Berit got her nickname ”Babs” onboard the Kungsholm. It frequently happened that the American passengers got confused about her given name, Berit, and for that reason chief purser Curt Dawe came up with the idea to use Babs instead - as an alias, or artist name. Henceforth Berit was always called Babs onboard. And soon, only a few people onboard remembered her real name.
The story that follows is told by Berit, alias Babs, based on her own writings and telephone interviews during the autumn of 2014. The story has been compiled, adapted and translated for publication on www.salship.se by Tommy Stark and Hasse Gustafsson, two ex crew members who also served onboard the MS Kungsholm 1971-73, i.e. at the same time as Berit. The photos have been retrieved from Berit’s private photo album. In the captions we use the nickname Babs for photos from the Kungsholm years and among Kungsholm friends, and the name Berit to accompany photos from other circumstances.
Here’s Berit’s story:
It began with an essay
I grew up in a villa neighborhood in the outskirts of the town Kristianstad in the south of Sweden. My father was a wholesale dealer in the chocolate business.
At the age of 15 when I attended a girls’ school we got an assignment to write an essay about “The profession of my dreams”. I wrote about becoming a beautician, nowadays also called ”esthetician”, and that I was curious about the world - wanting to get around and see it for myself. The latter did not appeal to my father who rather wanted me to become a teacher...
This is what I wrote in my essay (in Swedish):
A girl’s dreams come true...!
After School I soon left home and moved to the city of Malmö for specialized education at the Pierre Robert’s Cosmetology Institute, graduating with a diploma as a trained Esthetician. Subsequently I worked for some time building my work experience in a beauty parlor named Lafayette.
The SalGrips Company, owned by Mr. Sven Larsson, managed and operated the two Beauty Parlors aboard the MS Gripsholm and the MS Kungsholm, and the same owner also had a beauty parlor located in the Hotel Park Avenue in Gothenburg. Moreover, Mr. Larsson had a summer residence in the picturesque seaside village of Falsterbo, not far from Malmö, where he interviewed me for a job with SalGrips. Having completed the interview to his satisfaction he promptly directed me to his beauty parlor in Gothenburg, where my skills were thoroughly tested for one day. I passed the screening successfully, and some time later Mr. Larsson contacted me again - this time with a job offer onboard the MS Kungsholm, if I could start already the upcoming summer of 1971. And that is how it all started...
The MS Kungsholm Beauty Parlor
The Perfume shop, Beauty Parlor and Barber shop on the Kungsholm were located together in the same premises on forward B-deck. SalGrips advertised the provision of “expert service by internationally trained hairstylists and beauticians”. And to further emphasize the classy and exclusive touch of those services the SalGrips Company proudly stated Appointment to the Royal Swedish Court in its onboard advertisement, alongside with a logotype of the Royal Swedish Coat of Arms.
All the Beauty Parlor employees were selected and hired by the SalGrips Company. The parlor was run by a manager, who himself did not provide beautician services to the customers. His personnel consisted of one barber for male haircuts, five hairdressers for female clients, and one beautician (me).
The passengers’ onboard information guide revealed that “The Beauty Shop offers complete facilities for keeping milady’s face, hands, and hair attractive for the ship’s many social activities”. And, indeed, social activities and cocktail parties were going on all the time, organized by the ship’s cruise entertainment department and just as often arranged by the passengers themselves.
My own duties included facial treatments, manicure, pedicure, make-up and quite often the fixation of false eye lashes for the cocktail parties... For facial treatments, pedicure and make-up I used a separate room to which the door could be closed, in order to carry out the services in a more secluded and relaxed environment.
Evidently, my job required experience and the necessary skills for carrying out the craft to the customers’ satisfaction. In addition, certain social skills were indispensable for managing the relations with the passengers, as well as with the workmates as we were all confined to share a limited space onboard the ship.
