THE 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 brass.

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 lucky.


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December 20, 1998

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