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He brokered her lecture tours, book contracts, columns, product endorsements, and media exposure, and he was so proprietary that a rival of Earhart’s described him as her Svengali. “Amelia Earhart: Image and Icon,” a handsomely designed album of their teamwork as self-promoters—portraits, press clippings, ads, and illustrations—was published two years ago, with notes and commentary by the editors, Kristen Lubben and Erin Barnett, and essays by Butler and Susan Ware.Ware regards Earhart’s pose of Lindberghian diffidence with critical amusement.
The slogan that appeared with a gauzy, doe-eyed photograph of Earhart in a white helmet was “Think Different.” (She thought of herself not only as different but as a special case to whom most ground rules didn’t apply.) Three Hollywood movies, starring Rosalind Russell, Diane Keaton, and Amy Adams, have told a version of her story, and a new one, “Amelia,” directed by Mira Nair, with Hilary Swank in the title role and Richard Gere as Putnam, will open in October. (All three books are being reissued this fall.)There were, in fact, other famous female aces in the early decades of aviation.
The script is based on two biographies, “The Sound of Wings,” by Mary Lovell (1989), and Butler’s definitive “East to the Dawn” (1997); and on “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved” (1999), by Elgen M. All of them were daring—some were said to be better pilots than Earhart—and many of them were killed and forgotten.
The Electra’s fuel tanks could keep them aloft for, at most, twenty-four hours, so they had almost no margin of error in pinpointing Howland, about twenty-five hundred miles away.
Noonan was using a combination of celestial navigation and dead reckoning. Early on July 2nd, on a slightly overcast morning, about eighteen hours into the flight, Earhart told radiomen on the Itasca, a Coast Guard cutter stationed off Howland to help guide her down, that she was flying at a thousand feet and should soon be “on” them, but that her fuel was low.
Play that prepared a young girl for domesticity was anathema to her ideals. In our life together I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. On July 2, 1937, she became the world’s most famous missing person when her twin-engine Lockheed Electra disappeared in the vicinity of Howland Island, a speck in the Pacific about midway between Australia and Hawaii, where the Department of the Interior had built her a landing strip.
When she lectured at colleges—as she did frequently, to promote careers for women, especially in aviation—she urged the coeds to focus on majors dominated by men, like engineering, and to postpone marriage until they had got a degree. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were attempting to circumnavigate the equator, a feat for the record books, although pilots before them (all male) had rounded the globe at least six times by shorter routes, and commercial transpacific air service had recently been inaugurated.
Although the Itasca had been broadcasting its position, so that Noonan could take his bearings and, if necessary, correct the course, they apparently couldn’t receive the transmissions, nor apparently could they see the billows of black smoke that the cutter was pumping out.
Earhart’s last message was logged at No authenticated trace of the Electra, or of its crew, has ever been found.
As Guest later put it to her daughter, “It just wouldn’t do.”)Wilmer (Bill) Stultz, the pilot of the Friendship, who had defected from the Boll party, and Louis (Slim) Gordon, the mechanic, had done the actual flying, and Earhart tried to remind a besotted press and ecstatic crowds hailing her as “Lady Lindy” that she had really been just “a sack of potatoes.” In 1932, however, she legitimatized the title by flying the Atlantic on her own, becoming the first woman and the second person, five years after Charles Lindbergh, to do so.
(Congress awarded her honorary Major Wings that she wore with her pearls.) In 1935, she was the first pilot to solo across the Pacific—from Honolulu to Oakland—and to solo non-stop from Los Angeles to Mexico.