NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Cocoa Beach, Florida – 19 July 1999
Today is July 19, 1999. This oral history is with Betty Skelton Frankman,
aviatrix, [1948, 1949, and 1950 International Feminine Aerobatic Champion]
and pioneer for women in aviation. This oral history is being conducted
by Carol Butler and Rebecca Wright, as part of NASA's oral history
Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you. I couldn't be more thrilled.
me, too. To begin with, maybe you could tell me about how your interest
in aviation began.
Well, in a way it's kind of like [STS-93 Shuttle Commander] Eileen
[M.] Collins, who's flying today. We used to ride out to the airport
on Sunday afternoons and watch the airplanes fly, and that's how she
got started. I think she was watching gliders. I wrote away to all
the aviation manufacturers, saying, "My father wants to buy an
airplane. Please send me all the information." And this was all
when I was eight, nine, ten years old. I became interested pretty
much that way. In fact, my entire family did, and my mother and father
and I all three started at the same time. But a lot of people around
the airport would always take this little girl up to fly.
I probably shouldn't tell you, but I soloed when I was twelve, and
it wasn't quite legal then, so I couldn't tell anybody. But I figure
now, about fifty years later, nobody will bother me about it. In fact,
I didn't tell my mother for about a week. My dad said, "You can't
tell anybody at all." So I didn't. She was a little surprised.
must have been quite a flight.
Yes, it was. The thing that amazed me most about it was that when
a person gets out of an airplane, especially a little two-seater airplane,
the lift is so much faster and the airplane just went up as though
there was nobody in it at all. It was amazing. But it was a great
bet it was. And the first of many great experiences to come for you.
I've been quite lucky, really have, although I don't believe in luck.
I'd rather say I was fortunate.
As you were growing up with airplanes and aviation and continuing
on, if you could give a brief synopsis of your early—
Well, the Navy really inspired me. I was born in Pensacola and spent
my very young years sitting on the back steps of our little house
watching the N3N Stearmans fly overhead, where the cadets were learning
how to do aerobatics. That didn't quite sink in as far as aerobatics
went, but my great love for flying came at that time. Then after we
started flying, I went to work when I was very young. We were not
a very wealthy family. The only way I could fly was to work toward
Then I began working for Eastern Airlines. I fibbed to them about
my age and got a job about three weeks before I graduated from high
school. Then I would work from midnight to eight so I could fly during
the daytime. Became a flight instructor, got a commercial and other
ratings and kind of went from there.
did you first begin doing aerobatics?
Well, by this time we were in Tampa, Florida. My dad had a flight
operation there. They were having a local air show and somebody at
the meeting said, "Why don't we have that little girl out at
the airport do some aerobatics." And my dad was there and he
said, "She doesn't know how." And another man who was there,
Clem Whittenbeck, who was a great aerobatic pilot in the thirties—I'm
talking about back in the forties now—he said, "Oh, I'll
teach her how." So in a couple of weeks that was left until show
time, he taught me how to do one loop and one slow roll.
The day of the show, I flew so high to be very careful, that I didn't
believe anybody could see me at all, but when I landed, a man who
owned an airport not very far away came up and said, "We're having
a show pretty soon. How much would you charge to come fly in our show?"
And that's when I became a professional aerobatic pilot. [Laughter]
It was quite by accident.
the spur of the moment.
you were doing all of this and working with your family and with other
people out at the airport, did any of your male counterparts ever
seem surprised or have any—
Well, pretty much so. I did not date in high school because I was
so busy with flying, and that was the most important thing to me.
I also worked after school and on weekends. There was just hardly
time to date. I learned many years later, on a reunion of our high
school class, that most of the guys were a little afraid of me because
I started flying and flew solo long before I learned to drive a car,
and they weren't even driving cars then. So I guess my interests were
just different, just a little different.
unique interest at the time.
you continued to do the aerobatics, did you ever stop and consider,
"Wow! Look at this! Look what I'm doing." Did you ever have
Yes, I had wonderful thoughts. I spent many thousands of hours sitting
in this little airplane, flying from one city to another in the United
States and in England and Ireland. Sure, you have a lot of time to
think. But, yes, I felt extremely fortunate, very fortunate to be
able to fly, to do the things I was doing, and mainly the people that
I met. I think the aviation community, which has now turned into the
space community, they're probably the finest people in the world.
And the fans are wonderful, and those who fly and understand flying,
it's really a great honor to be associated with them. I loved every
minute of it.
Yes, it was. It really was.
to be able to say that, to have such an exciting and fun time throughout
your whole life.
Yes, that's true.
you ever stop and think about the danger involved?
I think anytime you undertake anything with a piece of mechanized
equipment, as I call it, like a car or an airplane or a boat, or any
of these things, you immediately know that there's a danger involved,
but if you were concerned about that, you wouldn't be participating
in those kinds of things. You consider danger only from the standpoint
that it's up to you to know what you're doing, to do your best, to
be very careful about it and very thorough about it, and learn everything
you can about it. No, I never really worried about it, even though
I had quite a few close calls. And in those instances you're so busy,
you don't think about it anyway. So I can honestly say I was never
really afraid. I've never been what I would call afraid. Now, there
were a few times perhaps when you were lost in an airplane, you'd
be temporarily confused, but not necessarily afraid.
good. Always managed to keep your cool under whatever circumstances
Well, you sure try. You really do.
sure that helps in being able, if it is a situation where something's
gone wrong, if you're able to stay calm, it makes it a lot easier
Well, if you really have a dangerous situation, you are so very, very
busy determining—not determining, but doing, because you've
already determined that long before you have a problem, what you would
do in case of. And you're so very busy, you don't think about it.
Now, I will admit, after a couple of pretty close calls, several hours
later you give it a little thought, but not at the time. You really
don't have time.
you were continuing to fly and even travel around the world, had you
ever thought about space travel as a possibility?
Yes, I have to admit that I had, because in 1948 I became extremely
interested in UFOs [unidentified flying objects]. There were quite
a few people in the aviation community that felt the same way I did
about it. A fellow named [Donald] Keyhoe wrote a couple of books,
one called Flying Saucers are Real, and Flying Saucers from Outer
Space, I believe was his second book, and I read every page. My father
thought I was crazy. [Laughter] But, yes, I became interested in space
quite a long time ago.
the time, did you think that space travel was in the immediate future?
No, I knew that it could not be, due to the state of things in the
aviation world at that time. You must remember I started out in air
show work in a 1929 model Great Lakes airplane, a 2T1A. And then I
was fortunate enough to meet a man named Curtis Pitts, who designed
airplanes, or was endeavoring to design an airplane at that time.
The first time I ever saw his airplane, I fell in love with it, the
only one that he had, and I tried to get it to fly and it wasn't available.