The work team in the Beauty Parlor was very nice. And our manager Mr. Ragnar Luttrup was the best boss of all, in my opinion. In those days he was near 50 in age, and presently as I am writing this he has passed 90. As a boss he was fair, social, and caring for all his subordinates, and he was always keen to maintain a good atmosphere in the shop. The SalGrips Company, on the other hand, was a good employer.
The Beauty Parlor was located just in front of the passenger elevators on forward B-deck. Inside the entrance there was a fairly large room with a reception counter and a perfumery. We were a proud retailer of the contemporary world’s most expensive perfume, Jean Patou, which was indeed purchased by several passengers! Many years have passed and I cannot remember its price anymore, except it was very pricey.
The mandatory dress code in the Beauty Parlor was always a white coat. Each employee had to arrange for his/her own work garments, implying that the coat models inevitably varied somewhat in design and appearance. But that was never a problem.
Services, treatments and tips
Before going on a cruise it was customary that passengers submitted booking requests to the SAL’s New York office for treatments they wanted to have onboard. Since several passengers on the Kungsholm were so-called ”repeaters”, coming back onboard again and again for new cruises with the same ship, the booking requests also tended to become more personal over time: "I want to have this treatment carried out by Babs...". Such requests were flattering of course! However, in the course of each cruise booking requests were made either by phone from the passenger’s cabin or by a personal visit to the reception in the Beauty Shop. Then the clients were distributed evenly among the personnel available, not already booked, at each given point of time.
Our work hours at sea were 09:00 - 13:00 and 15:00 - 19:00. In port we were usually open too, but fewer hours, only 09:00 - 11:00 and 16:00 - 19:00, and only for advance reservations. "Drop-in" was not common.
Each of us in the Beauty Parlor kept (and pampered) our own “stock” of customers, and there were many memorable episodes taking place. Among others, I remember one passenger who had started a labor union for musicians in the USA. When he placed an order for the very expensive perfume he left us a respectable bundle of dollar bills and he would later return to pick up the perfume wrapped as a gift. Counting the money in the bundle I saw that it was far too much. Hence, when the passenger returned to pick up the perfume I gave him back the surplus. His gratefulness was overwhelming, and he mentioned it to many superiors onboard including the chief purser Curt Dawe.
Another episode took place when I had recently started working onboard. A male passenger had just had a nail treatment, and when he paid for the services he also pressed a dollar bill into my pocket. It turned out to be a 50-dollar bill...! And wow, that was a lot of money in those days for me who was only 22 years of age, especially considering that my monthly salary after tax deduction and deduction for food and lodging was only 1.066 Swedish Crowns (about 236 US dollars).
There was no formal rule of thumb for tips in the Beauty Parlor, but quite commonly I received 2 US dollars after doing a manicure that cost 7.35 dollars then. But also, I would fairly often receive more from some of my customers and, of course, depending on the kind of treatment that was carried out.
So called ”repeaters”, i.e. passengers that returned to the ship again and again, were also frequent customers to us in the Beauty Parlor. In due course, my workmates and I got rather close to several repeater passengers as a result of their recurrent treatments. We discussed the cruise itinerary, of course, the past and the upcoming ports of call, sightseeing tours, but also more private issues and subjects related with their families, children, home town, and much more...
We did not offer any special treatments for special holidays such as Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, etc. Nevertheless, in connection with the equator ceremony several passenger ladies wished to have special make-up and wigs. And before going to private cocktail parties many passenger ladies made reservations for attaching false eye lashes. And during those treatment sessions gossip was usually shared about what was going on aboard the ship... And especially gossip about things that were perceived and experienced by the passengers themselves.
My leisure time onboard
During days at sea we worked daytime and sometimes also in the evenings when there were many cocktail parties going on, which was usually the case since the wealthy Americans really enjoyed mingling over a drink or two before dinner...
When I was off duty I socialized with my work mates and other people onboard the ship. The crew often arranged parties of various kinds. For example, spontaneous dress-as-you-like masquerades were always appreciated...
