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SAS Air Hostess Birgitta Lindman holds a September 1958 issue of Life magazine, in which she is on the cover. Published in “Dröm och verklighet. Ett yrke i det blå”, 2006
SAS Air Hostess Birgitta Lindman holds a September 1958 issue of Life magazine, in which she is on the cover. Published in “Dröm och verklighet. Ett yrke i det blå”, 2006

Aviation

1950s: Stewardesses the true stars of the skies

Fashion shows in the air. One SAS stewardess going for the Miss Airways title and another setting up an art exhibition in Rio de Janeiro. The world got smaller and everything was possible.

To say that SAS was a happening workplace may be an understatement. Not only did the company add new routes left and right, or rather east and west, but it was simply cool to work at SAS.

It was so cool that one man got dressed up as a pilot, hoping to get a free ride to Gotland, and he might have succeeded had he not insisted that as a pilot, he could simply stand all the way to Visby. The police confiscated the pilot’s uniform he had borrowed for an amateur theater play.

There was nothing pilots couldn’t do – they were like Superman, at a time when the comic book character was just 15 years old, and stewardesses … they were almost celebrities.

In a word, airlines had style.

In 1950, BeKå, Sweden’s leading fashion house at the time (later acquired by H&M), celebrated its 25th anniversary with style as well when it held a fashion show in the air, on an SAS DC-3, with “four beautiful models onboard,” as Aftonbladet wrote. The paper called it the “first model show above the clouds in history.”

The event was a great success both in the media and onboard. “Even the captain himself, Sven Forsberg, had to leave the cockpit a couple of times to have a look at the event.”

Just a couple of months later, the two worlds merged again, when stewardess Birthe Lund from Denmark represented SAS in the Miss Airways beauty pageant in London. While beauty certainly was a major factor – hence the name – the organizers said they were looking for the “complete air travel girl.”

All in all, 14 major airlines from countries including Brazil, Canada, England, and the Netherlands sent representatives to London, where Margaret Gudmundsdottir of Icelandic Airlines was crowned Miss Airways.

Even though the fashion show and the beauty pageant were special events, just working on an airline was exciting and could open doors to wild adventures.

Consider Brita Booge, another stewardess, who struck up a conversation with a passenger who worked for a Brazilian art gallery on a flight to Rio de Janeiro. As they were chatting about art, Booge happened to mention that she was something of an artist herself. The passenger asked her to send her some samples when convenient.

Booge send some of her pastels to Brazil, the gallery management liked them, and in September 1950 she held an art exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, the first by a Scandinavian artist, and spent three months in the country.

Booge had combined her work and her artistic side earlier. In 1948 she had traveled in the United States with an SAS exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Swedish pioneers in the American Midwest during what was called the “Pioneer Year.” She visited Swedish settlers’ towns as well as the Illinois cities of Chicago, Rockford, Waukegan, and Moline, and even gave radio interviews on the topic.

Vestkusten (“West Coast”), a California-based Swedish-language newspaper, wrote about Booge’s adventures, her praise for air travel and her explanation of how it was the quickest way for Swedish-Americans to get back to Scandinavia.

In Rockford, an enthusiastic fan wanted to donate 20kg of coffee to SAS.

“When Miss Booge suggested that the gift should be directed to Europahjälpen [a nonprofit that raised money for undernourished children in, for example, postwar Germany], the gentleman doubled his gift. The word got around, and Europahjälpen can now expect a donation of about 800 to 1,000kg of coffee from the Swedes in Rockford,” Vestkusten wrote.

No wonder then that Brita Booge loved her job so much that she told Dagens Nyheter that despite her success in the art world – she had received offers from galleries in Paris and Stockholm – painting would have to continue to be “just a hobby.”  She wouldn’t leave her job at SAS.

Nothing could beat that.

Brita Booge (second from right) at a flag raising ceremony at the Gander airport in Canada in 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Pelley at bobsganderhistory.com

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