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Amelia Inspires Hillary Swank to Fly

Actress who portrayed Earhart donates movie props to Ninety-Nines

By James Wynbrandt, for EAA.org

Amelia Q and A.
Pictured at the Amelia Q and A session at Essex County Airport, Caldwell, New Jersey (l to r):  Author and Amelia Earhart expert Susan Butler; Amelia Earhart expert Elgen Long; Ninety-Nines President Susan Larson; actress Hillary Swank who played Amelia Earhart in the film; and director Mira Nair. The Lockheed Electra seen in the background was used in the film and is based near Atlanta, Georgia.

Amelia-Gift Presentation
Amelia director Mira Nair (center)receives a signed copy of Earhart's book 20 Hours, 40 Minutes from Ninety-Nines President Susan Larson (left) as Hillary Swank (right) looks on.

October 18, 2009 — News Flash: Amelia Earhart has been found! Amelia, the Hollywood biopic opening October 23, discovers the heart and soul of the famed aviatrix behind the newsreel smile in a vibrant film portrait filled with thrilling flying sequences and historically accurate detail. To mark the upcoming release, two of the movie’s stars – Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and NC2072, a Lockheed Model 12 Electra used in the film - alighted at Essex County Airport (KCDW) in Caldwell, New Jersey, a week before the release, to donate memorabilia from the production to the Ninety-Nines, the women pilots’ organization Earhart and 98 other female pilots founded 80 years ago. At a question and answer session with reporters at the event, Swank talked about the flying lessons she took to prepare for her role.

“You can’t play Amelia Earhart and not learn how to fly, that would be wrong in every way,” Swank said, describing her 19 hours of flight training as a “euphoric” experience. “I wanted to get my pilot’s license, but for insurance purposes, they couldn’t let me fly by myself to do that, especially before filming the movie,”

Also on hand for the ceremony were Amelia’s director Mira Nair, authors Susan Butler and Elgen Long, whose books provide the historical foundation for the film, and Ninety-Nines president Susan Larson.

“I’m really looking forward to the women of the 21st century being inspired by this movie and moving into aviation and starting a whole new wonderful life for themselves,” Larson said. “Some will find a career, others will fly just for the fun of it, but they will all absolutely love this whole new life.”

Some two dozen members of the Ninety-Nines came from across the country and as far as Germany for the event. The costumes and props donated from the production will be featured during “Earhart Education Week” at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Earhart’s home town of Atchison, Kansas, commencing on the movie’s release date.

The movie spans the last decade of Earhart’s life, from her rise to fame as a passenger on a transatlantic flight to her disappearance over the Pacific. Richard Gere co-stars as George Putnam, the public relations pioneer and later husband who promoted Earhart. The movie tracks her exploits in the air and on the ground, as Putnam shrewdly used her fame to raise money to fund her record setting flight attempts. General aviation pilots will be enthralled by the evocation of a time when aviators and private aviation epitomized the best of America’s aspirations.

Director Nair, who hails from a small village in India, said Earhart’s independence and adventurous spirit attracted her to the story. “She wrote the first pre-nup agreement,” Nair said, referring to the stipulation Earhart gave Putnam, spelling out the freedom she expected to retain, before finally agreeing to marry him.

Swank, who makes a very believable Amelia, said that now that the movie is completed, she hopes to continue learning to fly. “I like to see things through to the end, and I don’t want to just say, yeah, I flew,” Swank said. “I would like to get my license and continue to go up on my own.”

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