Susan Butler, author of "East to Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart," where did you get the title "East to Dawn"?
Oh, the title "East to the Dawn" was my h--actually my husband's contribution to the book. I had a very trendy title, "Amelia Earhart, An Extraordinary Woman," and we decided it had to be something really much more interesting, and he came up with "East to the Dawn," which I thought was brilliant.
What's it mean?
Well, it means that her major flights were from west to east, and she was on her solo flight across the Atlantic flying into the dawn. She was on her first flight, where she was just a passenger, from Newfoundland to Europe, flying into the dawn. And on her solo flight from Hawaii to California, she was flying into the dawn. And then, of course, on the last flight, where she was lost, she was lost flying into the dawn.
When did she live?
She was born in 1897, and this is the 100th anniversary of her birth.
And when did you get the first idea that you wanted to write this book?
It was in the back of my head for years. I wanted to write a book about a remarkable woman, and she was the most remarkable woman that I knew. And I had a special reason, actually, because my mother was one of the early fliers, so she was kind of always there for me.
And where did your mother fly?
She flew out of the Red Bank airport in Red Bank, New Jersey, in the '30s.
How--how much flying did your mom do?
Well, she did a lot, but this is--she did a lot before the war and then, in the beginning of the war, before anything got really serious, she was in the Civil Air Patrol and--and patrolled the Jersey coast.
Do you fly?
Did you ever think you wanted to be a flier?
I did. I thought about it, but by the time I was old enough to fly, it was after the war and--after the Second World War, and I just kind of got onto other things.
And I think it says in your--in the--the little bio about you that your mother was a member of the Ninety Nines?
She was a member of the Ninety Nines, yes.
You say in the back of the book there are now 6,500 members of that group?
Over 6,500 members.
What is it?
It's--it's a women's flying organization. It's--it--it's really the flying organization where all the women join and then they support each other and they have various programs...
Got a picture here I wanna show you of two people. Who are these people? Let me see if we can get it here, this shot. Who are those people? Whoops.
That's Eugene Vidal and Amelia Earhart.
And who is Gene Vidal?
Eugene Vidal is the father of Gore Vidal. He was the great love of Amelia's life. He was also the head of the Bureau of Air Commerce, so he was the highest civilian--that's the highest civilian post in aviation then.
Y--in your book, you quote Gore Vidal. Did you talk to him about this--for this book?
I interviewed him, yes, and that--he gave me this sensational quote.
What was it about?
Well, it was about my book. He says that he liked thedbook.
But he also gave you some information that she used to wear men's underwear.
Yes. She used to wear men's underwear and she didn't--she was too embarrassed to buy it herself, so his father used to buy it.
Why? Why did--why did she wear men's underwear?
Well, it was more comfortable. Women's underwear at that point--women didn't wear slacks, they didn't wear pants, and so they wore kind of silk things that didn't work well under pants. So--so Gene bought her, I think, Jockey briefs that worked out better.
Now at--i--if we were alive during her most--you know, when she was getting the most attention, what were people saying about her in this country? What kind of publicity, if you can relate it to today, did she get back in the '30s?
She w--would've been a combination of--of the greatest--like, Jeanne Yeager. I d--I just don't know. There's--if I say that, there probably are people who have never heard of Jeanne Yeager. She was the most famous woman in America. She's probably the most famous woman in--in the world during her lifetime. She was catapulted to fame because she was the first woman to fly the Atlantic when it seemed as it nobody could fly the Atlantic without dropping into the sea. And--and then she went on to become a fine flier and she spent her life on the lecture circuit, in the public eye, deliberately, and then she wrote three books. I don't think there's anybody really in our--on our present-day scene who could possibly be all the things she was at the time.
This cover you have and this photograph of Amelia Earhart comes from where?
It's a picture--it's just a--a--a picture of her a--after one of her flights. I'm actually not sure which one. It-it comes from one of the archives.
And--and tell us about how big she was, I mean, how tall she was and--and...
She was 5'8"; she weighed 118 pounds. She was skinny. She was very good-looking, except she had thick ankles. She hated her ankles, according to Gore Vidal. She was obsessed even when she was famous with ho--with her ankles, which is one of the reasons why she always wore pants, 'cause it--it showed off the best of her figure and hid the worst. And she had--she had absolutely beautiful hands--long, tapering fingers--that her husband was in love with.
How many times was she married?
Just once. She--there were--there were really two great loves in her life: one she married--and that was George Palmer Putnam--and one she didn't--that was Eugene Vidal.
George Palmer Putnam was who?
