Picks and Pans Review: The American Experience: Amelia Earhart

UPDATED 11/01/1993 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/01/1993 at 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Oct. 27, 9 p.m. ET)

A

This hour documentary about the great aviator, whose plane went down in the Pacific in 1937, is an astute, rather depressing study of the making of a modern celebrity. Before she found national fame in 1928, as the first female passenger on a transatlantic flight, Earhart kept a scrapbook about other women making breakthroughs; she drove a cement truck part-time to pay for flying lessons. But after her 1932 solo flight across the ocean, she joined the ranks of Lindberghian heroes, and Earhart seems to have been swallowed in a PR machine manned by publisher-promoter G.P Putnam, who became her husband. Her life became a series of stunts, lectures, books and appearances. Earhart probably never lost her love of planes (as reflected in early poetry read by narrator Kathy Bates), but by the time she undertook her fatal, round-the-equator flight, her piloting skills had grown rusty, and her preparations were inadequate—she never learned to work her plane's radio. She comes across as courageous and thick—"pathologically optimistic," as one old navigator puts it. The show is worth watching.

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