tossed, furniture bumped, frames go askew, nerves are shattered and so is glassware. You’re Molly McMessy, as knees are skinned, bruises erupt and moods drop, busted next to belongings on the sidewalk.
But dropping things isn’t always bad; just ask author and actor Frank Langella. In his new book Dropped Names, he lets go of a few tales and things as he writes about the stars he knew, hated, and loved.
It all started with one word from Marilyn Monroe.
Frank Langella was a 15-year-old New Jersey boy on a bus trip to New York when a limousine happened to pull up in front of him while he stood in Times Square. The driver pushed Langella aside and when the limo door opened, a vision in white emerged.
Marilyn Monroe smiled and said “Hi,” and Langella was instantly smitten.
He never forgot that whispered word, even through his long career in Hollywood and on Broadway allowed him to meet all kinds of famous characters.
Because he was friends with their daughter, for instance, Longella spent long summers at the various homes of Paul and Bunny Mellon, and their luncheons were filled with the rich and famous. Langella remembers how everyone was greatly entertained by Noel Coward, and how Jackie Kennedy was rarely far away.
While playing in the Poconos, Langella had the pleasure to work with Billie Burke, far from her Good Witch role but not a bit less than charming.
He writes of seductions: Elsa Lanchester’s breezy explanation of her late husband, Charles Laughton’s swimming pool habits; clumsy attempts at amour from Anthony Perkins; a sweet love affair with Dinah Shore; and an “unconsummated” man-crush on Raul Julia.
He writes of Rita Hayworth’s illness, when nobody knew much about Alzheimer’s. He tells of a “stupid thing” he did to Jackie Kennedy. He writes of a down-and-out Montgomery Clift, Richard Burton as a “crashing bore,” feuds with Lee Strasberg, bawdy jokes with Elizabeth Taylor, pranks with Robert Mitchum and….
“Fame is… fleeting,” says author Frank Langella. So, unfortunately, is this book.
Dropped Names is one of those Hollywood tell-(almost)-alls that you never want to end. It’s like discovering a box of old movie magazines in Grandma’s attic, or like a movie-marathon on paper. It’s the best kind of fluff, if you’re a film buff.
Readers will be happy to know that there’s enough snark in this book to satisfy the most fierce gossip lovers, but Langella also writes poignantly of Hollywood’s tortured souls and those who seemed too fragile for fame. What’s nice is that he does this while calling only the barest amount of attention to himself. He tells the stories as he remembers them, without getting in the way.
If you love old movies, or if you miss the glamour and glitz of old Hollywood, then grab the popcorn and settle in. For a fan like you, Dropped Names is a book you won’t want to let go of.