Photographs & Recollections from Michele Foltz
April 20, 2004

     He had the 5th largest yacht in the world. During WW2 he gave it to England to use as they wanted in the war effort. He loved England and was knighted.
     My brother and I both liked Leslie very much. One time, (about 1960), he found a $20 bill under a stool I was sitting on in a store. I was about eleven and of course I was upset I didn't find the money. When he showed it to Leslie, (I still want to say Mr. Irvin even though I'm now 55!), and related the story, Leslie pulled out a silver dollar from his pocket and gave it to me. I still have it. He also gave me a transistor radio which I listened to for years (I remember it was burgundy and cream colored and had a leather case.)
     My mother, Lila Mellen, told me that they would party with Leslie and flew with him many times in his plane. Now I am just relating what she has told me, so take it with a grain of salt because I know they all had a real good time together and I could have interpreted things being a child! She said he told them that he had run away from home at 13 and joined the circus. (that may be true because I read on one site that he did acrobatics or something) She said that at a party at our house, (we kids were asleep), he unrolled toilet paper across the livingroom and did a "high wire" act and said he did that in the circus.
     He had worked with Houdini and sometimes would do tricks for them. She said one of them was he would sew his arm with needle and thread.
     After they had been partying, they would all get on his plane and his pilot would fly them someplace. Leslie did not fly the plane, but he would take a big whiff of oxygen, which he didn't share with the passengers. She said they, (the passengers), were so hung over they could hardly see.
     About 10 years ago, I was in Las Vegas and had an oxygen treatment. I learned then that oxygen can be used to cure hangovers! I told my mother that and she remembered the flights with Leslie and she started laughing and said he should have shared it with the rest of them instead of letting them suffer. Times were a lot different then and I hope that story doesn't tarnish his image with you.
     Another story I remember she repeated to me. Leslie told them when he was trying out his parachutes that they were dropping them off a cliff and they didn't have much control over the direction. A young boy came up to him and tugged his hand and said, "Hey mister, I cut a hole in mine and they go down better." So he cut a hole in the parachute and it worked better! He never saw the kid again and supposedly looked for him. (truth or fiction, you be the judge)
     In 1964 my father sent my mother and I to Hawaii and we were in Los Angeles overnight. We went to see Leslie and his wife in Bel Aire, which my mother told me was a step up from Beverly Hills. I was fifteen. I remember going in one of the bedrooms and looking at what I thought was a phone, but on the rotary dial, it was radio stations instead of numbers! Really cool! Then he took us into a room and he started pressing buttons on the wall. An area in a wall separated when he pushed a button, then a screen came up in that area, a projector started rolling and the lights dimmed - it was a movie projection room - totally awesome!
     Leslie lived next door to Carmen Cavalero, the pianist. Carmen was playing in a nightclub in South Florida one time and Leslie flew my parents from Kentucky to hear him play.
     He had to build an extra room on his home to showcase/store all the gifts he and his wife received for their 50th wedding anniversary. Mother said she had never seen so much gold and gifts displayed before!
     Leslie had a parachute plant in Lexington, Kentucky. I can't swear it, but I think he invented the seatbelt. I remember we had them in our cars and they had the Irvin Air Chute logo on the buckle.
     He lost control of his company because a group had gained 51% of the company, he tried to fight it, but did not win. She said he was devastated about it.
Editor's Note: I found this quote on the net when I searched for "seat belt" +Irvin using Google

     "Seat Belts For:
1953-92 Corvette's
Seat belts that were manufactured by Irvin Air Chute were dealer installed options in 1956-57 and factory installed starting in 1958."
from the Andover Restraints Inc. website

     He was at the first space launch - when it came back to earth, he was on the ship that picked up the astronauts - it was one of his parachutes that helped the capsule land safely.
     I remember asking why Leslie's company was Irving Air Chute instead of Irvin and was told it was a typographical error. (that jibes with what's on the website.)
     He was on the cover of Time when he died.

     "Leslie playing our piano and on the back of it was printed Ski Hi Irvin. I realize from reading some of the info on the net that a nickname of his was Sky Hi Irvin. I think my brother wrote it on the back of the picture and since he was probably no older than 8, he improvised his spelling! (he also wrote it was his picture, so I guess I must send it to him now!)"

Reverse Side of Photo
October 17, 1961

     "I just thought of something else and I think it was a Leslie Irvin visit, but he had a man with him - a Capt Cyril Turner from England with him. He and Leslie were friends or business associates as Leslie introduced him to us at our house. I have his autograph, too. Like I said, it was a popular thing back then to have autograph books. I'll have to see if Capt Turner is one of the early birds. I had almost forgotten him.
"1922 Capt Cyril Turner (RAF) gave first skywriting exhibition (NYC).
Turner spelled out "Hello USA. Call Vanderbilt 7200." 47,000 called. "

From Multiple Online Sources.

     On another note, my husband is an aviation buff and worked for North American Aviation (?) in Columbus, Ohio and has visited the Dayton museum several times and I believe was at Wright-Patterson some. I don't know if NAA became Rockwell International (he went to the RIC missile systems division which was bought by Boeing about 8 years ago) or how that worked and he's asleep now! He retired after 35 years (We ended up in Atlanta, GA with RIC).
     We went to the Oshkosh, WI airshow one year and he took 20 ROLLS of pictures. We got to see the Stealth (bomber or fighter, I don't remember which, but it was totally awesome!) then.
via email from Michele Foltz, 5-29-05
     My mother gave me some more info on Leslie. She said he didn't talk or brag about himself, you would never know he had a dime, but she kept asking questions and that's how she found out so much. Here's some more info he told her:
     During WWII, he had a parachute factory in Germany and although he was allowed in the country, he was not allowed inside his factory. There were soldiers with guns crossed guarding the entrance. Somehow he was able to get some money (cash) and got on a train to leave Germany. He put the money under the carpeting in his compartment - spread it all out under the carpet. He told her he was never so terrified in his life - here came the Gestapo, searching every inch of the train. Everytime they took a step, he could hear the money crackling and was terrified they would hear it.
     Well, Ralph, that's the last of my stories. Leslie was such a fascinating person, I feel fortunate to have met him and wish I had been older and could have known him better. I'm glad my mother knew so much about him.
Take care,
Michele Foltz

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