George Palmer Putnam was a--a--a publisher, a very good publisher and--and a--an extrovert, a--an entrepreneur who was famous in his own right. He was the--he was the publisher who snared Lindbergh and--which was the greatest publishing coup of--of--of that era, and put him on the map. And he also published all the other explorers and adventurers. He was really in love with--with the great outdoors and--and a--and adventurers. And when he kind of stumbled onto Amelia Earhart, he was just totally bowled over because she was everything. She was--she was his--she was his dream woman.
W--where did they meet?
Well, they actually met when he interviewed her. He had been given the job of finding a woman to fly the Atlantic in the place of Amy Guest, who had bought an airplane and planned to fly--and be the first woman to fly the Atlantic, and it was her notion that she would take off from the United States, fly to London, land in the Thames in front of the houses of Parliament, and it was going to be a gesture of friendship between the United States and England. So, therefore, she named the plane Friendship. And she was from a very wealthy family and she was 55, very headstrong, very intelligent. And her--her family didn't know what she was about. She kept it quite quiet, and she had Commander Byrd helping her organize this, and he found her the plane, he found her the pilot, he found her the co-pilot. And then when her family found out about it, they, not too surprisingly, hit the roof.
And so they talked her out of it, and so she said--stubborn lady-she said, `Well, OK. I won't do it, but then it has to be--it has to continue--the project has to continue, and I want my place taken by an American woman who will be a credit to her sex and a credit to her country, has to be somebody educated, a flier and a wonderful person,' because there were various people--var--various women who were trying to be that first woman--who wanted to be the first woman across the Atlantic because they knew that they'd become the most famous woman in the world if they could just get on a plane. And there was one in particular, one woman by the name of Mabel Ball, who was just after the publicity and she was very good at getting publicity, and she had fashioned herself a--a--a vest of--a gold link vest with diamond buttons and a platinum collar, and she had huge diamonds on her hands and, as The New York Times said, just to be photographed upon landing in that outfit was, to her, the dream of a lifetime. And she was always shopping and doing all the things that--and garnering for publicity and doing all the things that Amy Guest thought was terrible. And there were other people also that wanted to be the first famous woman to fly across the Atlantic, so for those reasons, Amy Guest had decided that she just had to do this.
Wh--who--where did--wha--what citizenship did Amy Guest have?
She was an American, although her husb--her husband was English.
And where did she live?
She lived in--in London and in Long Island.
What kind of a plane was it that they bought?
It was a Fokker--a Fokker with three engines--huge-just one of the biggest, one of the best planes of the day.
That's, o--obviously, how they would land out on the Thames. And--and were--were those the kind of planes that they flew in those days?
What year are we talking about here?
We're talking about 1928. We're talking about the year after Lindbergh.
And what had he done?
Lindbergh had w--wanted something called the Orteig, which had fired up the world's imagination, which was to fly from New York to Paris, and Raymond Orteig, a Frenchman, had put up $25,000 to the first person who could accomplish this. And many tried, many died. Lindbergh was the first to succeed.
And he flew from where to where?
He flew from Roosevelt Field to La Bourget.
And Roosevelt Field is located where?
Long Island. And La Bourget is in Paris.
And it took him 33 hours.
Did he stop anywhere along the way?
And it--had any woman flown--in 1927, that would've been, I guess--had any woman flown over the Atlantic at all?
Oh, no. No.
Not in any planes?
'Cause somewhere in your book, you say that back when flying was really active, in the early days, that 95 percent of the passengers were men.
Why was that?
Well, because w--women were afraid of flying, so one of the reasons why--but--but this comes later, a few years later, when--when airlines started to come into being, they decided that they had to give publicity to women so that women would begin to think that they could, in fact, fly and that men would realize that if women flew, they shouldn't be afraid of airplanes.
We'll come back to the book in a moment. I wanna ask you a little bit about yourself. Where do you live?
I live in--in Pine Plains, New York.
Where is that?
That's 100 miles north of the city.
And how long have you lived there?
Is this your first book?
A--and d--what did you do for a living before you got into the bookwriting business?
I tried to make a living at--at writing, but I really find it very difficult. It's almost impossible.
How much education do you have?
I've gotten as far as a master's degree at Columbia.
In what subjects?
And when you went about doing this book, where did you go to get the information?
Well, I went wherever it--it--wherever it--it took me. I went out to Ohio to visit Katch Challis, who was one of A-Amelia Earhart's dearest friends and cousins. I went to...
Well, she died after I interviewed her.
What year did you interview her?
I interviewed her in 1989.
So you've been working on this book for how long?
And what else--where else did you go?
I went to Newfoundland, I went up to Trepassey, and then I went to Harbour Grace to see the field where Amelia Earhart took off on her solo flight, and Trepassey is where she--where--where the Friendship took off from.
How hard is it to get to Trepassey from here?
It's not hard.
How long does it take?
Oh, I can't remember.
And why Newfoundland?
