CANAL ZONE CELEBRITY STATUS
by Keith Conley
from The Canal Record - December 1988
Canal Zone children had
front row seats at a passing parade of celebrities. Charles Lindberg, Admiral Byrd, John
Barrymore, Clark Gable, and others too numerous to mention, such as George Bernard Shaw
who threatened to cane a Star & Herald reporter.
Charles Lindberg flew the
"Spirit of St. Louis" to Paitilla, charting routes for PAA. He was cheered at
the Admin by Balboa school kids who got the afternoon off. He was Red, White and Blue
Trouped, and stayed at the American Embassy, guest of honor at a banquet by the Canal Zone
Admiral Byrd stayed at the
Tivoli with his door open. He sat on the deck of the 'City of New York' telling tales to
the Balboa kids. He made his Navy staff driver pick up hitchhiking kids. He was no Lone
Eagle. John Barrymore and Dolores Costello honeymooned on their yacht. He spent hours at
Mrs. O'Brien's, the bird lady. Her aviary was in Ancon by the restaurant. He took a pair
of love birds back to Hollywood.
Birds of a different feather
were Clark Gable and Wallace Beery. A lot of the movie "Hell Diver" was shot in
Panama. Carlos Alvarado was the stand-in for Beery. Gable returned to go fishing with
Louis Schmidt. Zane Grey, enroute to New Zealand for marlin, showed us his fishing gear.
His reels looked liked pulleys off the 'Ajax'.
We went to a smoker on the
U.S.S. Arizona and here we saw the dress rehearsal for Pearl Harbor. Naval aviation was
used in Fleet maneuvers to attack France Field, Albrook Field, then strafe Amador, Ft.
Clayton, Quarry Heights and then roar across Balboa Harbor. How did the umpire score?
The Prince of Wales danced
with a Canal Zone girl. The Duke and Duchess of York were on their honeymoon cruise to
Australia. He became King George VI. She is still the Queen Mum.
We saw movie stars in the
Balboa Clubhouse ice cream parlor. They got Klim shakes and Freezo sundaes. But who needs
celebrities? The rich and the famous are on TV, a dime a dozen.
We had the Commy, the
Clubhouse, the Corrigans. Across the street at the Dispensary (prescriptions were 25
cents) we had Dr. Friday to heal our bodies. Down the Prado at Balboa High School we had
Mr. G.O. Lee to inspire our minds. Pacific side or Gold Coast, we were family.
We were smart to choose our
parents - a father who went to Panama in 1906, and his bride in 1907. Just so we could be
at the right place - Balboa - at the right time - 1918 to 1935.
We were not smart - we were
December 20, 1998