I just followed it till I finally was at a point where they were able
to let me have it.
It was the second Pitts Special airplane ever built. Now there are
thousands and thousands around the world. But at that time the first
one that he designed and built was almost immediately crashed by a
crop duster in Georgia, and the second one, serial number 2, is the
one that I was able to obtain. It is now in the National Air and Space
Museum of the Smithsonian [Institution]. And I'm thrilled to say that
when it was fifty years old, they started complete reconstruction
on it, and a wonderful gal there, a curator named Dorothy Cochrane,
started reconstruction on it. It's just about finished now, and it
looks like a brand-new airplane and it's just beautiful. Very thrilled
it being restored far enough that it will be flyable?
Oh, yes. Well, no, they don't usually fly their equipment after they
restore it. It goes on display in the National Air and Space Museum.
In fact, I think they have a policy that you don't fly their equipment
after they rebuild it and display it. It's beautifully done.
will be wonderful when it is all finished and you're able to see it
and have other people be able to come and visit and see it.
Yes, it will.
share in that part of history.
Yes. That possibly will happen this fall or next spring, maybe.
look forward to seeing that.
Good. Thank you.
did you first learn about efforts that both the United States and
Russia were making towards space? Was it when [John F.] Kennedy announced
that—I should say manned efforts—when Kennedy announced
he wanted to send someone to the moon?
Oh, no, no, no. Long before that. One morning I picked up the newspaper
and there was a picture of seven people, they had announced the day
before that they were selected as astronauts. This was in April of
1959. I thought, "Wow! Wouldn't that be wonderful to be one of
these people." But I knew at that time that women were not considered
in that category and had not been considered and probably would not
be for a long, long time. And, of course, I realized this from my
past experiences in flying in air shows.
My first air show, really professional air show, was in Jacksonville,
and it was the Navy Blue Angels' first air show. So I flew many years
in shows with the Blue Angels and knew many of the teams, and was
pretty much the only gal that was working on that level around the
world and in this country as a professional aerobatic pilot.
I would like to say, on aerobatic flying, too, most people call it
stunt flying. When I started doing it, I felt that it should be called
aerobatic flying, which it had been by some. But I considered it an
art, and I spent a great deal of time trying to convince people that
it was not simply diving to thrill a crowd and to make a lot of noise
and put out a lot of smoke; it was an effort that took many, many,
many thousands of hours to perfect, and it in its own self was an
art, and you had to look at it that way.
I'm sure you must have taken time before you perform a stunt in the
air show, you would have to practice it over and over.
Oh, yes. You would go up high, to be safe, and you would do maybe
the same maneuver 100 times in one practice setting, and you'd practice
two or three times a day, not too long at a time, because you get
very tired. There were negative Gs involved, G loadings involved.
It was a little tiring at times.
certainly put a lot of work into it to make it—
Yes, you have to do it properly.
must have been neat to be able to fly in air shows with the Navy team,
the Blue Angels.
Oh, yes, they were all a great bunch of guys and marvelous to work
with. The nicest part about it, even though I was a gal, there were
some skeptics at first, when I first started aerobatic flying, but
after a woman comes along in those years, in the forties and early
fifties, in this particular area as soon as you proved yourself, so
to speak, and showed how proficient you could be with it, then there
was just no difference. And it was really marvelous. It was an occupation
that I really loved.
I think the thing I enjoyed most, and yet was probably one of the
most dangerous, was flying upside down about ten feet above the ground,
cutting a ribbon with the prop of the airplane. If nothing else, if
nothing else gives you a thrill, that will, I'll tell you. [Laughter]
You're pretty busy and it's quite a lot of fun. I understand I was
the first woman in the world to ever do it. I worked very hard to
perfect it, and I enjoyed it very much.
great. That's certainly not anything easy to do. I'm sure it thrilled
the audience watching as much as thrilling you flying it.
Well, I must admit, the first time I tried it—and I haven't
told many people this—but the first time I tried it, I misjudged
slightly and flew underneath the ribbon, which put me even closer
to the ground. I never made that mistake again. [Laughter] But I've
made quite a few. All pilots do. Thank goodness they're careful enough
not to get in trouble with it.
then to be able to always learn from it, if you do that.
When you did learn about the Mercury astronauts and you saw them and
you thought this was such a neat thing, but you realized women wouldn't
work into it very—
I thought, golly, that would be the most fantastic thing in the world.
Naturally, I was so thrilled for them, and they were all so highly
qualified as test pilots. The requirement was to have 1,500 hours
of jet flying time. Unfortunately, at that time in history women had
no way to fly jets, so that was one reason alone that a woman could
not get in.
But I was quite surprised, oh, a couple of three months later, I don't
know the exact date, after the original seven were selected and long
before any human being had gone into space, I received a call saying
that NASA had agreed to let a woman for the first time take some of
the astronaut tests they had given the original seven astronauts,
and due to my background and experience in flying and the thousands
of hours that I had, that they wondered if I'd like to do it. And
I thought, "Are you crazy? Of course I would!" [Laughter]
Then I spent approximately four or five months becoming familiar with
the seven who had been selected, and traveling around the United States
to the various test facilities, coming down here to the Cape, seeing
a launch of a [Boeing CIM-10] Bomarc [missile] at night, which was
a thrill to me at that time. And the tests were most interesting,
very, very interesting.
But I knew at the time they were not considering a woman, really.
In a way, I had to agree with them, although I'm always gung-ho about
things like this, but they were working on such a small budget and
the equipment was really not totally developed. Everybody was working
their fanny off trying to get this program going. I felt that then
was not really the total time for them to uproot everything they were
doing and the progress they had made to try to put a woman into the
program, and I figured it would probably take twenty or twenty-five
years due to the feeling about women, anyway.
But what little time there was associated with the NASA test and the
astronauts, I did everything I could. I felt it was an opportunity
to try to convince them that a woman could do this type of thing and
could do it well. I think my entire association for even that brief
period of time was probably the most soul-searching thing I've ever
been involved with. To suddenly walk into the NASA compound, so to
speak, and have them explain what it was they were trying to do, how
they were going about it, what the problems were, you know, prior
to that, prior to the first manned flight, a lot of these missiles
were blowing up, and it was a very frightening thing, a touch-and-go
thing. They had a tremendous job to do, and I had great respect for
all of their efforts. I really did.
And, of course, it was a thrill to meet the original seven and get
to know them. My first visit was to their headquarters in Langley,
Virginia, Langley Field in Virginia. I don't think they'd ever had
women around their own little ready room before, because as I walked
in, they were all busy pulling down little things around the charts
and so forth around the room. I later learned they were covering up
a few pictures that I probably shouldn't see. [Laughter] But they
were all very, very kind to me, very nice, extremely helpful, not
resentful that I was there, but then they didn't have any reason to
be, because they knew I didn't have a chance. But I am very grateful
for the experience.