Newfoundland juts out--if you look at a map of North America, you see that Newfoundland juts out as far east as--it's the furthest eastern point. It's the closest to Europe.
And so when you're writing the rulebooks, you had--you could do that. I mean, if you're going from North America, you'd find that point that would be the closest to Europe?
Yes. Yes. Many--es--particularly the f--the field in--in Harbour Grace was a takeoff point for many planes.
Where else did you go for your information?
Well, I spent a lot of time at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge.
Well, because they had most of the Amelia Earhart m--material that was given by the family. And--and then I went to Medford, Massachusetts, where Amelia Earhart's sister, who is still alive, lives.
How old is she?
She was born in 1900.
She's still alive?
She's still alive, and she was very helpful-very helpful.
Wh--it's--there were just the two of them.
What--and her n...
It was Muriel Morrissey.
Her name is Muriel Morrissey.
And what did...
And her daughter was very helpful, too.
And what did Muriel Morrissey remember?
Well, it wasn't so much what Muriel Morrissey remembered, although she remembered a great deal. It was more getting from her a feeling--a feeling of what--of what their life was like. And also, she pointed me in quite a few new directions so that I came up with more new material.
What was their life like?
When they were children? Amelia--their--their li-the two of them had, in their young--first childish years, very different lives, actually, because Amelia was sent to live with her grandmother in Atchison, Kansas, 'cause her grandmother was quite elderly and lonely, although she did have a husband. He was--he was a bit withdrawn and there'd been a few deaths, and so she was sent to live in Atchison with her grandparents and comfort her grandmother. And Muriel lived in Kansas City, but they were always very close and they were always together in the summer and there was a lot of visiting back and forth.
What year did you f--visit Muriel?
I visited Muriel in '87 and then I visited her subsequently a few more times. I would keep going back and she would keep opening her door for me. She was very helpful.
And you say she sent you in--in new directions.
Give us an example.
Well, she helped--she sent me to her daughter, whom-who also opened the door to more leads, and so I ended up finding more cousins who gave me letters, and so I had--I had letters from cousins that had never been found before. And then besides that, then I had the Katch--when I visited Katch Challis, I had--I was given, after Katch died, by her daughter--I was given diaries. The diaries were fabulous, the diaries of--of Katch's sister, who--Lucy, who lived with Amelia when she was older a--when--when she was married.
What different cities did Amelia Earhart live in?
Let me see, she started out in--as an adult or as a child?
Just her--in her life.
Because, as she said, she rolled around a lot when she was a kid. She lived in Atchison, Kansas; Kansas City, Kansas; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Paul, Minnesota; Boston; New York. She went to Columbia.
I remember Philadelphia. She went to school--did she go to school in Philadelphia?
Well, she didn't actually, but her--her family originally came from Philadelphia, yeah.
...absolutely. She ended up in California in the Tal--Talooka Lake district outside of LA.
So as you went about your task, how much other literature had been written about Amelia Earhart, how many other books? And were you looking for a new angle?
There are tons of books about Amelia Earhart. I mean, It--I--I'm stunned when I--if--if I had realized how many books there were, I probably wouldn't have started. The literature about her is--is--is getting longer all the time, too. The thing is that-what I found is that--the book showed a continuing or possibly even a growing interest, which I--I had--actually hadn't realized. I think there are probably right now--I see a growing interest maybe just because I'm so involved with Amelia Earhart. But I found that the books were really interesting, but you can't rely on books if you're a biographer. You have to go back to sources--source material.
So what's different about this book compared to all the other books you read?
Well, I had--I had the--the--it sounds corny to say, but I had the real details of her life, which I found were missing, and I--it took a lot of digging, took a lot of interviewing and it took a lot of time because it isn't the kind of thing you can force. You--you can't even figure out where you're going to go until each thing happens. And th--for instance, Gore Vidal had told me that there was a lost biography and he knew about it because the woman was a friend of--of--of his father's as well as of Amelia, and--and he had spent time with her. And she had advised him about how to go about publishing his first book, and that--his first book was accepted and her first book was turned down, so he'd do this, so he said to me that there was this lost biography. And I suppose that he told other people because, really, it's no se--it was no secret, but I just happened to find it. So I had this lost biography and then, of course, I had to rewrite the whole book again.
When did you find it, and when did you have to start rewriting?
Well, that was a few years ago, and I was--I was in the Schlesinger and I had--I was not even--I wasn't thinking--I'd just really given up on it, and then as I was going out, I saw that they had recently gotten the papers of Janet Mabey, who was this-this woman that had written the biography. And it was just that, and I turned on my heels and went back in and...
What's--what was new?
It was details. It was, again, details. She had-she was there, and so she--she was there and she interviewed people that had known Amelia, and so I had suddenly--at my fingertips, I had anecdotes, things that really happened, not just the general things that we all know.
