November 9, 2013 8:56:46 PM
During a pleasant visit I had recently with Jennifer Beneke of Columbus, she told me about an encounter her father, the late Ed Beneke, had with a celebrity years ago. His business required him to make a number of transcontinental flights. One time, when he was flying to California, he sat next to a charming lady who introduced herself with a plain generic name, something like Mary Smith.
Jennifer said her father "never met a stranger," so the two passengers entertained each other with conversation during the long flight. As they approached their destination, the captain announced that, because of turbulence, they were being diverted to a nearby airport for landing. The lady became very distressed. "But my whole entourage will be waiting for me at the wrong airport!" she wailed.
She then divulged that she was traveling incognito. "I am really Greer Garson," confessed the famous actress.
"I am really Ed Beneke," he replied.
I do not know how the problem was resolved, but it ended with Greer Garson inviting him for cocktails and even presenting him with gifts, a black miniature poodle named Saucy, and two Siamese cats. When he got home with the three animals, the cats ate some new hats his wife, Daphne, had bought, so they were given away. (Sounds like a Dr. Seuss book, doesn't it? "The Cats Ate the Hats.") Saucy remained a family pet for years.
(An extraneous observation about Greer Garson: I remember being a teary-eyed young girl watching one of her big scenes in "Mrs. Miniver." It was a World War II film in which Mrs. Miniver's daughter-in-law, played by Teresa Wright, was dying of a bullet or shrapnel wound. Mrs. Miniver cradled her in her arms, imploring, "Oh, darling, don't die! Hold on. Help is coming. Don't die!" I wept at that scene then, but when I recently saw a rerun on TV, I said, "Shut up, woman, and stop the bleeding!" Age does change one's perspective.)
Daphne herself had been one of the first stewardesses for American Airlines, back in 1936-37, when flight attendants were required to be nurses. The airlines even had sleepers in those days. How times have changed!
Jennifer said that, while cleaning out some closets, she found two of her mother's old uniforms -- one beige and one blue -- with other memorabilia, including a note written in the 1960s from C. R. Smith, president of American Airlines. The family offered the uniforms to the C. R. Smith museum, which was interested in having them. They are in the process of being transferred there.
Both Beneke women, mother and daughter, Daphne and Jennifer, dabbled in acting in Hollywood. Republic Studios was filming a movie entitled "The Lady Misbehaves." The title was later changed to "The Lady Behaves," because in 1937 the studios were more concerned with propriety than they are today. The actress did not have the right costume, an airline attendant's uniform, so Daphne did a bit part. Jennifer says Louis B. Mayer wanted to sign her mother up, but she did not want to give up flying, a secure job, for a "maybe" job. She did have her picture made on the tarmac with Judy Garland.
Jennifer herself acted in some films in the Philippines, did a national commercial, some modeling, and recently appeared locally in Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tatoo." She is also a shoe designer and launched her own line of boots.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.