Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Reel People: Hilary Swank is Amelia Earhart

The film is Amelia. It is directed by Mira Nair and directed by Ronald Bass (Oscar winning screenwriter of Rain Man).

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897, the eldest of two girl. Amelia ("Meeley) and her sister Grace ("Pidge") spent most of their childhood growing up with their wealthy grandparents in Kansas, while for much of her childhood her parents lived in Des Moines, Iowa. Amelia's father Edwin was initially an unsuccessful lawyer, who's chronic alcoholism lead him to lead an unsuccessful career working for various railroad companies.

She had an interest in trills and adventure at a young age. In 1904 she is credited with constructing her own ramp modeled off of a roller coaster she'd seen in Saint Louis. She made her own box car and positioned the ramp on the roof to which she experienced her first rough and tumble flight.

After some health problems of her grandparents, Amelia and her sister again lived with her parents while they moved around, specifically to Chicago. Socially she did not fit in and adapt to her new environment in Chicago, but did graduate from high school and quickly moved onto junior college in Pennsylvania in 1916. She did not finish her education, but instead began work as a nurse caring for wounded WWI patients in Toronto where her sister had moved.

In 1918 Earhart had to be hospitalized for about two months with the Spanish flu, and then spent about a year living with her sister, at this time in Massachusetts. Because this was a time before antibiotics, the damage the flu caused to Earhart's long-term health was substantial, especially after a minor surgery, and long-term sinus problems and headaches. She often had to have a drainage tube attached to her cheek.

In 1919 Amelia Earhart visited a Canadian National Exposition where she saw a flying ace, and instantly began developing an increased interest in flying herself.

Earhart returned to school at this time as well. She originally intended on going on to Smith College, but at the last moment switched and ended up attending Colombian University with a medical course study. She did not complete her schooling, instead she quit to go to California where her parents were then living.

In December of 1920, Earhart's father had arranged for a plane ride with the adventurous air racer Frank Hawks. After this flight she was determined to learn how to fly, and began working as many jobs as she could, saving up $1000 for flying lessons. In January 1921, Earhart had her first flying lesson in Long Beach, California with Anita "Neta" Snook Southern, a pioneer in aviation, and one of the first women to pilot a plane. Neta charged Amelia $1 in Liberty bonds per minute in the air. Neta did not consider Earhart her best student at first, but did enjoyed Amelia and continued to give her lessons.

Amelia kept at her lessons, as well as tried to have the style of a pilot, with her leather jacket and short hair. She also purchased her own plane, a second-hand Kinner Airster Biplane she named the Canary.

A couple years after she bought the plane, she sold it. 1924, her families financial assets and inheritance were dwindling, and Amelia also got very sick again and was hospitalized for continued sinus problems. Amelia's parents got a divorce, and Amelia drove with her mother on a road trip, that ended in Massachusetts, where Amelia ended up having another surgery.

She had hoped to finish up her degree at Columbia or MIT, but because the financial hardships, she ended up working instead as a teacher and a social worker, while continuing to do everything she could to be involved in the Aviation community in Massachusetts.

After Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight in 1927, there was interest in a woman doing the same, as a passenger. In 1928 Earhart was a well-publicised passenger, keeping a flight log in a 1928 transatlantic flight that was flown by Wilmer Stultz. Upon their return to America, Calvin Coolidge held a reception at the White House in their honor.

Press for Earhart increased dramatically, as she started to become known as "Lady Lindy" (after Charles Lindbergh) of "Queen of the Air." This opened up opportunities for Amelia to tour the country, and promote products like Lucky Strike Tobacco, and women's fashion, including her own line that was carried at Macy's.

Earhart also took advantage of this time to promote flying, as well as setting various records, like flying across North America and back, first for a female. She also began competitive racing with male aviators and became involved with the female aviation group The Ninety-Nines.

During this time Earhart also began to have relations with her promoter George Putnam, who was divorced by his first wife in 1929. Earhart had been previously engaged to Samuel Chapman, a chemical engineer in Boston, but broke it off in 1928, and eventually married Putnam in 1931. Earhart was very clear to Putnam that there relationship was not to be typical. For example, Amelia refused to be called Mrs. Putnam as the news papers tried to do, instead George Putnam was often refereed to as Mr. Earhart.

George and Amelia lived in New York, until after a fire destroyed much of their home they decided to move to North Hollywood, California were George would work as an editor for Paramount Pictures.

May 20, 1932 Amelia set out on her solo trans-Atlantic flight where she landed in North Ireland (despite her desire to end up in Paris). This opened up a whole new world of respect for Earhart, with significant press coverage, congressional honors, and new relationships, including a close relationship with Elanor Roosevelt.

Earhart set many other records, including the first solo flight from Hawaii to California. She also set a number of speed and distant records.

In 1935 Earhart had a faculty position at Purdue University in Indiana, focusing on careers for women. She also was an advisor for Department of Aeronautics.

in 1936 Purdue financed a Lockheed L-10E Electra for Earhart, and Earhart began planning a 27000 mile around the world flight. The first attempt March 17, 1937 failed due to technical problems that resulted in canceling the attempt.

Earhart made a second attempt, this time beginning the flight in Miami, Florida. Fred Noonan, a flight navigator was Earhart's only crew member on this second attempt. They left June 1, 1937. By June 29 they had completed 22000 miles of the journey and were in Lae, New Guinea with only 7000 miles left to travel over the Pacific Ocean.

Earhart and Noonan were supposed to land on a small island called Howland Island in the Pacific to refuel. Transmission was received from Noonan and Earhart by the coast guard, but there was problems in the transmissions and they could not find the coast guard ship. Transmission signals and radio communication was lost.

An hour after the signal was lost, the coast guard began searching for Earhart, Noonan, and the plane in the proximity of Howland Island. Official search efforts lasted until July 19, 1937. The United States government spent $4 million dollars in the search and found nothing. After the official search George Putnam began his own private search, but still found nothing. It wasn't until January 5, 1939 that Earhart was determined deceased, although no traces of her or the plane have been found. There is much speculation, but no definitive answers as to what exactly happened to Amelia Earhart and how she died.


Mira Nair's biopic of Amelia Earhart's life focuses on her rise in popularity and love relationship with George Putnam. Hilary Swank will be playing Amelia Earhart and Richard Gere will be playing her husband George Putnam. Other notable cast members include Virginia Madsen who will be playing Putnam's first wife Dorothy Binney, Christopher Eccleston will be playing Fred Noonan, and Ewan McGregor will be playing Gene Vidal one of Earhart's romantic interest.

Both times Hilary Swank was nominated for an Oscar she has won, in her performances that have been considered "the roles of a lifetime." Will Swank's portrayal of Amelia Earhart be a 3rd "role of a lifetime" earning her critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?


Attila the Mom said...

Well, I have to say she seems to have the look down right!

Lorna said...

Yeah, she looks perfect. I have high hopes...

Sam Brooks said...

This is a late comment, but I think that's the least flattering angle they could have photographed Hilary Swank from.