Go back to--we started talking about her husband or who-when she met the man that she was going to marry, George Putnam. Was he married then?
What were the circumstances?
He was married to Dorothy Binny Putnam, who, by all accounts, is quite a woman in her own right, and her granddaughter has just written a book about her. But--and they--she and Amelia were first friends and--and Amelia was enormously grateful to her in 1928. In fact, she dedicated her first book to her because she thought she'd been so helpful. But then she had other interests, actually. Dorothy...
Dorothy Binny Putnam had other male interests, and it became obvious that George Palm--Palmer Putnam was simply mesmerized by Amelia, and so they got divorced and then Amelia was not too happy about having anything to do with a divorce, but he overcame all her objections and--and they eventually got married. He had to propose to her a number of times by his own admission before she agreed. She was not--she was not actually planning on getting married. She'd always--as a child, she and--and her cousins, the Challises, Lucy and Katch, had always had great dreams and plans for exciting careers. They'd never really had any plans for great marriage, but he talked her into it.
They married in what year?
So we're still in '28, where she's going to take that first trip.
But the--probably oughta do this now in case we forget it.
When they got married, there was a letter that you publish here...
...to her husband-to-be...
...from her. Has that been published before, by the way?
Yes, it has.
And it reads--I'll read just a little bit--`There are some'--this is--when did she give this letter to him?
The morning of the wedding.
The morning of the wedding.
Morning of the wedding. Doesn't seem to have fazed him a bit.
`Dear G.P., there are some things which should be writ before we are married, things we have talked over before most of them. You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means to--so much to me. I feel the move just now is foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations, but I have no heart to look ahead. In our life together, I shall not hold you to any medieval code--code--code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.' What's she saying here?
She's saying--she's saying that she's not going to be faithful to him and that he doesn't have to be faithful to her, that he has to let her have her freedom, and...
And she also writes: `Please let us not interfere with the other's work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection, I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure all the confinements of even an attractive cage.' What was your reaction when you read that, by the way?
I thought it was absolutely fascinating. I mean, I thought--for me, it kind of showed the steely hand in the velvet glove, which I think I--I wrote, but--because it was--can you imagine doing that with an enormously--I mean, it came from an inner need, but it was also i--in--a very gutsy thing to do and it shows that she had to be the way she was and damn the consequences.
Now we were talking about 1928, when the selection was made to fly over the Atlantic. They got married in 1931.
And what was the year that she died or the plane went down?
So we're talking about a period here of--very short period of about nine years.
Very short period.
And she was how old when she died?
Is there any--by the way, is there any question in your mind that--that she died during the flight?
No, absolutely none.
And did you--how far did you go to research that, by the way?
I--well, a--a--actually, I think I've come--it--it-I found it as definitive source as there is, which is--I came-somebody told me about the writings of a Japanese woman by the name of Fukiko Ioki, who had been a very good writer, who had written a book about it and--and an article, and she'd been the bureau chief of Newsweek, so we're not talking about somebody that is inconsequential or doesn't know what she's doing. I just wish her book was translated.
And she ran down every single lead that she could find because she didn't--from the Japanese point of view, she just wanted to find out whether, in fact, Japan was the perpetrator of any of the crimes that they've, over the years, been accused of being. And so she interviewed every single person starting with the people that-Fred Warner, who had started the whole thing--interviewed and in no case was ever--was there ever any corroborating evidence that--that the Japanese had ever picked her up. In fact...
And what year did she write that, the Japanese reporter?
She wrote it in the 1980s.
And you had to have it translated?
I had parts of it translated and then the--and then I-I was lucky and I found out where she lived, so--she lives in-in Wallkill, New York, and so I called her up and--and we talked.
Can you still get an argument started about what happened to Amelia Earhart in this country?
Oh, sure. I can't believe it, but there are still people--there--I think there are always people who are just mesmerized by the--by what might've happened. The conspiracy theories on every single event in United States history can't seem to be--I mean, they just keep rising up again.
In 1928, when George Putnam met her and they started selecting the person to go on the Friendship, how visible was Amelia Earhart in the country then and what did she do?
She was a social worker at Denison House in Boston. And she flew in her spare time. She had been in the papers a couple of times because she was a pilot and she had done a publicity stunt for Denison House. But she was not--she was just kind of a local celebrity. She was not well-known at all.
And how did--then did--did she get into this mix of who was going to be chosen?
Well, that was just pure luck. The--Amy Guest had told the lawyer, family-friend lawyer, David Lehman, to find somebody to take Am--to take her place. And he was trying to decide what to do next, it being a little bit out of his line of work. And then George Putnam heard about it through somebody else and went to see him, and said that he would like to try and find that woman and--I mean, it was just right up his alley 'cause it's the kind of thing that he'd been doing. And so David Lehman said, `OK. Sure,' you know, `have a go at it.'
