Before she was a celebrity you may have known for her roles in TV series like ‘The Leftovers’, ‘The Blacklist’, and ‘Manhattan’, or for films like ‘Black Swan’, ‘Bridesmaids’, or ‘Warm Bodies’, or even for her last year’s role as the President of the United States in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, the actress was a pilot. She was born in San Francisco and was raised in Los Angeles. Here’s her story.
A beloved heroine of countless films and television shows is now inspiring people across the globe with her adventures as a high-flying human billboard.
As the name implies, an aerialist is a performer who performs feats of balance and strength while suspended from cables, wires, or a trapeze, called aerialists. In the early 1900s, a considerable number of circus performers began to perform in and travel around the world from the air. One of the first aerialists to become popular worldwide was Charles Blondin, who in his lifetime performed 7,000 times in 14 countries.Susan Oliver overcame her fear of flying to become the second woman to fly solo from New York to Europe in a single-engine plane.
When Susan Oliver was murdered on the 28th. When her Aero Commander 200 landed in Copenhagen in September 1967, she was treated like Hollywood royalty. Photographers, journalists and local dignitaries gathered around her, two Scandinavian Airlines flight attendants presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a Los Angeles radio host called in to interview her live. But like a scene from a spy novel, their arrival was accompanied by an ominous note. A representative of the Soviet airline Aeroflot told Oliver that it had arrived too late to make the final leg of its journey.
Oliver, a popular television and film actress, was attempting to become the first woman to fly from New York to Moscow. She departed LaGuardia Airport on September 21 and completed the first stages of her journey in record time. She received permission to fly to the Soviet Union, but training delays, aircraft modifications and weather caused her to miss her scheduled arrival time. Wiederholte Appelle an die sowjetische Botschaft änderten nichts: The flight was over.
Oliver was born Charlotte Gehrke in 1932 and was already a famous actress at the time of her escape to Moscow. She starred in the 1957 film The Green-Eyed Blonde (although she had blue eyes) and appeared in dozens of episodes on television.
At the end of her European trip, in early 1959, she boarded a Pan American Airlines Boeing 707 to return to the United States. Then, somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, there was a sudden roar, as if the plane had hit an air pocket, and with a sudden jolt we began to fall, tumbling violently, Oliver wrote in his autobiography Odyssey, published in 1983: A daring transatlantic voyage.
While the captain of the plane was talking to VIPs in the first-class cabin, the autopilot stopped and the first officer, who was distracted by other things, did not notice. The aircraft turned quickly from 35 000 to 6 000 feet before the captain returned to the cockpit and they overcame the drop. Oliver returned to New York to witness the cleanup near LaGuardia, where the Lockheed L-188 Electra had just crashed into the East River, killing 65 of the 73 people on board, and to learn that rocker Buddy Holly had died in a plane crash that same day. She gave up flying and turned down the acting jobs she would get through the air.
Oliver played Vin in the original pilot of the Star Trek television series. (CBS via Getty Images)
A hypnotist helped her overcome her fear, however, and after flying over Los Angeles in a private plane in early 1964, Mrs. Oliver paid $625 for flying lessons. She appeared in October of the same year, just before she landed what may be her most famous acting role. In the pilot of the original Star Trek television series, she played Vina, an Earth woman who took on many forms, including that of a green-skinned dancing Orion slave.
After obtaining her private pilot’s license, Oliver worked to obtain her commercial and instrument pilot’s licenses, which she earned in 1966. Always on my way to the local airport when I was filming or going to promotional events, she wrote. My diary began to fill with places like Coonamessett, Atlantic City, Victoria, British Columbia, Mexico City, and Niagara Falls.
In 1966, she finished second in the Reno Celebrity Air Race. She also survived the crash of a Piper Cub flown by her boyfriend. And in 1967 she decided to make the crossing between New York and Moscow.
Oliver chose the Aero Commander 200 because of her experience with it for the Easter Seals advertising campaign in early 1967, and because she preferred the simplicity of a single-engine aircraft. The company’s sponsor added an extra fuel tank in the back seat and new avionics for demanding flights over water. She hid a life raft and oxygen tank on board, learned to navigate and Russian, and turned to a psychic (who promised her success).
Oliver was preparing to fly with his friend Mira Slovak, a pilot and seaplane pilot who had defected from Czechoslovakia in 1953 with the DC-3 airliner he was piloting. Mais juste avant le vol prévu, il lui a dit qu’elle n’était pas prête pour une telle épreuve (elle n’avait que 480 heures de vol au départ de New York), et ils se sont séparés. She had a feeling, she had feelings about it, but she didn’t have the experience, and the Atlantic needs a lot of experience, Slovak said in a 2014 documentary about Oliver the Green Girl.
Oliver’s journey took them to Goose Bay (Canada), Narsarsuaq (Greenland), Keflavik (Iceland), Prestwick (Scotland) and ended in Copenhagen. At Goose Bay, she stayed at the air base and slept in the same room where Charles Lindbergh had stayed. She faced the most difficult landing and ascent in Greenland, at the bottom of a long fjord and with a low ceiling that forced her to spiral upward on a narrow parachute until she could break through the clouds. And his wings began to discolor on the last leg of his flight to Scotland.
Oliver (left) polishes a Piper Comanche during the 1970 Powder Puff Derby. (NinetyNines.org)
When Oliver arrived in Copenhagen and became the second woman to fly alone from New York to Europe, she still hoped to make it to Moscow. She contacted the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., before her trip and was assured that there would be no problems. However, during her two visits to the Copenhagen embassy, she was not even granted an audience. No one in this other sad, gray country will even tell me why I can’t let my beautiful blue bird fly in her private garden, she wrote.
While Oliver’s journey was over, his aviation career was not. In 1970, she won the Powder Puff Derby in a Piper Comanche. She was also the first woman to be trained to fly a Learjet and she even flew it on several charter flights.
Oliver later obtained his glider license (and flew it in an episode of American Athlete in 1973), received an honorary doctorate in aeronautical engineering from Embry-Riddle University, and received his only Emmy nomination for his role as Amelia Earhart’s instructor in the TV movie. Oliver passed his final medical exam in 1976 and shortly thereafter left the Air Force to pursue other ventures, including an attempt to become a filmmaker. She died in 1990 at the age of 58 after losing her battle with cancer.
This article was published in the May 2023 issue of Aviation History magazine. Sign up today!On June 15, 1993, Richard Dean Anderson, the star of the television show MacGyver, shot a trailer in Malibu Canyon and landed his old Piper Cherokee airplane on the rocks below. After getting out of the plane and helping stranded hikers, Anderson and his pilot were roughed up by the Hollywood hooligans who had been driving by. The next day, Anderson decided to return to the canyon to help more stranded hikers. This time, he was prepared, having taken lessons in how to fly the plane himself, and he wasn’t thrown in jail for an attempted stunt.. Read more about blonde actresses in their 50s and let us know what you think.
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