Iconic Female Aviator’s Story Coming To Scranton Stage For Cultural Center Benefit Show
Most people know the name Amelia Earhart and of the status she holds in the pantheon of aviation legends. Now, playwright Nancy Hasty looks to shine a brighter light on one of Earhardt’s contemporaries, aviatrix Jackie Cochran.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, Hasty will present her one-woman show, “The Flight of Jackie Cochran,” in Shopland Hall on the fourth floor of Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7. Proceeds will benefit the cultural center for its building restoration and operational costs.
Hasty called Cochran’s accomplishments “just incredible.”
“She still holds more records than any male or female in the history of aviation … but what drew me to it were her many contradictions and the fact that there were so many stories about her upbringing that she deliberately kept mysterious,” Hasty said by phone from Florida, where she has a home.
“It was fascinating to me that you would pick up different biographies … and you would read five or six interpretations of one event in her life,” Hasty continued. “And so it became a quest for me to find out what might be true.”
Like Cochran, Hasty is a Florida panhandle native, but the playwright has spent a lot of time in Scranton, where she met and married her husband. Hasty taught local students through the Arts Alive program and was a resident artist here. Today, she splits her time between Florida and New York, where she has produced her plays both on and off-Broadway.
Putting together the show about Cochran has taken some time, Hasty said, but “it’s been a fascinating process.” She found out about the pilot about four years ago when a friend mentioned that Cochran hailed from the Florida town where Hasty lives.
“I googled her right on the spot, and I went, ‘Oh my,’” Hasty recalled.
During World War II, Cochran commanded the Women Airforce Service Pilots, aka the WASPs. She also holds the distinction of being the first woman to break the sound barrier, take off and land on an air craft carrier, and fly not only a bomber but also a jet over an ocean. Her fame brought her friendships with celebrities and also led her to found a cosmetics company, Wings to Beauty, and lecture at Harvard University.
As her fame rose though, Cochran hid her past, such as when she claimed to be an orphan even though she had a family. Her family later published a book about her, “Superwoman Jacqueline Cochran: Family Memories about the Famous Pilot, Patriot, Wife & Businesswoman.”
And other accounts note that Cochran made as many enemies as she did friends, Hasty said.
“She did not take ‘no’ for an answer. ... She was just this relentless, determined, aggressive (woman), but whatever she had in the negative arena, she had just as much in the positive,” Hasty said. “She was fearless.”
Hasty questioned why people have not heard of Cochran and why she is not the person who comes to mind when people think of airplanes and pilots.
“She had a zest about her, even though she was famous for slamming doors on the way out, even for presidents,” Hasty said. “She was a handful, and I think her persona is something audiences sit on the edge of their seats about because they don’t know what she’s going to do.”
Although they originally had a competitive relationship, Earhart and Cochran were close friends, Hasty said, and Cochran always lamented the legend’s death.
“I don’t think the world gives a lot of women the same fame the way men have,” Hasty said. “You can look back and see a lot of people in aviation — male … pilots and test pilots and pilots in wars and all that — but there’s not a lot of room to put a woman on the pedestal.”
As a result, Cochran “fell by the wayside,” Hasty added, but the pilot mentioned to an acquaintance that she knew her time would come after her death. Hasty said that in talkbacks she has done after performing the show, very few people raise their hands to say they have heard of Cochran, and usually they are of a certain generation or veterans.
“Most people have not heard of her, and yet when they leave, they’re like, ‘Why haven’t I heard of her?’” Hasty said.
Hasty originally set out writing for a full cast, but she soon realized “her life was too vast, she was too busy, (and) there were too many people” to make such a show manageable.
“She packed a lot in, and if I were to try to do it on the stage, you would need a cast of 150, or each character would have to come on (and) off. ... But as a one-woman (show), I can become any of them at any time, and I can go back and forth in time, and I can change thoughts on a dime,” Hasty said. “So my intention was to put it all out there and, more than anything, have people leave talking about her.”
Hasty called the pilot “larger than life” and noted that “the most important thing that’s happened over the past two years is I’ve allowed myself to take that on and to appear on the stage 100 percent Jackie, because you don’t do that lightly.”
While she prepares to bring one of her previous plays, “The Director,” to Broadway, Hasty continues to take Cochran’s story across the country with the end goal of it ending up in New York, too.
“When I feel that I am ready, I will find a theater, and I will invite producers, and I will show it to them,” she said. “That’s how I’ve gotten my plays moved forward (before).”
Hasty said she was so fascinated with Cochran, and she just wants to remind the world about the pilot.
“When I talk to people afterwards, one of the strongest, most consistent remarks that come through were, ’I was afraid of her. I hated her at the beginning, but by the end, I loved her,” Hasty said.
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If you go
What: “The Flight of
When: Saturday, Feb. 23, 7 p.m.; doors open at 6
Where: Shopland Hall, fourth floor, Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Details: Tickets cost $50 and include a post-show reception with hors d’oeuvres, drinks and a cash bar for mixed drinks. All proceeds benefit the cultural center for its building restoration and operational costs. Tickets are for general admission seats (first-come, first-served). The show runs about two hours with one intermission.