I saw Alan [B.] Shepard's [Jr.] first flight. I saw John [H.] Glenn's
[Jr.] first flight. I kept very close track, and have for years, for
forty years now. In fact, it's been just about forty years that I
started going through the tests, forty, fifty. This was 1950. Now,
it's fifty years ago. Whatever. It's hard to figure when you've got
a camera going, you know. [Laughter] But this was in 1959, and I knew
at that time there was no chance for a woman to become part of the
program, but I will forever be grateful for their kindnesses and their
help and the opportunity I had to go through the test.
a very exciting opportunity.
It was kind of interesting, too, especially at the Brooks Aerospace
Medicine School out in Texas, in San Antonio, because they would—
I think one of the most interesting parts of the test was in San Antonio,
Texas, at the Brooks Aerospace Medicine School, primarily because
when I arrived, they had a test that stands you up on a platform and
your feet are up in the air, and they couldn't figure out what for
me to wear. So they decided to put me in a hospital gown, because
they'd never tested women before. Then somebody said, "Oh, I
don't think that would work when she gets on this platform thing that
goes upside down." So they put me in a pair of men's pajamas
that were far too large, and I had forgotten to take shoes with me,
so I wandered around the whole place the entire time in high-heeled
But the thing I liked most, they had one test—these are very
elementary tests now, compared to the tests that they're giving these
days, but they would spin you around on a chair, blindfolded, and
then tap you on a knee and make you pull your head up very fast, and
say, "What did that feel like?" And I said it felt like
a triple snap roll to the right. Everything stopped, and suddenly
the doctors went out in the other room and talked a few minutes and
said, "Let's do that again." So we did it again, and they
said, "What did that feel like?" I said, "It was a
triple snap roll to the right." And I finally realized they had
never tested anyone who had done a triple snap roll to the right,
and they didn't realize that I probably was the only one who knew
what it felt like, or if they had tested someone who had done it,
they got a different reaction, because that's what happened. It was
a lot of fun in the test.
Another very interesting thing, we were at the Johnsville what was
the world's largest centrifuge at that time, at the Naval Acceleration
Laboratory in Johnsville, Pennsylvania. They briefed me and this and
that and the other, and as the two technicians were putting me into
the centrifuge which they spin around for you, for G loadings, and
I was very quite accustomed to negative G loadings as well as outside
or negative G loadings, as they were putting me in the capsule, one
of them said—and this was an advertising campaign that was going
on back in those days—one of them said, "Golly, wouldn't
that make a great ad? 'I dreamed I rode the centrifuge in my Maidenform
bra!'" [Laughter] And they were a great group to work with. I
enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the centrifuge ride. It's not every day
you get to do something like that.
not. Do you remember some of the other things you participated in,
the tests or the training?
Well, there was so much. I did a little underwater work with—I
think it was with [M.] Scott Carpenter and Alan Shepard and Wally
[Walter M.] Schirra [Jr.], checked me out on the cockpit, not the
airplane. I couldn't fly it, of course. I think it was an F-104. And
a couple of the others showed me one of the capsules [that] had flown
and had come back, and all of the burned area on it. I flew their
so-called Link trainer. It was very, very crude at that time. There
were quite a number of things.
One that kind of was embarrassing to me, in the space suit I spent
several hours in there and I lost quite a bit of weight for me, because
at this time I only weighed about 100 to 105 pounds. Then after I
got out of the space suit and had been soaking wet, and my hair was
a mess, and then Look magazine ran the picture they took then, later.
And everybody dreams of being on the cover of a big magazine, and
there I was, looking just terrible, with wet hair. It was particularly
embarrassing because just a couple of months before, they always selected
ten—they did at that time—ten best coiffeured women of
the year, and I was one of them, with a picture in all the newspapers
with just a perfect hair-do, and then just after, this picture came
out. It was very embarrassing, but it was also an honor.
said you got to go in the Link trainer and do some training.
They called it an orbital air-bearing simulator, and if you saw pictures
of it right now, you wouldn't believe it. [Laughter] It's a very simple
machine. I spent some time in it, not very long, but some time in
it. Of course, I had been used to Link trainers, so I understood what
it was all about.
As I mentioned before, the most interesting thing to me—not
the most, of course, because there was so much to digest—but
they were so patient to explain to me how they were going to do their
first missions and what they had to do in reversing their positions
and coming back in with the fire and the problems of burning up and
all of the technical things involved.
At this particular time I was vice president and account executive
with one of the world's largest advertising agencies, and we had the
General Motors and Chevrolet accounts. So when I returned to my office
back in the General Motors Building in Detroit, the president of General
Motors asked that I give a lecture to all of their technicians and
designers and all of their officers. This was quite an honor for me,
for a gal, again, because girls didn't do this kind of thing. Although
I had been a technical narrator for General Motors at Motorama and
most of their auto shows, the first time they had ever used a girl
as a technical narrator.
So it was quite a thrill, after I'd finished everything, to go back
and be able to expose so many nice people and knowledgeable people
to the types of things and problems that NASA was up against on our
first shots. They were courageous guys and they did fantastic jobs.
Gus [Virgil I. Grissom] was a friend, and, of course, we lost him.
In fact, as I go through the Kennedy Space Center today, I'm a little
surprised that they don't have more materials around about the first
seven, because that's where it first started. And, of course, there
are some, but not a great deal. I've watched people go through there,
and the only thing they're interested in now, which is normal—you
know, these are kids and young people, and the only thing they really
know about the space program is today, now, the Shuttle. And that's
great, because that's their future. But I do feel that a little more
should be done for all seven of the first group. Although a lot has
been done, I don't see too much evidence of it today at the visitors'
path they forged is certainly very important to the present we're
living in now.
you were working with them and learning, as you said, the technical
details and the difficulties, how did that compare both technologically
and the different things that you were doing to what you had done
before with airplanes and—
Well, it was a lot easier to understand, I think, because I did a
lot of work on my own airplane and I learned very early you look after
your own equipment. The same thing, you know, really occurred at that
time. Now they have so many technicians to do so much for a launch,
that the pilot is not as deeply involved as we were then in knowing
every aspect of everything. It was, I would say, a lot easier for
me to comprehend than it might have been someone who did not fly and
who did not understand aeronautics and the forces that keep airplanes
and so forth in the air.
mentioned that you had gotten a call. Who called you? Was this NASA
that was sponsoring you to come down and participate in this?
I don't really know how it started. Someone with Look magazine called
me and said that NASA was going to test a woman or be the first woman
to give tests to, and would I be interested in doing it. I think the
call came from the aviation editor of Look, primarily because he had
seen me fly a number of times and knew of my experience and my background.
