have just finished what is
undoubtedly the most juicy, romantic, funny, suspenseful, intimate,
inspiring, celebrity-packed autobiography of a travel agent that
has ever been written. Granted, the category of travel-agent
autobiography takes up only a modest share of shelf space at your
neighborhood bookstore, but this volume could raise the level of
interest in the genre considerably.
Consider this prose, reminiscent of Raymond Chandler in style
and Graham Greene in content: "... the phone rang. David answered
it. It was Pedro Astrada, head of Venezuela's secret police -- an
elegant, handsome, soft-spoken man with a notorious reputation for
cruelty to prisoners."
Or the revelatory pathos in a conversation the agent had with
her client, Joan Crawford, who, the day after her husband died,
said, "I learned a long time ago to cry alone."
This is an agent who danced with the head of the KGB at a ball
in Moscow (at an ASTA function, no less). She's been invited to
state dinners at the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt and Jawaharlal
Nehru were among the guests on her local television travel
But for all the glamour and drama in her life, the best parts of
the book are when she describes her
day-in-the-life-of-a-travel-agent activities for her
anything-but-everyday client list.
She lost Bert Parks as a client when the private plane she had
chartered to take him from New York to Atlantic City got lost over
Philadelphia, and he arrived at the Miss America Pageant with just
five minutes to spare. She in turn dropped Michael Todd because he
paid his bills late. And you think you've got a demanding client?
After you've read what it's like to arrange travel for Joan
Crawford, you'll be sending "Client Dearest" love letters to your
The author of this book, "Saying Yes to Life," is Evelyn Echols.
When Echols opened a corporate agency back in 1954, eyebrows were
raised. Women didn't do that sort of thing. The airlines were
reluctant to give her ticket stock, and her landlord only offered a
For quite some time, she only had one client, a relatively small
public relations firm. But the PR firm itself had a very important
client: Pepsi-Cola. When Pepsi chairman Al Steele got engaged to
Joan Crawford, Echols' client asked if she could book a honeymoon
for them in one of the four top suites on the luxury liner United
States -- for a sailing three weeks away. Pepsi's travel department
had tried and failed, as had Crawford's studio, Columbia.
Echols went to the U.S. Line's office and found that the couple
was 25th on the waiting list. Her argument that having Crawford
aboard would be great publicity moved the couple up to the first
position. But nobody was canceling. Ten days out, a lesser suite
opened, and she asked the line to hold it. They said they would,
but doubted the celebrity couple would want it.
Unbeknownst to the line, Echols had written down the names and
phone numbers of the four suite holders. She phoned one and offered
to pay for the lesser suite if the passenger would downgrade.
The man said he'd do it on one condition -- he wanted to meet
Steele was so impressed that he moved all of Pepsi's business to
her agency. He, Crawford and Echols became friends, and between his
business connections and Crawford's social circle, Echols built the
foundation for a large and successful business. A second business
came along when she moved to Chicago in the early '60s and started
one of the first travel schools (more than 12,000 students have
I had dinner with Echols recently, and she is a fabulous
raconteur. At 88, she still writes, speaks and travels. But she has
made a few concessions to time -- for now, she implied, the
Venezuelan secret police and KGB are out of her life.
"Saying Yes to Life" is available on line from Amazon.com, Borders and Barnes & Noble.