And that afternoon, according to Putnam, a friend of his from Boston popped into his office, a publicist friend of his. And so Putnam said, `Look, this is this--this is this most interesting thing that's happening right now. Let's find--let's find this woman flier. Let's find this woman who--to take the place of Amy Guest.' And then, of course, he could see all the possibilities and it was a really exciting project.
So--so he, in fact--in effect, had assigned Hilton Railly, and Hilton lived in Boston, went back to Boston that afternoon, and he asked a friend of his i--if--if his friend knew any--anybody in Boston in the aviation world. And, really, there was only Amelia in Boston. So they asked her down in New York and they interviewed her, and she was perfect and everybody fell in love with her.
In fact, David Lehman liked her so much he was--for one moment, Amelia felt, as--after she wrote about it later, she was afr--she was afraid that he liked her so much, he was afraid to send her because she might die. So she had to kind of pull back and...
Was she going to fly the plane or ride in the plane?
She was just going to ride in the plane. There were two pilots and she was just going to be the passenger. She hoped to be ac--actually to get her hands on the controls, but she never did.
But she wa--but she was more, actually, than just a passenger because--whether or not they had originally planned to do this, I don't know, but by the time the plane took off, she was-they had given her authority to run the project. She was, in other words, in control.
And how big a deal was it that the flight was even going to happen? And how public was it?
Until it took off, it wasn't public at all. When it took off, then all of a sudden, the world knew about it and every reporter that could get on a plane--not a plane, excuse me, but every reporter that could get up there did, so that by the time she was in Trepassey, there was--the publicity was in place.
Now had she sold her story to any newspaper? Because I know you talk about later on, she sold a bunch of stuff to The New York Times.
Well, Putnam did. George Palmer Putnam did. She was a writer even then. She had sold a--a story to The Bostonian, which was the local Boston magazine, and--and on the basis, I suppose, of that, or--he had sold her story to The New York Times. So she was writing her story. While she was on the plane, she was keeping a log. When she--when she landed in--in--when she landed in Burry Port, Wales-but when she got to London, she handed--she handed a story, a finished story, which was published in the papers the next day.
Did they have an trouble on that flight? And how many people were on it?
There were three of them that were on it. They-the only trouble they had was that they only had 700 gallons of gasoline because they were in a--a plane which had been fitted out with pontoons. Pontoons don't really--they're not efficient. Once you have pontoons, they can't lift as much as whe--as the wheels that they replaced. So although they should have been able to take double the amount of gasoline that they took, they had a great deal of trouble even getting--even becoming airborne, as happened often in those days because the planes were underpowered and--and the pontoons were just a terrific strain. So they didn't have any really serious problems except they weren't sure, of course, where they were. When they finally--and then the engine started to sputter. And they were all afraid that--that they were going to be lost at sea. And then they finally landed in Burry Port, Wales.
How long did it take?
It took 20 hours and 40 minutes.
And that's the name of a book.
That's the name of her first book.
And if I remember correctly, when she died, that that trip was already in its 20th hour and like 14 minutes. So it was very close.
It was--actually, I'd never thought of that. Yes. Yes.
The--the later around-the-world trip.
Ye--yeah. The--the--the last leg of it.
The last leg.
The last leg.
Nobody really knows how--how many--guess--but it was 20, 21, 22 hours. Nobody knows how long.
Now on that first trip, why do we remember her name, and don't remember the two fellows she was flying with?
Well, it's so amazing. It's just--it just shows that this state of the world--the--the world's mind-set at the time. It happened immediately, immediately when--when she landed. Nobody paid any attention to Wilmer Stul--Stultz and--and Lou Gordon. They just didn't pay any attention to them at all. And she was continually saying, `Look, I was just a passenger. I didn't do anything.' And then, you know, later she said, `I was just a sack of potatoes.' I mean, she was always with her arms around them trying to push them forward. And it was just this stunned amazement of the world that a--that a woman had been able to do this or that she hadn't passed out or that she hadn't died. It just seemed--it just seemed too incredible to believe.
You have a--in different places of the book, you show us how many people were dying in those years.
It was--oh, unbelievable.
Can you tell us--wha--what are some of the statistics?
Well, after Lindbergh, because Lindbergh was in May of--of '27, 18 planes took off. Both sides of the Atlantic, 18 planes took off. And three made it.
What happened to them?
Well, most of them died. Most of the people died.
Why were they doing this?
Well, because it was like climbing Everest. It was-it was just the most exciting thing that could happen.
Was it expensive?