Of course, I had a large number of flight hours and quite a lot of
experience. I had tried to set a woman's record in a P-51 at one time,
a world's record, and the engine had blown up. I had had a lot of
interesting things happen in an airplane, and I flew in the Cleveland
Air Races. I guess they just figured I—well, then they were
looking for test pilots and people who had done dangerous things,
and it seemed like I fit the bill, I suppose.
said you were there for a period of about four or five months?
It took about four or five months to complete everything. As I mentioned,
we did the centrifuge thing. I spent some time at Langley. I spent
some time here at the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] and some time in the
blockhouse. Oh, I just learned so many wonderful technical things
about the program that, unfortunately, the average public would never
have been exposed to. It really was a marvelous opportunity and really
a wonderful thing to happen to anybody, although I realized at the
time that a woman would not be flying for a long, long time. Of course,
I was specifically interested in getting them interested in a woman
pilot, not going along as a specialist or anything.
Now I'm talking about 1959, before even Sputnik flew. I happened to
be in South America setting a record with a car across South America
from Buenos Aires to Vina Del Mar, Chile, round trip across the South
American continent, in forty hours, and across the Andes twice in
forty hours. And was high in the Andes and looked up, and there was
Sputnik going over. It was a tremendous thrill. So I really became
interested long before all of this happened to me. As I say, it was
a very soul-searching experience being involved even a minute bit
with the space people.
mentioned getting to know the seven astronauts. Did you also get to
know some of the managers and technicians very well?
I had some long talks with Dr. [William K.] Douglas, who was at that
time the official, I guess, astronaut doctor, the first. There were
probably many. He's the one that I chatted with most at Langley. We
had some interesting conversations. He was probably a little less
negative than most of them about a woman, but he felt that when space
travel came, and it's here, that women might possibly be better at
it because women could stand the tedious times when you are there
with nothing to do. I guess this is attributed to someone being a
housewife, you know, same things over and over and over again, and
nothing really to be concerned about. But he felt that on long space
trips—this was in 1959—he felt that women might be better
adapted than men to being less restless about the monotony of it all.
And the other thing that I was a little surprised that he felt, he
felt that a woman's reproductive organs were better protected than
men's, and physically it might be a little bit safer for women than
men. I don't know whether that was ever mentioned anywhere or not.
But those were about the two major observations I got from him.
In talking with several of the officials, which I won't mention, one
jokingly said what he thought about women in space, and he said, "If
I had my way, I'd send them all out there." [Laughter] So that
kind of gave me an idea of what was going on. But he was joking about
it. And I won't mention his name. [Laughter]
won't ask you to.
interesting that there was then such a difference in levels. Here's
one doctor that you said had one viewpoint, and yet others had a different
Yes. Well, for instance, Wally Schirra—I believe it was Wally—was
friendly. He said that his father, I believe—you know, we're
talking about, what, forty, fifty years ago, and I cannot remember
everything, especially at this age. [Laughter] But I believe Wally
said that his father had been an aerobatic pilot, and we kind of felt
a little kinship there just because of that.
I almost had an opportunity to land my little Pitts Special, which
only weighed 540 pounds, and the top wing came to about here on me,
a very tiny airplane that would fit in a small room, I almost had
an opportunity when I went to England—I was selected to represent
the United States one year in the London Daily Express Air Pageant
at [Gatwick] Airport in London. And knowing all of the Air Force guys
and the Navy guys from air shows, I had an opportunity to try to land
it on a carrier. Of course, that was unheard of, for a woman to go
on a carrier. But I could have landed on a carrier and stopped it
without the hook or anything. A very maneuverable airplane. And send
it to Europe that way, to London that way. But they also said if they
got in the middle of the Atlantic and had orders to go to the Indian
Ocean, that's where they'd go, and I couldn't take the chance. So
I took it over with me on the Queen Mary, flew in England, and then
flew it across the Irish Sea and was a guest of the RAF [Royal Air
Force] in Ireland, and flew there. But I was particularly interested
in the guys that had flown carriers and done carrier landings, because
I never quite made it on a carrier. I would have loved it. It would
have been fun.
certainly would have been interesting.
Especially if I had been able to stop. [Laughter]
would have made it very fun.
did you think at the time about the future of space flight? You said
you thought it might take a while for women to get into it. But at
the time did you think about that just in a few short years they'd
be trying to go to the moon?
The moon, I think, came a little quicker than I had expected. I think
the reason it came as quickly as it did, thank god, was because these
seven guys, the originators, I call them, caught the attention of
the entire world and made our country so very, very proud. We had
a President who understood this and decided it would be a good idea
to go for the moon. And although he didn't have the vaguest idea,
I don't think, how he was going to get it done, he committed to getting
it done, and that's what got us there a lot quicker.
However, as far as far space travel and the type of thing where we're
discussing now and the types of things that are happening now, and
the wonderful thing that's happening to Eileen Collins today, it's
her day. It's really her day. I feel a little strange talking about
my small experiences when she's having such a great one less than
twenty-four hours from now. I'm very, very proud of her.
But I think that our President, Kennedy, had a great deal to do with
our space effort going forward. Then the budget dropped off for a
while, and then it came back on. I think we're doing the best we can
for what we've got to work with and the budget that's involved.
I'm sure that Eileen Collins, being where she is now, as you mentioned,
the original seven astronauts were key for getting the space program
where it is, but it was women like you that were key to helping Eileen
Collins get to where she is.
Well, I think that probably I was the first one that kind of gave
NASA a kick, anyway, although it didn't do much good, and that was
in 1959. This is 1999. Our first woman—and I was here for that,
when Sally [K.] Ride flew. I came over for that and was interviewed
by Jane Pauley on the program. But from '59 to '83 is a long time,
and although she wasn't a pilot, it was a great accomplishment. But,
to me, this trip that Eileen is taking is, in a way, my dream of all
those years ago, forty years ago, and what I really wanted to do,
and would have given my life to do at that time. And not just me;
there were a lot of other girls who felt the same way. In fact, after
the Look cover story came out on me, there was quite a bit of controversy,
and even went to Congress, and the girls all tried to get into the
space program. Some made some headway, but it just was not to be,
and I realized that.
So it was '59 to '99 before we could get a woman pilot, commander,
and I'm so very proud of her. And in a way, it's like my dream come
so fortunate that you can be able to be here to share in it and watch
Yes. I can hardly wait. I'm sure I'll probably cry, too. [Laughter]
sure you won't be the only one.
Gals like to cry sometimes.
