In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in The Other Boleyn Girl, The Spirit of St. Louis and Amelia.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
May 19, 1536. London, England.
We’re going under archways and there are tall, stone walls are on either side of us. Walking down stone stairs behind two uniformed guards are three women. One in the middle, two on either side behind her.
They walk to a courtyard where a large crowd is gathered. Despite its size, no one in the crowd is making any noise. It’s quiet as the guards lead the three women up a wooden staircase across from the stairs they just descended.
One of the women, Natalie Portman’s version of Anne Boleyn, stands before the crowd and speaks. She says she submits to the law. As for her offenses, God knows them and she beseeches God and Jesus to have mercy on her soul.
In the crowd watching is Anne’s sister, Mary. She’s played by Scarlett Johansson. A couple other guards walk over to Mary and hand her a piece of paper. Anne notices this and gasps slightly—she’s expecting this to be a pardon from the king or something that stops what is going to happen.
Mary unfolds the note and reads it.
Tears fill her eyes as she realizes there is no pardon contained within. She looks up at Anne, who immediately seems to know what her sister does: Nothing will stop this.
Anne cries and takes off her hood, cloak, and necklace.
The executioner places his hand on her shoulder, commanding her to her knees. She continues crying as the sword is placed on her neck. In a brisk movement, he pulls the sword back and the camera cuts to Mary as she winces from the noise of the slashing sword followed by a thud.
This depiction comes from the 2008 movie called The Other Boleyn Girl and it depicts the execution of Anne Boleyn, which took place this week in history on May 19th, 1536.
She was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, who annulled the marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, whom he had been married to for over 20 years. She was unable to have a son—at least not one that survived. She did have three sons in their marriage, but they all died through miscarriage, stillbirth and one through some unknown reason we don’t really know.
This didn’t make Henry happy, who started becoming enamored with the idea that the Bible was telling him if he were to marry his brother’s wife, she’d be childless. And Catherine was married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, first. But, Arthur died a year later and so Catherine was betrothed to Henry. Things seemed to be okay for a couple decades until Henry started to pressure the whole idea of having an heir.
We know Henry wasn’t faithful to Catherine at least once as he had one son with one of her ladies-in-waiting. That’s not a legitimate heir, though, and soon King Henry VIII was infatuated with another of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.
Oh, and we also know Anne’s sister that we see in the movie, Mary, was also one of Henry’s mistresses.
The Catholic Church refused to allow the king to divorce Catherine because there was no cause and divorce went against God’s will according to the Pope. When Anne got pregnant by Henry, he quickly married her in a secret ceremony anyway so the child would be a legitimate heir.
When Catherine refused to divorce him so he could acknowledge his marriage to Anne, Henry went on to instead divorced the whole of England from the Catholic Church to establish the Church of England with himself as the head of the Church.
As a little side note, this ushered in what we now know as the Reformation and a conflict between Catholics and Protestants that’d mean countless killed on either side as a result.
On May 23rd, 1533, Henry was able to get his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled on May 23rd, 1533—about five months after he married Anne Boleyn.
That marriage didn’t go so well, either, as Anne also didn’t give Henry the male heir he wanted. So, Henry charged Anne with conspiracy against the king, witchcraft, adultery, and even incest with her brother George.
With that historical context in frame, it’s probably not too big of a surprise that the movie is correct to show King Henry VIII did not grant a stay of execution. After all, he was the one who orchestrated it to begin with.
The movie was also correct to show her execution being done by sword instead of the traditional axe.
Oh, and that child Anne Boleyn had that sparked Henry’s marriage to her? That would end up being the only of Anne’s children to survive childhood. It was a daughter, Elizabeth. After Henry VIII died without a male heir, his half-brother became King Edward VI until he died and she became Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.
Exactly 32 years after Elizabeth’s mother was executed, Queen Elizabeth I arrested her own sister, the woman history remembers as Mary, Queen of Scots, in a move that would ultimately end in her execution.
If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn this week, check out the 2008 movie The Other Boleyn Girl. The execution takes place at the end at about an hour and 45 minutes into the movie.
Once you do that, we covered the historical accuracy of The Other Boleyn Girl back on episode #92 of Based on a True Story.
May 20, 1927. New York.
James Stewart’s version of Charles Lindbergh looks at the watch on his nightstand. Then, unable to sleep, he decides to turn the light on and get up. I guess if you can’t sleep anyway, might as well get some work done.
He splashes some water on his face. Benjamin Frank Mahoney, he’s played by Bartlett Robinson in the film, walks into the room. He asks Lindbergh what’s up, it’s not time yet. Lindbergh says it’s close enough. Mahoney asks if he got any sleep at all, to which Lindbergh just says he’ll be all right.
