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A Fear Of Flying
Ron Fimrite
April 12, 1976
Jackie Jensen was the ultimate hero, an all-sports star who married a storybook girl. But the Golden Boy's world and marriage collapsed, and his shining baseball career ended in torment brought on by a dread of air travel. Today Jensen is a college coach and a changed man.
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April 12, 1976

A Fear Of Flying

Jackie Jensen was the ultimate hero, an all-sports star who married a storybook girl. But the Golden Boy's world and marriage collapsed, and his shining baseball career ended in torment brought on by a dread of air travel. Today Jensen is a college coach and a changed man.

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There is nothing terribly unusual about that condition, either. But it was complicated by the exigencies of Jensen's occupation. When their first child, a daughter named Jan, was old enough for school, Zoe Ann, who abhorred living in a strange city as the wife of a traveling ballplayer, stopped making trips to the East and remained behind in the family home at Crystal Bay on Lake Tahoe. It is a resort area, a mountain paradise for summer and winter sports, all of which Zoe Ann loved. It is also a nightclub and gambling community, and Zoe Ann loved that aspect as well.

It is one thing to fight with and worry about a wife who is with you, quite another to fight with and worry about one who is not, and the Jensens were apart for most of the year. Jensen was torn in two by his professional obligations and his anxiety over a wife who was living 3,000 miles from Boston. And because of his childhood trauma, nothing seemed more catastrophic to him than another broken home.

"Jackie's problem has never been fear of flying," hypnotist Ellen said recently. Ellen's nightclub stints are behind him, and he tends to the neuroses of several marqueesful of Hollywood stars and professional athletes. "The fear of flying is merely a subterfuge. Jackie needed the fear as an excuse to get home and patch up his marriage. Subconsciously, it developed as a good reason to leave the Red Sox and go home. He's divorced from Zoe Ann now, but he's still stuck with the fear of flying. He's protecting it, trying to prove that it's legitimate."

Ellen is not a psychiatrist, but Jensen placed more faith in his diagnostic skills than those of a number of expensive shrinks the Red Sox retained for him. He first encountered the hypnotist in 1953 at a night spot in St. Louis.

Jensen was there with Bob Oldis, a catcher with the Senators who had been having trouble with his batting. After catching the act, the ballplayers, almost as a joke, invited Ellen to use hypnosis to try to improve Oldis' hitting. Ellen hypnotized the catcher and told him that the next time he played, he would perform to the best of his ability. In his next game Oldis, a .237 career hitter, went 3 for 3. Jensen never forgot this impressive demonstration.

Ellen acknowledges that hypnosis cannot effect a permanent cure. He calls it "an important adjunct to psychiatry." Nonetheless, his "healing" powers have been publicly endorsed by the likes of Maury Wills. Jensen appears to be one of his few failures.

Jensen says he knows what is wrong with him. He feels that in time, with "Christian faith," he will be able to fly like any other person. "There is no question I was looking for an excuse to leave the ball club," he says, "and I know the fear was related to the insecurity of my first marriage. I wanted to go home, but I loved baseball. I got terribly down on myself. I could think about it rationally, ask myself why I couldn't beat this thing. 'You don't have to like flying,' I'd say to myself. 'A lot of people don't but they still fly.' But when the time came, I just couldn't make myself do it. I was using Arthur as a crutch. He's no miracle worker, but he could help me relax. Still, he couldn't make me more than I was. I came to resent myself for behaving in such an infantile way. I know I had another four years that I could've played. The way I was driving in runs, I could have set some records. My only regret is that now I can't hope to be considered for the Hall of Fame."

Jensen sits in his small office in Cal's Harmon Gym. His All-America certificates are on the wall and, wearing a Pendleton shirt and khaki trousers, the undergraduate uniform of the late '40s and early '50s, he looks much the way he must have when he was earning those honors. There are wrinkles about his eyes and mouth, but his face is still youthful, although the hair is more silver now than gold. Talking about his marriage to Zoe Ann and his phobia is painful to him, but he cannot set them aside.

"When we got married it was the beginning of a 10-year period when everything seemed to go right," he says. "I wanted a daughter and a son, and I got them. I wanted a home, and I got it. I had money. I was on top."

Zoe Ann has remarried, but she still lives in the Crystal Bay home with the youngest of the three children, Jay. Her figure is petite and athletic, but like her ex-husband's, her face is lined. She is a blackjack dealer in the Crystal Bay Club, where her garrulity, her wit and Lizabeth Scott voice clearly distinguish her from the normal run of women who work in such emporiums.

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