Nothing wrong with that. You mentioned that some of the others, another
group of women had gone through a different sort of testing than you
had. Had you known about that at the time or when they were doing
I knew that they were undertaking it, but, frankly, I was not able
to follow their activities. It was after I had done my thing, so to
speak. During that period of time I was involved with setting some
records for Chevrolet. I did the survey trip and the actual trip and
managed it, of a truck run down the Baja Peninsula long before it
became a tourist attraction like it is today, and at that time we
were the first expedition down Baja. And just past Encinitas, there
were no roads; it was just dirt roads and rocks and streams and whatnot.
When you're so tremendously involved with that, and I was involved
with setting a transcontinental record across the United States, and
many other record things, that it was hard to follow their activities.
I was interested, but again I didn't feel that it would ever go anywhere.
I feel so badly for those girls that it didn't. There were some fine
pilots, some marvelous girls in the program. We were all in the same
boat, so to speak, without a paddle.
sure you continued to follow events of the space program itself. Did
you watch the next shots, Gemini?
I've been over a number of times and watched. I mentioned Cypress
Gardens earlier, I believe, which is in the center part of the state,
halfway between Tampa and Orlando. Cypress Gardens is on a little
lake called Eloise, a good-size lake, and we live lakefront on the
west side of the lake, facing east. We sit in our living room and
watch every space flight when it's not real cloudy. So I have seen
more flights probably than just about anybody around through the number
of years because we get to see them. I'm really very honored to be
here, and so close, for this one.
a pretty special day.
Yes, it is.
you had done your work with the Mercury seven astronauts—
Can we halt a minute?
[Tape recorder turned off]
After you had worked with the Mercury 7 astronauts and with NASA,
you said you went back, had been with Chevrolet, if I'm correct, and
went back and presented to them what you had done, and were able to
share with them. What did you then go on and do in your career? What
were some of the other—
I stayed with the ad agency, very exciting job. I traveled about 90
percent of the time, and it really was a marvelous, marvelous job,
again at a period of time when no women hardly were involved at all
with advertising, especially with a large worldwide agency. I felt
so much a part of Chevrolet and General Motors. In fact, you probably
read about the astronauts and Corvettes, the earlier astronauts. My
job at Chevrolet at the time was coordinating all of the Corvette
activities. We drove Corvettes on the beach, we raced, did a number
of things. Several of the astronauts had already owned Corvettes.
I think Alan Shepard had two or three or something like that. So immediately
we wanted them to get into Corvettes, and I believe at one point all
of them but maybe one, or maybe all of them, were driving Corvettes.
But that's just one of the things. Jim Rathman [phonetic], who is
from the Cape area here, he was very close to all of them, and being
a Chevrolet dealer, he worked out the details on it.
But I was just involved with so many different things. I helped start—I
was on a staff of five that started Corvette News, and I was agency
editor of Corvette News for many years. Attended all of the major
races in the country for Chevrolet and Corvette, drove the pace cars
at Daytona for the races there, drove on the beach before the racetrack
was there. Just was very, very busy doing exciting things. I was there
until '71 and decided to come back to Florida. Nothing in the world
like Florida. You can go away and stay awhile, but you have to come
did you become involved in the auto racing? Here you had been a pilot
and doing aerobatics. What transitioned?
It was rather strange. I had a charter flight to fly three famous
race drivers for Bill France, Sr., who then was just getting NASCAR
started, and he had three drivers in his plane. Two planes. I was
in a Bonanza. We were taking them to a race in Pennsylvania, and on
the way back it was just the two airplanes and the two pilots, and
we started talking back and forth over the intercom. He said, "How
would you like to come down to Daytona for Speed Week?"
I said, "Well, what is Speed Week?" He explained to me what
NASCAR was doing with speeds in Daytona, and I said, "Well, sure,
I'd love to come, but I'd have to have a sponsor."
And he said, "Well, I'll be in touch."
Oddly enough, about six months later he called and said, "I have
you a sponsor. Would you come down, drive a car on the beach?"
And I said, "Sure. Why not?" [Laughter]
And I came down. I call it "stab and steer." That's about
what it took on the beach, trying to stay out of the tidepools. Long,
long before the track was built.
I came down and I drove for Dodge and happened to set a record for
Dodge, class record. And then they hired me as a test driver and I
went to Detroit and worked at their proving grounds and traveled for
Then I became a little restless, and I got very interested in the
Corvette, and I switched over to the General Motors family and worked
on the Corvette for many, many, many years.
through all this you continued to fly then, too?
Oh, yes, I've always kept my license current and have continued to
fly all of these years. I don't log time as I should, which is a law,
but my time went well over 10,000 hours, and I kind of backed off
on keeping track of it too much.
exciting. You've had several different adventures from cars to planes
and you mentioned earlier motorcycles. You and your husband—
Yes, I love motorcycles. They're highly dangerous and everybody should
know that. We each had bikes, and we wouldn't ride together, because
we know it's dangerous. We never rode side by side either, because
we knew that if one got it, we would both get it. So we'd ride fifty
feet apart, usually, so that if one had an accident or anything happened,
the other would be there to take care of. We had some great times,
wonderful cross-country trips on motorcycles.
your interest in this variety of areas, did you ever look into boating
Yes, I did. I became the first woman boat jumper in the United States,
at Cypress Gardens—or in the world, I guess, and at that time
there weren't fiberglass boats, they were very heavy wooden boats.
I was hurt on one of the jumps, but that didn't stop me from enjoying
it and liking it.
Then I got interested in the Gold Cup, these large Gold Cup—like
Miss Budweiser is today. I was very interested in them, and I tried
to borrow boats to set records in, and most of their races were around
a course. All of the races, actually. I was going for a straight-away
record, and nobody would let me have a boat because they said, "We
would feel ridiculous when we do our circular courses." Naturally,
the speeds are lower. "But if you went out and did a two-way
straight-run course, your speeds would be much higher and it would
make us look bad. So, no, you can't have our boats." [Laughter]
But there was one man who was very, very kind and well-known on the
circuit at that time, Jack Schaffer. He had a boat called Such Crust,
because he owned a bakery. He let me drive it, and it's a whole other
smoke, I'll tell you. [Laughter] It's quite a ride. I was black and
blue all over when I got out of the boat. Very, very rough. But they've
improved them a great, great deal now. Now you don't get black and
blue; you go over on your back and drown, usually, if you have an
sure even though you were black and blue, I'm sure you had a great
I loved it, yes. It was a great challenge. Challenge is sort of—you
know, you're asking questions, it makes me think a little bit about
when I was very young, when I was a teenager. When I first started
dealing a little bit with the press, which I'd rather not do—
[Laughter] The first thing somebody would say, "What makes you
tick?" And I would think, "What a question," you know.
My heart makes me tick, and it's my heart that makes me do these things,
what I feel inside. As [Sir Edmund] Hillary said, he climbed Mount
Everest because it was there. I don't think I have any better answer
than that, except that everyone is built a little differently, and
my heart and my will and my desires are mixed up with challenge.