Most of my time on the Kungsholm I was fortunate to have my own cabin, all by myself, which felt good and luxurious in comparison with the majority of the personnel onboard who had to share their cabins with someone. Some evenings after the work, it felt good just to be alone and relax with a good book.
I was a member in the ship’s Swedish folk dance team. We often gave performances the very same evening when the Captain’s Dinner took place in the main dining room. The folkdance show was held in the Main Lounge on Verandah Deck. Shortly before each evening performance was about to end all the dancers invited passengers of the opposite sex to the dance floor. That was a “happening” that was always much appreciated, on the one hand by the ones who were dragged onto the dance floor, and also by all the others who watched us dancing a Swedish folk dance together...
After the performance was over the dance team usually celebrated with a little party in the passenger’s dining room, with the blessing of chief purser Curt Dawe, of course! He was very fond of the folk dance team, well aware that it enhanced the Swedish cultural trade mark to the passengers in a nice way. But it was hard work too. We had to rehearse frequently, under the supervision of team leader Heinz Krapf. The rehearsals took place in the passengers’ gym, aft of the aft funnel, rather late in the evenings not to hinder or disturb the passengers. And, moreover, many of the members in the dance team worked until quite late in the dining room.
On board the ship we had limited space for moving around, of course, but that was not a problem in my opinion. We were young and adaptable and it was easy for us to just like things the way they were. Nevertheless, social life onboard was characterized by a rather strict hierarchy across different professions as well as between levels of officers.
At sea, when the weather was nice, we (my workmates and me) often went up to the open foredeck during the lunch break to catch some fresh air and sunshine. There, by the crew swimming pool, I was baptized when we crossed the equator in the late autumn 1971. It was a fun experience, which is documented among my photos.
The Christmases onboard I remember very well. We made special arrangements in the women’s dayroom for the crew women on the ship, with our own Christmas tree, and we ate Swedish ginger bread cookies together and drank some Swedish "glögg" - a small glass of hot wine with spices, almonds and raisins. Besides that, Christmas was also a time for each of us to think a little extra about our families back home...
English was the working language onboard with the passengers and also with the crew unless there was another common language that could be used in the leisure time. English is my second language, after Swedish, and I learned to master it well after some time on the Kungsholm, something that I have been grateful for ever since. For a period on the ship I studied extra with the ambition to learn some Italian and, as a matter of fact, I got to manage fairly well for the purpose of conversation.
Several crew members, especially in the service departments, were gay and to me that was a new phenomenon, but not so strange. Several of my friends during my years on the Kungsholm were gay, and we had much fun together in the parties onboard as well as on excursions ashore. Some of the gay men came to my cabin asking for my help to perm their eye lashes. And then we also seized the opportunity to exchange some ”women” gossip of course...
One of my strongest memories is my first arrival in New York in the summer of 1971. The air was hot in the streets between the sky scrapers, and the smell was special somehow, and the characteristic noise from NYC police car sirens was frequently present. Walking up the W57th Street to stroll on Broadway, and sometimes in the afternoon watch a performance of the Rockettes dancing and singing in Radio City Music Hall, was a recurrent pastime pleasure during my visits to New York. Of all the nice restaurants I visited I particularly remember the Italian Mamma Leone's on W48th Street.
I also have special memories from our departures from New York, each time we started out for a new cruise with a new bunch of passengers onboard. The ship’s orchestra was playing out on the deck, the passengers were excited – waving and throwing serpentines to their relatives on the pier. I enjoyed that experience on multiple occasions, and it gave me lasting memories that are with me still today...
Another nice memory is the safari park in Durban, South Africa, where we set out from the dock before daybreak at 5 AM and didn’t return before late that evening. The wild animals and the red soil made a strong impression on me.
I also remember the visit to a night club in Rio de Janeiro, where practically everyone in the restaurant including the service personnel danced samba together from the restaurant and out to the street and back in again several times the same evening. The name of the place was Catacombe, I think...