Now you say here, I--I wrote this down, `Twelve months after, 55 people tried in 18 planes. Three made it, one came close, and the rest failed.'
When was her next flight? And--and wh--when did she actually fly herself?
Five years to the day after Lindbergh, May 21st, 1932...
Now married to George Putnam.
Now married to George Putnam. It had always bothered her that--that she hadn't flown the plane herself and that she was so much in the public eye and everybody attributed things to her that she thought she hadn't earned. And she was always a--I mean, she was--she had a very serious side, although she didn't let it show all that much. But she wanted to earn her spurs. She felt she hadn't. So shedecided--it was something--everybody was calling it the Lindbergh trail.
Every--every woman in--really, every woman flier wanted to do what Lindbergh had done and be the first woman to solo the Atlantic. And no--there hadn't been any--in fact, nobody had gone--had flown the Atlantic alone after Lindbergh, man or woman. But the women, particularly, were on the Lindbergh trail and there were quite a few American women who had planes and were trying.
One woman--one woman, Ruth Nichols, an American from Rye, New York, had actually tried and she had crashed before she ever got up to Newfoundland. And there were a couple of others in the wings waiting, getting their planes ready. And Amelia decided that she was going to do it. She didn't tell anybody. She was always a very self-possessed, self-contained person. And so she had the whole thing organized.
And exactly five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, and--and fl--and spanned the Atlantic and that took 14 1/2 hours. And although she had st--although her plan was to land at La Bourget and the American ambassador and everybody else had gone out to La Bourget to wait for her, she didn't-she didn't make France because the winds went against her and she was also having all kinds of--of equipment--instrument problems.
What kind of plane did she fly?
She was in a--a Lockheed Vega--single-engine Lockheed Vega.
Who paid for it?
Well, she did. By this time, she was very much of a-of a one-woman industry. She was--she was on the lect--lecture circuit and she was probably, I suppose, the most highly paid woman going around the country.
You say in 1935, she was the most--that was her most productive year, that she spoke 136 times before 80,000 people at $300 a lecture, grossing $40,000.
Yeah. That was--that was big bucks in those years.
And you also point out that a steno--a stenographer then was paid $20 a week.
I know. It's amazing.
What would that Vega plane have cost if you bought it? Do you know?
I think it would probably have cost about-about $15,000, but that's probably a guess on my part. The--the Lockheed Electra that she bought in 1937 cost, fully equipped, $73,000. But that was a much bigger plane.
You--in Chapter 17, you say--you lead off as--by saying, `By 1934, Amelia had become so involved in her various projects, lecturing, fashion designing...'
`...running the Ninety Nines...'
`...encouraging flying competitions and signing on to teach at Purdue, that she barely had time to fly.' Go through a little bit of all that so we can see what--all the different things she was doing. Encouraging flying competitions, what was that?
Well, she was very involved in this women's flying organization, the Ninety Nines, so she was always--whenever they were doing anything, she was always spending time with them. She was always working with other women to--she gave trophies for various races.
Would it be--I mean, I know you talk about the Bendix, which...
She flew in the Bendix.
And what--what was the Bendix?
The Bendix was a trans-Atlantic flight which was the-it was the most exciting trans-Atlantic flight.
Race. Excuse me. It was a race. It w--it was the big race. It was the one that got all the publicity. It was started by--Vincent Bendix gave the prize. It was started by a man called Henderson because he wanted to push planes and push pilots. So he-he got Vincent Bendix to give a prize for the fastest transcontinental flight.
Do they still do the Bendix?
I don't think so. If they do, I don't know about it.
Fashion designing. Right--right in the middle of all the other stuff she's doing...
Right in the middle of all the stuff, she decided that she was going to design wearable women's clothes. She was sick of clothes that weren't wearable and she thought it would be a good business enterprise. And she loved getting into new businesses. She was always trying different--different things and so there she was. She was--she deci--she decided to design women's clothes, but she was going to put shirts--and at that point, women's shirts were blouses, and so she designed shirts that were with long enough tails so that if they stood on their head, as she said, they s--they--they would still stay tucked in. And then she used parachute silk for the blouses. And--and then she just did very wearable clothes.
Now I remember flying Northeast Airlines...
...out of this town to Boston...
...and I think it went to the Eastern Airlines, then to USAir, I can't--I don't know how all the...
...mergers went. That's an airline she started?
Yeah. She was one--she was the first vice president. Yeah. There were four of them. They sat around their house in Rye and--Sam Soloman and--and Amelia Earhart and Gene Vidal and Paul Collins, and they each threw in $10,000 and they started Northeast Airlines.
Did she work there?
Yeah. She did.
For how long?
Oh, about a year. About a year.
And then the last thing is signing on to teach at Purdue. Why is that significant?
