|Birth Day:||June 25, 1907|
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He founded Continental Airlines, which boasted having only two stops between El Paso and Las Vegas.
Robert Six started his business career in sales for a public utility company, but was fired for taking flying lessons on company time. Six learned to fly in an Alexander Eaglerock biplane with an OX-5 engine. After about 10 hours aloft, he received pilot's license (number 5772) in 1929, at the age of 22. In that same year, he bought an OX-5-powered Travel Air biplane from Walter Beech, founded the Valley Flying Service, and proceeded to sell scenic rides to passengers, and to race on weekends.
Though many credit Six with being the founder of Continental Airlines, the airline's history dates to 1934 when it was operated under the name of Varney Speed Lines by its owners Walter Varney and Louis Mueller. The future international airline had humble beginnings, with Varney operating single-engine Lockheed Vega aircraft between El Paso, Texas, and Pueblo, Colorado, with stops in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, NM, and Las Vegas, NM. Mueller gained control of the carrier in 1936 and sold 40% of the company to Six. In July 1937, Robert Six changed the name of Varney Speed Lines to Continental Airlines and the carrier moved its headquarters to Denver, Colorado, which would become the airline's central hub for the next 55 years.
In 1951 Six met Broadway legend Ethel Merman in a New York city nightclub. Merman, a two-time divorcee, felt enchanted by Six's strong demeanor and common sense. Following a courtship, they married in 1953, and she took a hiatus from her Broadway career and moved to Colorado with him, settling into a 27-room mansion in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado near Denver. There, life with Six became oppressive, and, according to Merman's son, he, his sister and mother and even his elderly grandparents suffered dramatic episodes of emotional and physical violence from a regularly explosive Six, who, behind his back, was called Jumbo and Big Meanie by his stepchildren. Merman found Denver society rural and limited after that of New York. Six and Merman divorced in 1960. In Six's view, Merman had failed him in not becoming a public relations prop for Continental.
In 1953 Continental merged with Pioneer Airlines, gaining access to 16 more cities in Texas and New Mexico. This merger allowed Continental Airlines to operate routes between Texas and Colorado/New Mexico, connecting with the line's Denver-Albuquerque-El Paso services.
By the end of the 1950s, Continental Airlines had seen a broad expansion of its routes. In 1957, it flew for the first time from Chicago to Los Angeles (both nonstop and via Denver), and from Denver and Los Angeles to Kansas City. Continental was one of the first operators of the Boeing 707, taking delivery of its first 707s in spring of 1959. Six, not being satisfied with jet service alone, introduced dramatic service innovations with Continental's 707 operations, which were described as "...nothing short of luxurious" by the Los Angeles Times, and, "...clearly, the finest in the airline industry" by the Chicago Tribune.
In 1961 in Honolulu, Six married Hollywood star Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners television fame (Meadows played the role of Alice Kramden). The feisty Meadows was a good match for Six's sometimes stubborn nature. She served effectively as an advisory director on Continental's board, offering many of the suggestions that made Continental's inflight and ground services preeminent. The Sixes were socially prominent in Beverly Hills, where they lived. Meadows' television and acting career afforded the Sixes opportunities for their close relationships with prominent Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, and Bob Hope. The couple spent many long weekends at their Lazy 6 Ranch near Montrose, Colorado, where Hollywood stars were frequent guests.
In 1963, Continental moved its headquarters from Denver to Los Angeles. This change coincided with rapid growth of the carrier's route network. Continental added all-jet service from Los Angeles to Houston (both nonstop and with services via Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Midland/Odessa, Austin, and San Antonio), and from Denver and to Seattle, Portland, New Orleans, and Houston (both nonstop and with services via Wichita and Tulsa/Oklahoma City). In a separate route award, Continental was selected to serve the route from the Pacific Northwest to San Jose and Ontario, California. The introduction of service from Los Angeles to Honolulu/Hilo was in 1969; Continental's first Boeing 747s arrived in May 1970. McDonnell Douglas DC-10s were added to the fleet in 1971, giving Continental the ability to carry its burgeoning traffic on key routes between Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, and Seattle.
In 1971, Six was nominated and inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.
At Six's insistence, Continental (with Pan Am and Trans World Airlines) was a launch airline for the Boeing 747 aircraft. Its upper-deck first-class lounge won awards worldwide for the most refined cabin interior among all airlines, as did meal services developed by Continental's Cordon Bleu-trained executive chefs. Continental's 747 services from Chicago and Denver to Los Angeles and Honolulu set the standard for service in the western U.S. When asked by one Denver customer service agent in 1974 why he flew Continental wherever he could, Hollywood legend Henry Fonda remarked, "This operation is class; strictly class!" During the 1970s, Continental's 747 service was short-lived, the airline having concluded that the DC-10 was better suited to the route structure and passenger loads.
In June 1974, Six was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was the 1977 recipient of the Tony Jannus Award for his distinguished contributions to commercial aviation.
In 1980, he was inducted into the U.S. National Aviation Hall of Fame at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1981, Texas Air Corporation, controlled by airline industry entrepreneur Frank Lorenzo, acquired a controlling interest in Continental Airlines following a contentious battle for control with Continental's management, including Six and then-CEO Al Feldman, who were adamant in their resistance to Lorenzo. Continental's labor unions joined the antitakeover battle because of their fears over "Lorenzo's deregulation tactics" and his prior dealings with airline labor unions. However, Texas Air prevailed, and in June 1982, Texas International merged into Continental Airlines. Texas International ceased to exist, but the new Continental moved its headquarters to Houston, home of Texas Air.
In spite of labor friction and turmoil resulting from the acquisition, by the time of Six's death in 1986, the airline he molded and forged had become one of the largest airlines in the U.S. Continental's innovative and popular services centered on the busy Denver, Houston, and New York/Newark hubs.
Six died in his sleep at his home in Beverly Hills, California, on October 6, 1986.
In 2011, United Airlines, which merged with Continental Airlines, named a plane (N77006) after Robert Six.
Currently, Robert Six is 115 years, 0 months and 7 days old. Robert Six will celebrate 116th birthday on a Sunday 25th of June 2023.
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