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The Sexy Stewardess Stories of 'Coffee, Tea Or Me?' Wouldn't Fly Today

Culture | May 4, 2019

A Pacific Southwest Airline flight attendant poses on a plane; the cover of the 1976 Corgi Books edition of 'Coffee, Tea or Me?' Sources: (San Diego Air And Space Museum Flickr Archive; Book Cover Club Flickr Group)

A book like Coffee, Tea or Me? could only happen in 1967. We've lost something in the evolution of the flight attendant, from the servile stewardess: sex appeal and intrigue. Flight attendants today (or air hostesses) are career men and women, performing their professional duties without the expectation that they are to be ogled, flirted with, poked or prodded. And that's a good thing.

But air travel gained a steamy mystique in the '60s and '70s. There were all sorts of ideas and trends in the ether -- sexual liberation, female independence, skin-baring groovy fashion, tell-all memoirs -- that combined to fetishize the flight attendant profession and uniform. Flight attendants were perceived to be beautiful, free and easy, and air travel itself had a glamorous, romantic, sexual appeal. People dressed up, and drinks were on the house. For a fantasizing public, the memoir Coffee, Tea or Me? by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones told us what we wanted to hear about these supposed temptresses of the friendly skies:

It's all true. All of it.

Except it wasn't. Coffee, Tea or Me? captured the steamy mystique of the stewardess profession while also turning out to be a notorious literary hoax.

Four Flight Attendants In The 1960s. Source: (darkroastedblend.com)

The phrase “Coffee, Tea or Me?” may draw a blank for our younger readers, but those of a certain age will surely remember the supposed sultry and sexy memoir. The self-proclaimed “National Authentic Bestseller” of 1967 detailed the intimate sexplorations of two lusty New York City-based flight attendants. At least, that is the story everyone was lead to believe back in the swinging ‘60s. 

Penthouse Letters of the Air

PSA flight attendants. Source: (San Diego Air And Space Museum Flickr Archive)

In reality, the steamy stories of Coffee, Tea or Me? along with Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones were the brainchild of Donald Bain, who started writing in the mid-‘60s, often as a ghostwriter.

Bain, whose day job was writing PR for American Airlines, was set up with two flight attendants who thought they might have some salacious stories to tell. Bain was underwhelmed by their tales, but he believed in the idea of a flight attendant tell-all, so he just went ahead and wrote it himself. The two original stewardesses, whose names weren't Trudy and Rachel, went on the road to promote the book claimed it as their own real memoir.

Want to learn about this erotic best selling novel and how it influenced the “Mile High Club?” Read on!

The Trust Of The '60s

The Come Fly With Movie Poster. Source: (Popsugar.com)

While the stories of Coffee, Tea or Me? are 100% fiction, that is not how publisher Bantam Books presented them. In fact, the book comes from the perspective of the fake Trudy Baker. Of course, in the ‘60s people trusted what they read. No one ever questioned whether the wanton behavior depicted in the book actually occurred. Naturally, the supposed sex stories of two sexpot flight attendants sold well, really well. After millions of copies sold, Bain finally confessed to fictionalizing the entire story. Today, Penguin Books categorizes it as “adult fiction.” 

Fiction Becomes Fact

Flight Attendant From The '60s Lights Man's Cigar. Source: (messynessychic.com)

Since no one ever doubted the veracity of Coffee, Tea or Me?, an entire generation of Americans grew up believing the notion that, at least, some flight attendants practiced wild sex lives. Unfortunately, it likely attributed to some terrible behavior by inebriated men thinking their flight attendants wanted nothing more than some mile high magic. 

Where Did The 'Mile High Club' Idea Really Start?

PSA flight attendants. Sources: (San Diego Air And Space Museum Flickr Archive)

One would think that Donald Bain’s fictional story started the myth of the "Mile High Club" -- but the true origin of the "Mile High Club" is (we think) far better. In 1914, Lawrence Burst Sperry invented autopilot for planes, which made flying safer and easier. To celebrate his brilliance, Sperry decided to give a young female named Cynthia Polk, who just so happened not to be married to Mr. Sperry, a flight lesson. 

The Mile High Story

The Las Vegas Love Cloud Airline. Source: (airlinestaffrates.com)

Unfortunately, during their “lesson” they disengaged the autopilot and crashed into the Great South Bay of New York. Thankfully, they survived and were rescued, stark naked. Quick thinking Mr. Sperry explained that the violence of the crash had ripped their clothes from their bodies. In true New York fashion, a dubious tabloid ran “Aerial Petting Ends in Wetting” the next day. And that is how “Mile High Club” got its start. 

History Repeats Itself

United Airlines press photo demonstrating the flight attendant fashion from the 'Coffee, Tea or Me?' era. Sources: (San Diego Air And Space Museum Flickr Archive)

Anyone who did not know the story of Coffee, Tea or Me? would scoff and deride the gullibility of the Baby Boomers. “How could you ever believe such lies?” and “That would never happen to my generation” is what the kids would say. The kids would also be dead wrong.

Fiction Sold As Real

Vietnam Airlines Flight Attendants. Source: (aviationCV.com)

In 2003, the supposed memoir, A Million Little Pieces received the Oprah Book Club stamp of approval. Shortly after that, the book topped the New York Times Bestseller list for 15 weeks. The story followed the life of author James Frey as he battled drug and alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, the entire story was a charade and a lie. 

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!