Well, I--it's very significant because, to me, I mean, I think it's kind of a hallmark of her personality. I think it sh-all of a sudden, Elliott, who was the president, met her and was totally mesmerized by her and wanted to get her on the Purdue campus. And she thought it was a wonderful idea and I think she would have probably spent the rest of her life doing that, being at Purdue, because she was a s--a strong feminist. Although she didn't come across as one, she had very strong beliefs.
And what she always wanted to do was to get women to be the best that they could be. She wanted them to lose their sense of inferiority. She was always trying to enhance women's self-esteem. And there shewas--she was offered a job to be on the faculty of--of--of Purdue, to be a consultant for careers for women. Well, of course, she was a huge hit and she was there and the--and the girls just--just adored her. And I think--I think it was probably very satisfying for her and I think it would have taken more and more of her time.
You say that Purdue got involved with a research foundation and was there a time where they were even going to buy her a plane?
Well, they kind of did. They kind of did buy her a plane. Two of the wealthy alumni who were head of the Purdue research foundation each kicked in $20,000 and then--so that gave her the-kind of enough to buy the Lockheed Electra. And then equipment manufacturers gave her the rest.
So at this point in her life, in the '34, '35, '36 time frame,how many other flights did she get involved in? And when did shestart doing--thinking about the around-the-world flight?
Well, let's see, she flew--she flew from--in 1935, she flew from Hawaii to Oakland, California. That...
In the Electra?
No. In a Vega.
In a Vega. And that was the first solo flight on that--over that piece of water.
And, by the way, along the way, she--coming close at all to crashing?
No serious problems?
No serious probleNo. And then--and then later in '35, she flew to Mexico City, which is quite high, it's 7,500 feet, and then--which means from an altitude, it--it--air is thinner, it's hard to load up enough gasoline. So then she flew from Mexico City to Newark Airport and that was a first. And--for solo, man or woman, non-stop. And for that, she went into the record books again. So she had these great solo flights.
When did Eleanor Roosevelt get interest in her?
When she met her.
Oh, she met her right after the--after Roosevelt was elected for his--to first his first term.
In '32. Yeah.
And there was a time where Eleanor Roosevelt wanted her to fly her all around the United States?
Well, she would have, except that she wanted to--to have a--to have a--be able to fly her around so that she could publicize the Arthur Dale project, which was sub--assistance housing in Virginia. And the administration and Rexford Tugwell weren't really ready to have Eleanor Roosevelt do it right then. They were still arranging things. This was quite--quite new and quite radical. And I think probably Tugwell didn't really want her to do it. So he put it off and then--and then other commitments--time commitments interfered.
B--but you said at one point, I--I--if I remember correctly, that Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to learn to fly and sh...
Oh, before that, she wanted to learn to fly.
Oh, when she first met Amelia, she wanted to learn how to fly and she wanted Amelia to arrange it. And so Amelia got her a student pilot license--organized a student pilot license for her. And--and everything was going on absolutely beautifully. She'd organized whoever was going to teach her and then Eleanor told Franklin and Franklin said, `Forget it.'
At one point, again, in your book, you say that she held the nation in the palm of her hand, including the president of the United States.
And you learn as you read that the Navy had offered to refuel, as she flew around the world, all these kinds of things. Tell us about the last flight. How did that come about and what--what time of year was it?
Well, she always wanted--as she told her friend, her--her flying friend, Louise Thaddon, she just wanted to do it because she thought it would be fun. And she--it was the only flight that she undertook for--in a sense, she said for a selfish reason because it--she just wanted to do it. And so she wanted to do it at the--she wanted to go around the world at the world's waistline, 27,000 miles around the equator, which would mean that she wouldn't have to--there were no time constraints. It simply had never been done because there weren't that many people that had flown around the world. And--but it was a huge undertaking. She hoped to do all kinds of--of experiments and--and--while she was doing this trip. She wanted to see wh--the fatigue factors and she had all kinds of general things that she was hoping to figure out.
Still married to George Putnam?
Always married to George Putnam.
And what's the relationship with Gene Vidal during all this time?
Well, it's very difficult to organize a trip like--of--of that magnitude. I mean, it was very difficult to organize a trip of that magnitude. Besides the fact that she had to have gasoline shipped to various places around the world, because you couldn't rely on anything, she had to get permissions from every country that she flew over. And, basically, Eu--Eugene Vidal really organized the trip for her. He put the Department of Commerce at her--at her--for her--for her to use. He assigned a--an--an ex-Navy pilot who worked for the Department of Commerce by the name of Bill Miller. He basically assigned him to--Amelia to run interference.
But at the time, she had helped get Gene Vidal the job.
