THE STEWARDESS SAGAS
While driving through East Africa’s Serenghetti plain, my driver stopped for the night at a tent camp, a collection of tents of varying sizes in a semi-circle, with a long dining tent at the arch. We were just entering the dining tent when a late model Mercedes wheeled up, and two young women debarked. They joined me at table, where I learned they were stewardesses with Lufthansa who had been driven from Mombasa in that sedan, which proved unsuitable for the rough trails through the African savannah. I invited the girls to ride with me in the Land Rover next day which they readily accepted. We then walked together to sit around the big log fire in the center of the enclave. Each tent was actually a two-part affair, the front containing two twin cots, 2 chairs and a night stand with lantern. A flap led to the back part, a tent held up by a long pole with a large bucket at the top, actually a make-shift shower on a swivel. In the corner sat a 5-gallon bucket, topped by a toilet seat. The German girls asked about security; I pointed out guards with rifles at opposite ends of the camp, who would protect the travelers from the big cats and other carnivores. A leopard growled, and they shook with nervous tension. The only danger, I jokingly told the girls, was from snakes. Being cold-blooded, snakes liked to wrap around the toilet buckets, warmed by human waste. Their eyes glazed with fear, the girls walked to their tent. Somewhere in the night, something rustled next to their tent, and they ran screaming into mine, where they cuddled together on one cot. I asked a guard to see if there were any snakes about, and he assured me no. Didn’t matter. At dawn, the girls grabbed their belongings and headed back to Mombasa.
Of course, not every stewardess is what she seems. I met a stewardess on El Al, the Israeli airline. I saw her later, playing a guitar on the terrace of the famous King David hotel. She was signing Russian folk songs including one of my favorites about the balalaika. She only worked as a stewardess on relief assignments, and would be entertaining again the next night. So, we met again. The third time, she brought a friend whom she said was a journalist who wanted to meet me. From his line of questions, I suspected that he (and the girl) were agents for Mossad. I broke off the relationship.
During a sojourn in Belgrade, I met and partied with a Sabena crew, and made plans to join two pilots on a forthcoming trip to Helsinki. We had reservations at a fashionable restaurant; when we arrived, I asked the maître for a table for six. He had a questioning look, so did my friends. I pointed to a long line of people waiting for a table, a line that included three KLM stewardesses still in uniform. I went back to the waiters’ area, nabbed a white coat, and, draping a towel over my arm, walked to the three Dutch women and advised them their table was ready, even though they were still well back in the line. As we approached my table with the two pilots, the girls caught on to the masquerade and burst out laughing. The maître ‘ just shook his head, but smiled. We had a great night.
Pan Am once had an early Sunday morning flight out of San Juan; on this occasion, I was alone in first class, breakfast served on a real table with real linen. I made conversation with one stewardess who invited me to a party in New York City later that night down in the Village. The situation seemed quite promising, until the Pan Am stewardess introduced me to one of her girl friends. This girl eyed me cautiously, saying she had seen me before – then recognition came to her. She was a reporter, and had covered a news conference in Albany, which I had attended as the Governor’s special assistant for narcotics. She took a moment to catch her breath, then shouted to a crowd – some of whom had been smoking pot, a couple who had just snorted lines of coke – “he’s a narc!” You don’t get that kind of quiet during a funeral mass at Saint Patrick’s. Party over; budding romance as flat as stale beer.
As a matter of fact, the reporter was not the last to shout “narc.” During a trip to Nairobi with the assistant Secretary of State (I was the special assistant for international narcotics), we joined some DEA agents for a trip outside Nairobi to a famed restaurant named “the Carnivore.” Actual game is served. At one point in the conversation, a DEA agent taunted me about Oklahoma’s football team. At a small nearby table, the British actor William Hurt (Joan of Arc, Elephant Man and other films) was dining with a young starlet type blonde. When she heard Oklahoma, she arose, walked to our table, and announced she was originally from Pauls Valley, OK. We had some mutual friends. In short order, Hurt and the girl joined our table, and we had a lively conversation. I knew that the DEA and Nigerian police were aware that some people in the film crew working outside Nairobi were using cocaine, but had said nothing. Then, the blonde wraith asked the assistant secretary of state about my title. She jumped up, grabbed her purse, and shouted to Hurt, “He’s a narc.” They didn’t s
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ELMER McCURDY
We return now to the aforementioned Elmer McCurdy. He was a mess near the
end of his life, an alcoholic suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis. After
leaving the Army, he switched to crime, being arrested for possession of
burglary tools and involved in at least one train robbery and a bank burglary.