I love any kind of challenge. I love skydiving and have enjoyed that.
Anything that's challenging, usually with mechanized equipment, I
find most interesting. The same thing that happened with me in boats
happened with me in cars. I wanted to go for a world's record. I'd
like to have gone for a men's record, but there was nobody that would
let me have a car.
Art Arfons, bless his heart, wonderful man, who had the Green Monster
at that time, Art said, "Well, you can drive my little Green
Monster Cyclops," which was really an open cockpit drag racer,
and they weren't made for the type of thing I was trying to do with
it. But we took it out to Bonneville and Art let me drive it. My top
speed on the last run, I think, was over 315 miles an hour. I was
the first woman to go over 100, over 200, over 300, and so forth.
Art was just scared to death, and I was just busy. I was really busy.
The car got airborne with me toward the end of the run, and a great,
great compliment to Art, because the car was easy to handle and I
got it back on the ground, fortunately going the same direction it
was going when it took off, and I appreciated his engineering ability
in building a very stable car. It was quite an experience.
But, again, I tried to drive the Blue Flame when it went for the world's
record, well over 600, and I flew the Pitts Special, which, incidentally,
I named the Little Stinker. Had a skunk on the side. I flew it over
to Milwaukee and tried to talk with the owners and the people. There
was just no way they were going to allow a woman to drive that car,
and it was a gorgeous automobile. Looked like a bullet. It did set
the record, world's record.
many opportunities you've had. So many interesting times. Is there
a point, looking back over your whole career, that you would say was
the most challenging time for you?
No, there isn't, because you can't mix boats and airplanes and cars
all together. I might say affairs of the heart. I was not thirty-nine
before I got married. I was thirty-nine and a half. I think that's
the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. [Laughter] I was
very, very nervous, and was fortunate enough to marry a fantastic
man. He was with the Ford agency at one time, and I was with Chevrolet
agency, and we were bitter rivals and didn't particularly like each
other very much, either, but we smoothed that out. It's the finest
thing that ever happened to me, really, by far the most rewarding
and the finest.
A marvelous, marvelous man. We will be married thirty-four years come
New Year's Eve, and we decided we wanted to start our year out together,
and that's why New Year's Eve.
great. And this New Year's Eve will be the—
Thirty-fourth. I hope we make it. He's extremely ill right now. But
we're counting the days until New Year's Eve and the millennium. That's
our next goal, and that's a challenge now.
All of our thoughts and prayers will be with you that you are able
to celebrate that together.
Thank you. Appreciate it.
think here we'll go ahead and pause for a moment. [Tape recorder turned
What is this photograph here?
This was a photograph that was a taken—this is the sixth, I
think, of the seven original astronauts, and from left to right is
Deke [Donald K.] Slayton, Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn,
Gus Grissom, and Alan Shepard. I don't know who's missing; I'd have
to think. Maybe Gordo—[L.] Gordon Cooper [Jr.] is missing. This
was the first day I visited their ready room at Langley in Virginia,
and we were matching to see who was going to buy the coffee.
This is my pride and joy. This is Little Stinker, my Pitts Special
that is now in the National Air and Space Museum, number N22E. I always
called it "2-2 Easy." A little tiny airplane, only weighs
544 pounds, and a great joy to fly. As you were flying along cross
country, you'd look out there at that little short wing and think,
"What in the world is keeping me in the air?" Marvelous
This gives you an idea of how very small Little Stinker was. With
Little Stinker is Little Tinker, a chihuahua, which was my mascot
and flew around the airplane with me. We had a great time together.
Little Tinker hang head out the window, ears flapping in the wind?
Oh, no, no. He'd sit in my lap most of the time or on the back of
my shoulder, and had its own little parachute and it had its own favorite
airplane. It loved Tallahassee in Florida, because every time I would
land there, there was a fire plug close by. [Laughter]
This was the boat-jumping that I had mentioned. You go up a ramp.
Actually, it's a water-ski ramp. Then you jump. We were jumping over
this 1955 Dodge, it looks like, at Cypress Gardens in Florida. On
that particular jump I had a very hard landing. I knew at this point
it was going to be extremely hard, and I did have a little medical
problem after that for a while. I limped for about a year, in fact.
my. You certainly look like you're enjoying it at the time.
It was fun.
this is a picture of you.
This was entering the centrifuge for the wild ride at the U.S. [Naval]
Acceleration Laboratory in Johnsville, Pennsylvania. That's when one
of the technicians made the remark about the advertising campaign.
must have been quite a ride. Was it similar to any of the experiences
It was very similar to the G loadings I had felt in the airplane.
This is an actual shot of me just before they closed the door or just
after they closed the door to the centrifuge. It's an interesting
piece of equipment. It's on a 55-foot arm and it goes round and round
and round very, very fast and creates G loadings on the body. In other
words, if your body weighs 100, they can make it weigh 200, 300, 400.
Each G loading carries your body weight up. I was used to G loadings
because I'd had quite a number of them in Little Stinker.
This is a shot that was taken actually in front of a capsule that's
exactly like the one that Alan Shepard flew in. I had been in the
space suit for quite a long time at that point, and I must say they're
not very comfortable. But it was such a thrill just to be able to
get into one of them, and think, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if
I could just use it, if I could just get into space with it?"
But unfortunately that was not to be.
this one of the training suits that they used?
This was taken out at McDonnell-Douglas [Corporation]. This was one
of the suits that they had on hand there. McDonnell-Douglas did the
have to ask. Alan Shepard, when he was on his first mission, didn't
have a method for relieving himself very well. You said you were in
the suit for a long time. Did that become a problem for you?
Well, it's a very personal subject. [Laughter]
you don't have to answer if you don't want to.
I'll tell you the truth. I used to fly in Little Stinker from daylight
till dark if I had to get to—you know, you weren't flying very
fast, 110 miles an hour and with a head wind probably of 50 miles
an hour. But anyway, I would fly from daylight till dark, and I became
quite accustomed to controlling not having to make pit stops, shall
we say. [Laughter] So that was not a problem for me here in this shot.
That reminds me of one time I was driving from Winter Haven over here
for a shot, and I really was in a hurry to get here. I drive fast,
anyway. And a cop stopped me and he said, "Let me see your license."
So I hand him my license. He says, "Oh, you're Betty Skelton!
I remember when I was just that high and I rode my bicycle out to
the airport to see you fly."
I said, "Go ahead and give me a ticket and let me go see the
space launch. You don't have to insult me, too." [Laughter] And
he was very nice; he let me go.