She had helped Gene Vidal--definitely, she'd helped Gene Vidal get the job. She not only helped Gene Vidal get the job, she helped him to keep the job because at one point, Washington being Washington, there were some senators that thought they had a better--better man for the job. And they were pressuring Franklin Roosevelt to fire Eugene Vidal, at which point--and at one point, Roosevelt actually issued an order saying--saying that he was going to fire Vidal and put in somebody else.
And when Amelia heard about it, she sent a blistering telegram--it was just before the 1936 election, Franklin Roosevelt's second-term election. And Amelia Earhart sent a blistering telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt saying that--that if Franklin fired Gene Vidal, she wasn't going to go on--she wasn't going to campaign. Aside from all the other things that she disapproved and it was a bad thing to do, she said, `And furthermore, I'm not campaigning for Franklin if this goes through.'
So within 48 hours, Franklin Roosevelt was having lunch with Eugene Vidal's boss at the Department of Commerce, because the bureau of air commerce was at--was a subdepartment in the Department of-of Commerce, and--and--and he changed his mind. And--and within 48 hours, Am--Amelia is--is sending another telegram to Miss--to Eleanor Roosevelt saying, `Thanks very much. Appreciate your help.'
What was the date that they took off and where did they-which way did they head? Because you talk about the--you know, the title of your book, "East to the Dawn."
"East to the Dawn." They originally took off from California and it was going to Hawaii. And then from Hawaii, it was going to--but then--this is the last flight--and then there was an accident. Taking off--the first time that she started on their-her around-the-world flight, there was a--an accident as she took off for--for Howland Island from Honolulu. She ground looped and the plane was damaged, and by the time it was fixed, quite a bit of time had gone by and so weather patterns had changed and she decided to change the direction of her flight.
So then she took off--when she started again, she t-she took off from Miami on June 1st.
In the Electra.
How many people were on board?
Just herself and Fred Noonan.
What was her relationship to Fred Noonan?
Just good friends. No relationship.
And when they took off, 27,000-mile trip, how many stops did they make before the crucial last flight?
I have to tell you the truth, I've never counted them.
Roughly, though. Would you--is 10 or 15 fli--stops?
Oh, yeah. Fifteen, probably.
Going which--where were their first stops out of Miami? Which way would they go?
Their--their first--their first stop was--was San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Then they went down to South America; Venezuela, Natal and then across the--across to Africa. And then they flew across Africa and then they flew--flew...
...all those countries whose...
India. I'm looking at it right now.
It's--but eventually, the last flight, where did it--where did they leave from when sh--when the plane went down?
Oh, I'm sorry. Lae, New Guinea.
Lae, New Guinea.
How many days later was it? Do you remember? From the June 1st takeoff?
It was--I think it was 28 days late--later.
And had the plane been performing OK?
They've had--they'd had minor difficulties with it. There'd been a couple of short circuits the--in the equipment. They'd had to go back several times when they were in Bandung, Indonesia.
Was the--was the world paying attention to this?
Yes. She was a syndicated columnist for the Herald Tribune and every single time she--she wrote a--a dispatch, it was on the front page of the Herald Tribune.
So the world was very much aware of it.
I wrote somewhere where The New York Times, at one point, paid her $125,000. Is it for this flight or...
Not for that flight. No.
Oh, that was Herald Tribune.
The--the--this was syndicated by the Herald Tribune.
What in the end happened?
In the end, nobody can--nobody can know for sure. It--except that--I mean, I--I--nobody can know the details for sure. But certainly what happened was that there was something wrong. Navigation in those years was not as exact as it is now. I think there was probably an equipment failure. She couldn't--she was not communicating with the people that she was supposed to on Howland Island. And the plane--she was circling. She was definitely circling. They were going north and south. They'd thought they'd gone far enough east and west. They thought they'd far--they'd--they'd gone far enough. And so they were going north and south--was the last communication. And somewhere, somehow, when the plane ran out of gas, they crashed into the sea.
What was the world's reaction?
The world's reaction was stunned amazement because she really had never had a problem before and they couldn't believe it. Her navigator was supposed to have been a very good navigator. He was a good navigator. Later, speculation has always centered on the fact that he might have been drinking because he had--did--he had an alcoholic past. However, Amelia was much too smart to have taken off with a--with a pilot that wasn't in--in shape. She was just too intelligent to do something like that.
Did you ask her sister Muriel about--what her reaction was when she lost her sister?
I didn't have to because she'd already put it down.
Had she written a book herself?
Yes. She's also written a book.
What was the toughest thing for you in doing this book?
The toughest thing. Cutting it down. I had so many more facts than I had room for.
Going to do another book?
I haven't decided. I'm still decompressing from Amelia.
Here's the cover of the book. It's called "East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart," and the author is Susan Butler. And we're out of time and we thank you.