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The Night I Danced With the Shah of Iran

”My sons like to date Pan Am stewardesses,“ he told me — to the music of the Bee Gees


With the return of the TV series "Pan Am" on Sunday night, I recalled my layover in Iran.

Tehran was a destination that held mystery to me. Another stewardess was dating one of the princes and wanted me to meet him. The Shah had done wonders for this country and had given rights to repressed women. I wanted to see their struggles towards independence.

When we landed at Mehrabad airport, the Alborz Mountains loomed in the distance. Janice was my good friend who flew with me and on another trip to Tehran had met one of the sons of the Shah. 

As we drove up to the Hilton Hotel which was situated on the slope of the Alborz Mountain, we passed the bazaar in the center of the city called Tupkhineh Square. The streets were not paved and mud was everywhere. It had snowed. When we got to the hotel, we had to be careful not to walk on the sidewalk, which also was not paved. Mud-filled potholes were everywhere. The Hilton was a lavish hotel despite the condition of the surroundings. 

Janice and I roomed together. "I'll call the Prince and see if I can invite you to the palace."

I looked out the window at the snow-covered mountains and thought how much fun it would be to ski there.

"Janice, let's go skiing if we can't get to the palace. It's OK by me," I said as we unpacked for a one-day layover. "Or, you know, I wouldn't mind going to a museum. This is a truly revitalized country because of the Shah."

Janice hung up the phone and looked glum. "The palace secretary told me the Prince was out of town on business."

"So let's go to the Ethnological Museum. The hotel concierge recommended it. "

As dull as it sounded, it was an exhilarating experience. We took a taxi down from the mud covered mountainside and passed the bazaar. White tents covered foods, knickknacks, clothing, any ware that could be sold. Most of the women wore black veils though some did not. I tried to seek out these women without veils who were few, but had no success.

The Ethnological Museum was a dark, somber structure. Our English-speaking guide took us from room to room and ended in front of a giant painting of kneeling Persians draped in blood soaked white caftans. Their foreheads were dripping with blood. A man with a saber had cut each man's head. 

"What is the painting about?" I asked our guide. 

"This was an Islamic celebration we used to have once a year where men offered their heads to be cut by a saber. This ritual was considered an honor. We no longer have this celebration."

"When did it end?"' I asked thinking it must have been some 200 years ago.

"Ten years ago," the guide said with a smile in 1966. I frowned.

When the Ayatollah gained power over the Shah, I understood, because of the barbaric nature of Iranians.

A couple of years later I had the pleasure of skiing at St. Moritz while staying at the Palace Hotel, the most luxurious hotel in the Swiss Alps. One night with my new fiancé, the artist, Ron Mallory, we joined a gang of Italians at the discotheque in the King's Club in the Palace Hotel.

In the candlelight as I gazed across the cocktail table surrounded by Peppo Vanini who was the owner of the disco, and my fiancé, sat the Shah of Iran. The Bee Gees were singing when the Shah said to me, "Would you like to dance," I was flattered and so was my fiancé. 

Because the Shah attended a Swiss Boarding School, he was refined and spoke with little accent. He was not tall, but was good looking, wore a dark suit and smelled of a fine cologne. On one of his fingers he wore a ring with a large diamond. He had a wonderfully full nose, while his hair had distinguished streaks of gray.

His eyebrows were thick and dark brown like his eyes. His skin was smooth. No way had he ever done dishes. His nails were manicured. We danced to the Bee Gees during which we had a chance to talk.

"Where do you live, Carole?" he asked.

"I'm a New Yorker, but I model in Paris from time to time."

"Have you been to Tehran?"

"Yes, not long ago. I flew there while I was a stewardess for Pan Am."

"Pan Am has layovers in Tehran. I have met many stewardesses who are well-educated and good company.

"Why thank you." I said, flattered that he was not a pretentious snob who looked down on stewardesses.

"My sons like to date Pan Am stewardesses."

"One of my friends dated one of your sons. "

'Really? Such a coincidence."

"I was there last winter and visited the bazaar and the Ethnological Museum.'

"Good choices."

"Only had 24 hours."

"Pity I wasn't there. I would have invited you to dinner at the Palace."

"Did you ski today?"

"Yes, I had a good day on the slopes and you?"

"Afraid I'm still on the bunny slopes. Skiing is all new to me."

"We do a good bit of skiing in Tehran because we are situated on a mountainside of the Alborz Mountain range."

I was so engrossed in our conversation that now when I looked back at our table all heads were turned in our direction. We appeared to be the topic of conversation. I danced on under the candlelight. The Shah was my height, actually a bit shorter as I was wearing my three-inch heels and a gold mini I had bought in Milan. My gold stockings and heels shimmered in the candlelight.

"I want to thank you for all that you have done for Iran. 

For improving the standard of living. You began the White Revolution, economic and social reform. You granted suffrage for women. Historic."

"Why, thank you. 

"No, I've read many articles on you. You stopped child marriage and polygamy. Women gained the right to become judges and ministers regardless of their sex under your reign. It is a pleasure to meet you. 

"Many Americans would disagree with you. 

"There is more to you than your wealth."

"You are embarrassing me," the Shah said, lowering his head and with that, the music ended. The Rolling Stones began shouting, "Can't Get No Satisfaction" as we returned to our table.

"You are a lucky man," the Shah said to my fiancé as he sat down, picked up his glass of champagne and studied the dance floor. A new beauty was dancing in a flagrant manner which seemed now to interest the Shah. My number was up, but I had enjoyed it immensely.

Gratefully I kissed my fiancé, Ron, on his cheek and was happy to be by his side.

I was saddened when His Imperial Majesty Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was deposed in the Iranian Revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. Today we have President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and nuclear fears.

Iran lost a good leader in Shah Pahlavi. The American Government who lost an Iranian friend realized this too late.

Carole Mallory is an actress, journalist, professor, film critic. Her film credits include “Stepford Wives” and “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” As a supermodel she graced the covers of Cosmopolitan, New York, Newsweek. Her new novel, "Flash," hit #22 on Kindle's bestseller list of erotica in its first day of release. She also has written a memoir of her time with Norman Mailer, “Loving Mailer.”  After the writer's death, she sold her archive of his papers to Harvard. Her journalistic pieces on Vonnegut, Jong, Vidal, Baryshinikov, Heller have been published in Parade, Esquire, Playboy, Los Angeles Magazine, the Huffington Post. Her review of Charles Shields' biography of Kurt Vonnegut, "And So It Goes," was published in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer.  She is teaching creative writing at Temple University and Rosemont College and blogs at malloryhollywoodeast@blogspot.com.