Pan Am Makes a Comeback with an ABC Show: Did It Ever Go Away?

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Pan American World Airways, which travelers fondly called Pan Am, may be flying back into the zeitgeist this year. CNN reports that ABC has officially ordered a pilot called Pan Am, a prime-time celebration of stewardess life in the 1960s. The show will be based on the experiences of executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis, who was a flight attendant on the airline for seven years.

The Hollywood Reporter says that Christina Ricci is in talks to play a lead role and Australian actress Margot Robbie will make her American debut as one of the sexy stewardesses. Ganis's major producing credit to date was the 2006 family film Akeelah and the Bee. Thomas Schlamme, a veteran of series including The West Wing and Sports Night, is reportedly attached as a director.

A revival of that high-skirted, pastel-hued Pan Am era has been percolating in entertainment for years. One of the bigger hits on Broadway and London in recent seasons was a revival of the 1965 play Boeing Boeing, a sexual farce set in the free-spirited world of the Jet Age flight attendant.

Then there's Pam Ann (pictured), the ribald air hostess played by Australian comic Caroline Reid. In addition to appearing as video in-flight entertainment on British Airways and Qantas, Pam Ann has brought her act, complete with logo and costumes ripped directly from the vanished airline's livery, around the world, including runs in New York and London's West End.

Pan Am the airline began life as a single route in 1927 between Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba. Its original offices still stands, and attracts aviation nerds with a case of memorabilia. It's now Kelly's, a bar originally owned by Top Gun actress Kelly McGillis.

In truth, the Jet Age of the 1960s was the second Golden Age for Pan Am. In the 1930s, the airline was renowned for its use of "Clipper" propeller aircraft to bring travlers around the world. In the 1940s, it was the first commercial airline to offer a route that went around the planet.

By the 1970s, Pan Am was one of the most widespread airlines in the world. There was even a New York City skyscraper above Park Avenue emblazoned with its logo. In 1991, the airline declared bankruptcy. Its Manhattan skyscraper was rebranded for MetLife insurance, and its old Worldport terminal was handed over to Delta Air Lines.

After it was grounded for good, its name was parceled off to a New Hampshire company that licenses its name for official products and runs assorted transportation companies, but doesn't fly commercially under the esteemed name. Affection for the Pan Am brand, though, still sustains fan sites including EverythingPanAm.com and PanAmAir.org.

In addition to some mod '60s fashion and design, the series, if it's picked up, should be fodder for plenty of political and sexual story lines. In pre-feminism America, women rarely chose to be jet-setters. "It was in a time when very few people in the U.S. even had passports," Ganis told CNN. "So suddenly, it was just this exciting adventure, and I really wanted it."

ABC will decide whether to pick up the series for a full run after the pilot, produced by Sony Pictures TV, is finished.
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