I had an opportunity to go into one of the first blockhouses, so to
speak, here when I was at the Cape in 1959. They were getting ready
for a missile launching at that time. This was all part of NASA test,
and I did later see the launching.
This is one of my favorite shots, because it was in an airplane, naturally,
and I was also with a really nice guy, Wally Schirra, and he was explaining
to me the cockpit of the F-104. He always had such a nice smile and
such a friendly attitude. It was always a pleasure to talk with him.
This shot was taken at the Aerospace Medicine School at Brooks Field
in San Antonio. As I've said, I didn't have my shoes with me, so I
wore high-heeled shoes and a large pair of men's pajamas the whole
time I was there. This is the sound room, and they would put you in
there to check your various reactions to sounds. Actually, it was
so quiet in there, you could hear your own heartbeat. It was kind
an interesting experience and a very classy outfit.
Oh, sure. [Laughter]
are we doing in this shot?
This is just simple treadmill tests that they gave you at the Brooks
Aerospace Medicine School. It, of course, made it go faster and faster
and steeper and steeper, to see how long you could undergo the physical
have to say, in all of these you're just grinning and looking like
you're having a blast.
I was. I just had a great time. Really great time.
This was kind of interesting. They were trying to show me and test
me under water because of the buoyancy advantage you have. Your body
weighs a lot less, so to speak, under water, like 90 percent less.
This is Scott Carpenter and Alan Shepard helping me adjust the mask.
The interesting thing about it is, I don't swim. I never have. I'm
not particularly afraid of water, but I don't swim. But I didn't dare
tell them. [Laughter] We all went under water, and they were very
nice to hang around and help me when I wanted a little help. I don't
think they ever knew I couldn't swim. But it wasn't the most exciting
thing that I did, I'm afraid.
interesting. I was going to ask you, with everything else you've done,
from cars to planes, to boats, to skydiving, I was about to ask if
you've done much scuba diving.
I've done a little, but I didn't particularly like it. I skied in
the ski shows at Cyprus Gardens a lot, but when I'd fall, I'd just
come up and hang on to the ski until somebody came to get me. So I
never really learned how to swim.
all these boating adventures and boat jumping and water skiing—didn't
need to swim?
Really, I really didn't. I'm not afraid of water; I just didn't like
it in my ears and eyes. [Laughter]
This is the control room of the centrifuge that I mentioned to you.
While you're going around and around in this thing on the -foot
arm, they actually see you on a TV screen in the control room, and
those are the technicians, of course, watching to see if I black out
or, you know, what happens. They were very nice to me.
you got to watch this video yourself afterwards, of you going through
This was in a water test with Scotty and Alan Shepard. They were very
helpful to me during the water test, which I was very pleased didn't
last too long. [Laughter]
This was long before America ever flew anyone into space, before Shepard's
flight, at the Cape. Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton, the late Deke
Slayton, they were showing me what a capsule looks like when it comes
back, or when it lands and is recovered. In order to find out what
sort of damage they could expect on an actual flight, recovering these
test flights helped them a great deal technically.
have to ask. You worked so closely with the seven during this time
frame that you were down there and did get to see a couple of launches.
When John Glenn went back up just last year, did you get a chance
to see his launch?
Yes, I saw it. I had written John a letter, and I think it probably
went in the "fan" box as everything usually does. I also
wrote Eileen, and I'm sure it went in the "fan" circular
file also. But, yes, I was here for John's flight. I also was interviewed
for a magazine article about the time, and I said, "If John needs
an old lady for a backup, I'll be there in a heartbeat for him."
[Laughter] But, unfortunately, I didn't get the chance. He did a great
job on his flight, really did.
This picture of Wally Schirra and Alan Shepard showing me the orbital
air-bearing simulator, which is similar, not in appearance, but the
purpose is similar to a Link trainer for a regular pilot. This is
what they eventually used to practice in for their actual flights.
you all look like you're having a blast.
Yes. It was a very exciting time.
This is on Daytona Beach, the sands of Daytona, long before the track
was built and just before making a run with NASCAR in a '56 Corvette.
I also drove the '56 pace car there for the races, which was a Vette.
I think the speed was somewhere around 143, 144, somewhere, miles
an hour, the average speed. It was a new record for women, straightaway
When you run the beach, you had to be very careful. Of course, they
don't anymore, but the tide would bring in what we called tidepools,
and you'd be going like gangbusters down the beach and suddenly you'd
see a tidepool coming up and you'd have to watch your course very
carefully so that you didn't go into the little water holes.
This is in Miami at the All-American Air Maneuvers. Mr. Piper, Bill
Piper, who built the famous Piper Cub, this was in the late forties,
and he asked me if I would be interested in flying their experimental
Super Cub to see if I could set a new altitude record. I said, "Sure,
that would be fun." And so they loaded it up one morning with
the barograph, all the same day, of course, and I climbed in and went
up to maybe 29,000 feet or something like that. I can't remember all
these figures. It was about 53 degrees below outside. Oh, I haven't
mentioned, I usually fly bare-footed, and my feet darn near froze
to death. [Laughter] But it was a nice little airplane. After that,
they came out with the regular Super Cub.
me, why do you usually fly bare-footed?
I guess because I'm a Florida cracker. [Laughter]
After all the tests were finished, in February, February 2nd, to be
exact, Look magazine ran a cover story showing all of the tests—not
all, but some of the tests that I had taken. This kind of caused a
stir among women pilots in the country who felt that I was going to
get there and they weren't, which was not the case at all, and I did
not mean it to be that way.
lot of these pictures that you've shared with us were taken by Look
under their copyright.
9:35 a.m. That one nobody could figure out that was a fantastic flight.
And I remember the time because a disk, or a record came out.
In the late forties, I endeavored to set a world land speed record
for women. I was trying to break Jacqueline Cochran's record, and
actually had the record broken. You fly four passes not too high above
the ground. But there were two rules: you couldn't go over a certain
altitude and you had to land where you took off. Just as I was going
by the pylon on the last pass and I had the record set at 426 miles
an hour, I think it was, the engine blew up and there was a little
fire. I pulled up to over 3,000 feet to bail out. The tower told me
to bail out. I reached for the handle and I was over the world, and
I thought, "Nuh-uh. I don't think so." The handle to eject.
So I did not eject, and landed without an engine at McDill Air Force
At that time the Air Force was instructing all of their P-51 guys,
if you have an engine failure, get out. But I was fortunate enough
to get it back down, thank goodness, because it wasn't my airplane.
[Laughter] It belonged to a wonderful gentleman named Woody Edmondson,
who was a 1948 International Aerobatic champion, and he was kind enough
to let me use his airplane.
sure he was glad to see—
Oh, he was scared to death. [Laughter] Everyone who lets a girl use
their mechanized equipment just lives in great fear until you return
it all in one piece.
so many of them were willing to be able to let you do that.
