Sunday, May 6, 2012

Play honors flying ace Jackie Cochran

This may be a good play - but what a rotten title - Jinxed. Sounds kind of whiny. Why not The Stars at Noon. Or Amelia and Jackie: The Pilot's Story. Something that is somehow evocative of aviation!

From Play honors flying ace Jackie Cochran
Two months before the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's disappearance, a Rancho Mirage company is helping to launch a play about how the aviatrix's final journey impacted desert icon Jackie Cochran.

Titled “Jinxed,” the play will get a staged reading Saturday by the Script2Stage2Screen performing arts arm of the Unitarian Universalist Church at the Indian Wells Theater at Cal State San Bernardino's Palm Desert campus.

New York playwright Stacey Luftig said she titled her play “Jinxed” after reading in Doris Rich's 2007 biography, “Jackie Cochran: Pilot in the Fastest Lane,” that Cochran felt jinxed while competing with Earhart for recognition as America's greatest female pilot.

“She was in race after race and something would always go wrong,” Luftig said in an interview at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. “It wasn't until a few weeks after Amelia's disappearance that Jackie started making world records.

“It was kind of like a passing of the torch and I started thinking, why did her jinx lift then?”

Cochran, who died in Indio in 1980 at age 74, met Earhart at a party in 1935. Shortly after Earhart's disappearance, Luftig said Cochran began setting aviation records. A year later, she won her first of five Harmon trophies as the outstanding female pilot.

She's buried in the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery and the Thermal airport is named after her.

Luftig, who has had plays and operettas produced across the nation, hadn't heard of Cochran before attending a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts retreat in 1999.

The poet Enid Shomer was compiling a book of poems about Cochran, titled “Stars At Noon,” and Luftig was so moved, she and Shomer began adapting them into monologues at the next year's retreat.

When that didn't work, she began researching a play on Cochran.

The first draft, completed in 2003, was 130 pages long with 30 characters.

“When I started to research Jackie, I felt there was enough material for a mini-series,” she said. “This is a woman who met Orville and Wilbur Wright and was also involved in setting up an astronaut training program for women (while) the first astronaut program for men was happening. She was involved in aviation for the bulk of the 20th century. She was a test pilot. She was a champion of aviation medicine. This is a woman who ended up with more speed, distance and altitude records than anyone — male or female. It's extraordinary.”

This will be the play's fourth reading. It was a 2011 O'Neill Playwright's Conference finalist and audience favorite at the Dayton Playhouse FutureFest last October. Burt Peachy of Script2Stage2Screen read Luftig's manuscript at the Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha last summer. The veteran director had met Cochran in 1955 and made a deal to do a reading of the play in the desert.

Darci Daniels will read the Cochran part and Bonnie Gilgallon will play Earhart. Luftig said she'd like to find a regional theater company to produce the script's first full-length performance.

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