He had learned something about explosives while in the Army (his instructor was
a first lieutenant named Douglas MacArthur), but he forgot that when the Army
blew something up it really wanted it destroyed. McCurdy tended to overuse
explosives; in one instance his blast fused $4,000 worth of silver coins to the
walls of the safe. His take in crime was always a pittance. In 1911, three
bandits held up a Katy train near the old outlaw stronghold of Okesa. They hit
the wrong train. The haul they expected was on the next train, which was
carrying $400,000 in cash for payment to the Osages; the outlaws got only a few
dollars from passengers on the train they robbed. McCurdy had been one of four
men in the gang considered responsible; whether he was one of the three robbers
who actually took part is uncertain. But a posse tracked him to a ranch near
the Kansas border and killed him in a shootout. His body was taken to a
Pawhuska undertaker’s parlor, where it resided in a front window for months
waiting for a friend or relative to claim it. No one did. Eventually the
funeral home dressed him in the clothes he was wearing when shot, put a rifle
in his hands and stood him in a corner. Some say it charged a nickel apiece to
view the body; at any rate thousands reportedly came to see it, as
entertainment opportunities were limited in Pawhuska at the time. Elmer was
full of arsenic, a common mortuary tool then that served as a fine
After five years two men showed up and said he was their brother and they wanted
to take him back to California for burial. Elmer was released to them. Shortly
thereafter he appeared in West Texas as a leading attraction at a traveling
carnival. For years he crisscrossed the country as a major draw, appearing in
40 states under names that kept changing so the yokels would shell out again
when the show returned to a town. The body was used as a prop in film and TV,
waxed and put in a museum and later painted so as to glow in the dark in a Long
Beach amusement park, where he dangled from a noose. Now shrunken and
mummified, McCurdy was simply called “the dummy.” People had
forgotten, if they ever knew, that this was a real body.
One day, while filming an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man”
at the amusement park, a workman moved McCurdy. An arm fell off, and a bone was
exposed. The Los Angeles coroner’s office now had what was unmistakably a
corpse with – upon closer examination – an old gunshot wound. In newspaper
terminology, they didn’t know who, what, when, where, why or how. A nationwide
hunt for information eventually centered on McCurdy, thanks to contemporary
newspaper accounts of the shootout and photos taken of the corpse after death.
Meanwhile the news had leaked of the discovered body and all that the body had
accomplished – at least for its owners – after McCurdy’s death. It became an
international story and McCurdy’s fame soared. The amusement park, seeing
dollars in his new notoriety, wanted him back.
But so did Oklahoma – to give him a proper burial. Led by citizens from
Guthrie, Oklahoma provided conclusive evidence that this was indeed the elusive
Elmer. A judge allowed his return to Oklahoma, provided no further circus would
be made of the body. In April 1977, in a glass-drawn hearse preceded by lawmen,
politicians and historians, Elmer was taken to the city cemetery in Guthrie and
buried – next to a much more famous owlhoot, Bill Doolin. McCurdy still has
allure for tourists, and his graveside often has been used for murder mystery
Note: Many well-known
Americans are of Osage descent or lived in the Osage Nation: President Hoover, Oscarwinning actor Ben
Johnson, ballerina Maria Tallchief; Clark Gable; General Schwartzkopf, Tom Mix,
J.Paul Getty, and Ted Turner who owns a ranch populated by bison.
Eastern Oklahoma, once known as the “badlands” was home or
transient quarters for many outlaws attracted by the wealth of its oil boom
towns and cattle operations, including Jesse and Frank James, the Daltons,
BelleStarr, Ned Christie and others. The
area was known for its assortment of four Bs of oilfield living: Baptists,
bootlegger, bar and bordello.
tay for dessert.