Spreading Her Wings in Class : Education: Reports have put spotlight on actress who inspires students by portraying Amelia Earhart.


It may be a case of art refusing to imitate life, but impersonator Pamela Matson told students at Amelia Earhart High School on Tuesday that she is not yet ready to incorporate the latest theory about the famed aviator's disappearance into her one-woman show.

"I still think she ran out of gas" and crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1937, Matson told about 40 students at the continuation high school who gathered to see Matson's performance as Earhart.

Matson's appearance at the school in North Hollywood, near where Earhart lived in 1935, was planned as part of Women's History Month, but it drew added attention because of the declaration this week by a researcher that he had discovered pieces of her airplane and shoe on a Pacific atoll.

The researcher, Richard Gillespie, said the finds show that Earhart landed safely on Nikumaroro Island and died there after food and water ran out.

If confirmed, the theory would solve one of the most popular historical puzzles of the century--the fate of Earhart, who vanished over the Pacific with her navigator, Fred Noonan, while attempting a round-the-world flight. New theories have popped up regularly, including the thoughts that she was captured by the Japanese military because she was on a spy mission for the United States and that she had not died at all but was living in the United States under a new identity.

Gillespie's evidence commanded widespread attention but some historians expressed doubts about it and those doubts were echoed by Matson, a 37-year-old special-education teacher in Hollywood. She said she would like to see more proof, including larger pieces of the aircraft, before she incorporates Gillespie's version into her performance.

Students didn't seem to care either way about the new flurry of speculation over the aviation pioneer. They seemed fascinated by the mystery and by what Earhart accomplished.

"If you have a dream, set your sights high," Matson urged the group, which included teen-age mothers, and students with past drug problems.

"It was really good," Leila Saghi, 17, of North Hollywood said of the performance. "You look just like her," a male student told Matson, whose auburn hair is close-cropped in a style similar to Earhart's and who wore a brown aviator jacket for her show.

Matson said she has long been fascinated by Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California.

Matson first worked up an impression of Earhart for a college acting class in Boston. In its present state, the performance consists of a free-form narrative in Earhart's words, combined with a lecture touching on the highlights of her life.

Matson lit a candle to show "the spirit of Amelia Earhart is alive," then began reciting and swaying back and forth like an airplane in a high wind.

"All of the world passed beneath us," she said. "I shall be glad when the hazards of navigation are behind us."

At one point, she threw a paper airplane into the audience. Quoting Earhart, she said: "Times are changing. A girl must believe completely in herself. A woman must do the same job better than a man to get credit for it."

She stood on a chair and waved, simulating the departure on her last flight.

"Please know that I am quite aware of the hazards" of flying, she said, quoting Earhart. "Someday I will get bumped off. When I go, I would like to go in my plane, quickly."

She finished the performance with her head down in silence. Matson said that allows listeners to find their own ending for Earhart's tale. "I leave it up to your imagination," she said.

Asked what they had learned, one student said, "be rebellious," showing that he perhaps had grasped only part of the lesson from Earhart's story. Teacher Mersedeh Vahdat was determined to emphasize the other half, that rebelliousness must go hand in hand with hard work to achieve success.

"There will be a quiz tomorrow about Amelia Earhart," she shouted as the students filed out.

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