The Around the World Cruise brought us to Bombay (nowadays called Mumbai), where street life was characterized by many poor children everywhere begging for help to survive. And many of them also had one or more physical handicaps.
Hong Kong was exciting. The city was bubbling with pulse and activity, and there were great opportunities for shopping. I remember emptying my piggy bank where I kept and saved all my tips money, and then bought myself stereo equipment, jewelry, watches, and gifts for my family and friends back home in Sweden.
And, of course, there were those unforgettable days on the beach somewhere in the Caribbean where we swam, sunbathed and drank planter’s punch – yes, we were young, reasonably free from worries and very happy...
During one of our fashion shows in the Main Lounge suddenly the singer John Dyar invited me to dance in front of all the passengers. Then I thought that I was almost going to faint! But of course it was great fun too...
One time in New York I visited the Plaza and the Rainbow Room together with the ship’s bartender Kalle Johansson, onboard known as ”Kalle kli”. The famous saxophonist Stan Getz was playing on stage, and we got a chance to speak with him too. The same evening SAL Commander Bertil Grönberg was there too in the company of an American passenger. Captain Grönberg invited me to dance, and for sure I got a bit anxious then. But all went well...
My life after the Kungsholm
When I signed off and went ashore for good I had no clue what I would do next. However, I decided to return to, and settle down in the city of Malmö, although it meant I had to turn down a tempting offer from one of my Kungsholm friends, Mona Hamberg, who had recently started working at a hotel in Bermuda and said they were recruiting more personnel there. But I dropped that opportunity in favor of a career in Sweden after all my years at sea.
Soon I got in contact with a Swedish company, Bara Hus AB, that produced and exported various kinds of steel constructions. Among other things they had supplied constructions to the Chamber of Commerce in Poznan, Poland, designed for its recurrent trade exhibitions. They needed a person with language skills to assist in marketing and public relations at the site. So I started working there in Poland and it went very well. Before long I was offered prolonged employment and in fact I stayed there for more than 17 years until the company was sold. As a matter of fact I got married to the manager who had recruited me in the first place. His name was Gunivar and we went on sailing trips together each summer. Gunivar’s interest in navigation led him to studies at the Maritime University in Malmö, and he soon graduated as a coastal skipper with the ambition that we would buy a vessel and operate passenger transport together.
The G-B Line
In pursuance of our dream we acquired a small passenger vessel from Umeå in northern Sweden, which was approved for 79 passengers by the authorities. Her name was MS Kavaljeren ("the Cavalier"). We transported her 700 miles along the eastern coast of Sweden to a shipyard in Sölvesborg where we had her rebuilt. Then we transported her up to the highlands of southern Sweden to the Lake Bolmen [the 10th biggest lake in Sweden] where we started the G-B Line, named after Gunivar and Berit. There, near my husband's home town Ljungby in the county of Småland, we operated lake tours for private parties as well as scheduled passenger transport services between 1987 and 1993. We offered scenical evening tours on the lake with live music onboard, and we were often requested for wedding parties. The ship’s restaurant was duly authorized to serve food, alcoholic beverages, drinks and wine, of course.
Staying in touch
A lot of water has passed under the bridges since then. Years later I moved back to Malmö again, and nowadays I share my life with a man of a similar background as myself - Björn Jakobsson who has a past from the Norwegian America Line, NAL. Back in Malmö I also resumed contact with my old SalGrips boss Ragnar Luttrup, and sometimes I work extra in a local boutique/shop not to lose my service attitude...
We are a team of three former Beauty Parlor employees with our spouses that have got together regularly over the many past years, and we still meet and have a nice time together. The three of us are Kerstin "Lotto" Olstenius, Rita Hansen and myself. Kerstin and Rita were hairdressers onboard.
Thankful for having had the opportunity to work some really fantastic years of my life with the Swedish American Line, I now say arrivederci - ciao - to all who read this, and I leave you my warm greetings.
Babs / Berit