Amelia Earhart is a 1976 American three-hour made-for-television biographical film starring Susan Clark and John Forsythe and directed by George Schaefer. Unlike more recent depictions of Earhart's life, this film makes an attempt to cover her entire life from her childhood on a Kansas farm, her nursing during World War I, an early boyfriend, employment at a Boston children's orphanage, her interest and exploits in aviation, her marriage to publisher G.P. Putnam and her famous disappearance in 1937.
In 1907, when Amelia Earhart was nine years old growing up on a Kansas farm, she was an intelligent, precocious child and builds a play aircraft with her sister "Pidge". Later, as America enters World War I in 1917, Amelia is a college student, working in a doctor's office. She decides to join the war effort and become a nurse. One night on the roof of her building, while on break with a coworker, she sees an aircraft which re-sparks her childhood interest in aviation. In 1921, young Earhart (Susan Clark) has her first training flight, with female flight instructor, Neta Snook (Susan Oliver). That same year she buys her first aircraft, a Kinner "Canary" with the blessing of her father(Charles Aidman) who has become a chronic alcoholic. In 1924, she and her mother (Jane Wyatt) drive from coast to coast, Los Angeles to Boston, in an open roadster, arguing some of the way. In Boston Earhart has an off-and-on relationship with a young man and later goes to work in a children's orphanage. What little money she saves subsidizes her flying.
In 1928, while in employ at the orphanage, Earhart is invited to become the first woman ever to fly the Atlantic in an aircraft, the Fokker "Friendship", albeit as a passenger, while pilot Wilmer Stultz (Jack Colvin) and copilot Lou Gordon (Steve Kanaly) are at the controls. That same year she flies her Avro Avian biplane in a coast-to-coast, stop-and-go flight where some southern locals recognize her from the transatlantic Friendship flight. Her marriage to media tycoon George Palmer Putnam (John Forsythe) and a series of record-breaking flights, propel her to international fame as a long-distance flyer. Despite her open and frequently strained relationship with Putnam, she develops a close relationship with his son David (Lance Kerwin). With help from a close friend and adviser, Paul Mantz (Stephen Macht), Earhart plans her longest flight ever, a round-the-world attempt in 1937. The disappearance of Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan (Bill Vint) during the last stage of the flight, leads to a massive search effort that eventually proves fruitless, but solidifies Earhart as an aviation icon.
As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):
The film dramatized Earhart's life, but "refuses to speculate on the cause of Ms. Earhart's disappearance during a round-the-world trip in 1937"; however despite the lack of speculation "the clues that do exist are presented in full". Mainly staying close to the historical record, one departure is portraying stunt pilot Paul Mantz as her "purported lover", a long-standing rumor that has never been substantiated. Sobieski's screenplay drew on "her own experiences as a licensed pilot".
Principal photography took place at Camarillo Airport, California, with aerial sequences flown by well-known aerobatic pilot Art Scholl and Frank Tallman, owner of Tallmantz Aviation, a company primarily involved in flying for film and television production. A de Havilland Moth appeared in place of the Avro Avian that Earhart had purchased in England. A Lockheed 12A (S/N 1204), was featured as Earhart's famed Lockheed Model 10 Electra, used in the circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937.
Interest in the story of Amelia Earhart, especially with the release of Amelia (2009) led film reviewers to recall the earlier Earhart portrayals. Rosalind Russell had played "an Earhart-esque flier in 1943's Flight for Freedom" and Diane Keaton starred in the 1994 TNT movie Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight. Susan Clark's performance compared favorably among the Earhart movies.
Amelia Earhart was nominated for a 1977 Emmy awards with William H. Tuntke (art director) and Richard Friedman (set decorator) nominated for Outstanding Art Direction or Scenic Design for a Dramatic Special; both Susan Clark and Susan Oliver were nominated for their work in the category of Actress in a Drama or Comedy Special, Clark for Outstanding Lead Actress and Oliver for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress. The production was also nominated for the 1977 Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture Made for TV.
Amelia Earhart was screened at the AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI FEST salutes the television movie), June 18–July 2, 1992.