Yes. It was very, very nice of him.
... coveralls over the outside, very loose, and before I got out of
the airplane, I would unzip and throw the coverall off, and I would
get out in a dress and have my shoes handy, my heels, to put on, because
I felt women should create a nice and good impression of women who
do what most consider masculine things. And I've always felt that
way. I think it's very important that no matter what you're doing,
you remain a lady.
This was my 1929 Great Lakes, when I first started flying it in about
1947, and it was a dear little airplane with a Kinner engine. I had
an interesting experience many, many years later, in fact, just a
few years ago, we answered an ad in a magazine to buy a little sailboat,
a little small 17-foot sailboat, and I asked the man his name and
he said it was Kinner. I said, "Oh, I hope it's not the same
Kinner that made that Kinner engine that caused me so much trouble
in the forties." [Laughter] And he said, "That was my father."
And I felt so badly about that. But it was a very interesting engine,
to say the least. I had about three of them and used parts from two
to keep one running all the time.
This is a very exciting place. It's called Bonneville Salt Flats,
and it goes for many, many miles. It's hard as rock. It's where most
of the speed demons go to set their records. This is the Green Monster
Cyclops. Really wasn't made for this type of running, but I really
wanted to go for a women's record, so Art Arfons let me use the car.
When you sit in the car, your fanny is only about six inches off the
salt, off the ground, so to speak, and it's open cockpit, so as you're
flying along, salt is flying in your face. You do have goggles on,
but, believe me, you keep your mouth shut, I'll say that. [Laughter]
This is the car that got airborne on me right at the end of the run.
It was really quite a thrill indeed. I had the flu at the time, and
I felt I might have done better if I hadn't felt so badly. But that's
the Green Monster Cyclops owned by Art Arfons.
certainly look like you're feeling fine.
That's space stuff. When you take off and you open the throttle, the
back end of the thing there closes up, and the more it closes up,
the more power you're getting. This was shot right at the takeoff
on the salt flats.
This is a shot of the first time I ever tried to cut a ribbon flying
upside down. Naturally, being the first time, we went out and got
the longest fishing poles we could find. Two very famous people held
the pole for me. One of them was Steve Wittman, who has won more air
races than any other person in history. He is now gone. And Billy
Brennan, who flew his airplane in a number of races and won the Cleveland
Air Races several times with it. I did learn how to finally hit the
ribbon, coming through the cutting it with the prop, but I kind of
saved this shot because it was the first time.
Oh, one thing of interest. During an air show you'd have somebody
from the crowd come out and hold one of the poles for you, and you'd
have somebody standing by. You'd ask for a volunteer, and they'd come
out and hold the pole. Then when you came in for your pass, you would
head right for them, I mean just head right for them, upside down,
and when you'd get a little bit closer, they'd drop that pole and
just run like their life depended on it. Then you'd circle back around
and you'd have somebody standing by who knew how to do it. Then you
would do the actual ribbon-cutting with the prop of the airplane.
But it was always a lot of fun and the crowd enjoyed it.
This was a shot that was considered for the cover of Look, but for
some reason they really decided to show the one where my hair looked
so badly. [Laughter] This, I think, was my favorite shot, in the helmet.
The helmet fit pretty good, too. They had a lot of different kinds
of helmets from early days of flying, of cloth helmets to skydiving
helmets, to boat helmets. This was really kind of my favorite, but
I didn't get to keep it.
As you can see from this picture—well, anyway, you see why they
didn't give me a hospital gown, anyway. They decided I would be better
off in pajamas, men's pajamas. So I spent several weeks in men's pajamas
that were too oversized for me. I think that just only goes to point
that they really weren't thinking about women very seriously and did
not have the equipment there to even test women at the time.
This is one of my favorites, not of me. I wanted to inject, I am really
not my most favorite subject, and I hate to keep saying "I, I."
This is one of my favorite shots because of the helmet. Mauri Rose,
a very famous race driver who won Indianapolis four times many, many
years ago. The first time I drove on Daytona, I didn't know I was
even going to need a helmet, so I didn't own one of this type. I had
cloth helmets. Mauri said, "Here. I've worn this for many years
and banged it all up. Why don't you use it." So he loaned me
his helmet, and when I was all finished, he said, "I want you
to have it. You just keep it."
Mauri was a fantastic race driver.
This is a very special Corvette that was built for me and completely
designed by the chief engineer, Bill Mitchell, of General Motors at
the time. He and Harley Earl said, "We want your first Corvette
to be very special," and it was sent to them from the factory
and they took it about three months, then they said, "Now you
can come out and look at it." It was a gold car, all metallic
gold, really beautiful, and had pearlescent leather inside, with gold
belts and buckles. Everything was just gorgeous. It even had a little
small foot platform out of gold, where you put your feet. Naturally,
I never wore shoes in it. And that's Mauri's helmet again.
This was shot in Darlington, South Carolina, at the racetrack there.
I for a number of years paced many races throughout the country, and
this happened to be in Darlington with my beloved gold Corvette. During
my life I had about eight or nine Corvettes while I was with General
Motors, or with their agency, and I'm a Corvette lover. [Laughter]
said in your spare time you made your own clothes. Is this an outfit
that you made?
I don't think I made that. I think my mother made that or picked it
up. Mother made all my clothes when I was young. She took in sewing
and made a lot of my clothes.
This was taken in Texas—Denison, Texas? Desnison, Texas? Denison,
Texas, where I had just received an award and was inducted into the
International Aerobatics Hall of Fame, and at that time became the
first woman to be in both NASCAR International [Motor Sports] Hall
of Fame and the International [Acrobatics] Hall of Fame. So this is
my husband, Donald, who, incidentally, was a writer/producer/director
in Hollywood for a number of years, on "Route 66," "Bonanza,"
"My Three Sons," most of the shows that were being done
at that time.
had an interesting career.
Yes. He has done some fantastic things. We wrote, directed, and produced
a film together called "Challenge," and it was about an
Art Arfons attempt to break the world speed record. It won the Silver
Award of Excellence at the New York International Film Festival in
1965. So we're both quite proud of that. And we both have always liked
the word "challenge" anyway.
It's obvious that you both have lived by it all your lives. We certainly
appreciate you taking some time out of your exciting life to come
and talk with us and share some of that challenge with us today.
Well, I just can't tell you what fun it's been. You don't often get
to sit around and talk about memories, or I don't. I'm very quiet
about the past and I don't live in the past. I always look to the
future. But it's been kind of fun just to go over memories and bring
back some great ones. It's been most enjoyable being with you, and
I appreciate your interest. It's a little odd, after forty years,
for anybody to show any interest on what happened that long ago, and
I do appreciate it very much, from all of you.