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The Lady Vanishes

June 2024
1min read

Amelia Earhart
The Price of Courage

directed by Nancy Porter, American Experience/Shanachie Entertainment Corp., 60 mins., $19.95. CODE: SHA-1

“They were like gods from outer space,” Gore Vidai says about the famous 1930s aviators, meaning Lindbergh and Earhart above all. This perceptively sympathetic documentary points out that though Earhart was the most celebrated woman pilot of her age, she was probably not the best. The demands of celebrity stunted her abilities as a flier and in the end exposed her to impossible risks.

Kicked out of finishing school for stunts like walking on the dormitory roof, she took a five-dollar ride in a biplane in 1920 and told her family in Kansas, “I think I’d like to fly.” She had bought her own plane by her twenty-fifth birthday. Earhart saw herself as a romantic figure—an airborne poet and photographer—until 1928, when she met the publisher and skilled promoter George Palmer Putnam. Then her life took on new momentum. Putnam arranged for her to ride as a passenger across the Atlantic that July, making her the first woman to complete such a flight. He got her endorsement jobs as well as a position as “aviation editor” of Cosmopolitan . Eventually Putnam divorced his wife and married his busy star. All the while she wasn’t flying enough to keep in practice.

In 1937 she announced a career-capping flight around the equator. She would pilot an eighty-thousand-dollar Elektra, but without having ever mastered Morse code or radio communication. Earhart was “pathologically optimistic,” recalls Brad Washburn, who turned down the job of navigator on her reckless final flight. On the longest leg of the mission she vanished, searching for a tiny Pacific island and unable to pick up radio signals.

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