In the next shot, we see the two men checking out of their room and almost immediately they’re swarmed by reporters.
It’s too early in the morning for the sun to be up yet. It’s also raining as their car drives to the hangar. There, men are checking all the items. They can’t pack a parachute, it’s too heavy. The weight of that is about four gallons of gas and Lindbergh would rather have the gas. So, no parachute.
One of the men still doing final checks on the plane tells Lindbergh he hung up the magnetic compass in the best spot he could find so it’d swing less in the rough air. The only downside is that it’ll be right above Lindbergh’s head, so he’ll have to read it in a mirror. The only one of those he could find is a big, clunky one. Lindbergh says that’ll be too heavy, so he asks the others in the hangar if anyone has a small, pocket mirror.
From outside, one of the people in the crowd standing in the rain outside the hangar replies. Lindbergh invites the woman over to the plane where he lets her sit in the cockpit in exchange for her mirror.
She remarks how empty it is in there. He says they have the bare minimum to keep the weight down. She notices there’s no window in front, they should cut a hole to see. He explains the front is filled with gas for the trip, but he points to a little slot that he can look through to see ahead through a periscope like on a submarine.
Before she goes, he asks how long she’s been standing out there. She says she was standing out there all night. He asks if she’s from Long Island. Nope. New York? Nope. Where? She says she’s from Philadelphia.
“You came all the way from Philadelphia?” He asks.
She says she had to, you needed a mirror. Then, she rejoins the crowd watching in the rain outside. A weather report comes in and they’d recommend waiting until noon. Maybe another 24 hours, just to be safe.
Lindbergh goes outside. It’s not raining anymore, but it’s super foggy out there.
He goes back inside. “Let’s roll her out,” he says and the men in the hangar spring into action, rolling the airplane outside. Once there, the back of the plane is hooked up to a truck and it’s towed to the runway, followed by scores of other cars, trucks, motorcycles, and all the spectators on foot.
The rain has washed out the runway, so now the challenge will be whether he can get the plane off the ground before the runway runs out of room.
Getting in the plane, Lindbergh turns on the gas from inside the cockpit as a man manually spins the propeller.
The engine roars to life. It’s running 30 revolutions low, but they attribute it to the weather. It’s just damp air, nothing mechanical.
Lindbergh puts some cotton in his ears and then puts on a leather cap with goggles. He checks the flaps and looks through the periscope. Things seem to be okay. He turns to Mahoney, who is just outside the cockpit and says he might as well go.
They shake hands and Lindbergh takes off without incident despite the mud and a close call with the power lines and trees at the end of the runway.
This depiction comes from the 1957 film named after the airplane we see Jimmy Stewart’s version of Charles Lindbergh piloting: The Spirit of St. Louis.
It was this week in history, on May 20th, 1927, that Charles Lindbergh took off in New York for the flight that would make him the first human being to fly solo across the Atlantic.
Although there is more to the true story that we don’t see in the film’s sequence I just described.
For example, the “solo” bit of Lindbergh’s achievement is important because he was not the first to fly across the Atlantic nonstop. That would be two British pilots, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who flew from Newfoundland to Ireland in June of 1919. At just under 2,000 miles, or about 3,200 kilometers, Alcock and Brown’s trip was about half the distance of Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris.
So, that begs another question. Why from New York to Paris? Why those cities in particular when he could’ve made history as the first solo aviator to fly nonstop across the Atlantic while also flying a much shorter distance similar to Alcock and Brown.
Well, one of Lindbergh’s reasons for making the trip was to make history, of course, but it was also because of a $25,000 reward put up by a French businessman named Raymond Orteig who owned hotels in New York City. In 1919, he set up a prize of $25,000 for whoever could achieve the first non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
That’s about $434,000 in today’s U.S. dollars.
So, of course, Lindbergh was aware of the history he would be making, but he’d also be making a fair amount of money for himself and those who financed his trip.
The plane he used was built by Ryan Airlines in San Diego, which we see happening earlier in the film. They customized one of their M-2 planes for Lindbergh to allow for the weight of additional fuel and dubbed it the Ryan NYP for New York-Paris. It was powered by a J5-C engine from the Wright Brothers’ aircraft manufacturer.
Although Wilbur Wright wasn’t alive—he died in 1912—his brother, Orville, was alive and friendly with Charles Lindbergh. About a month after his historic flight, in June of 1927, Lindbergh went to Dayton, Ohio, to meet with Orville Wright at Wright Field. That’s where the U.S. Air Force’s headquarters are today.
As for the name of Lindbergh’s plane, that came thanks to his financiers who were in St. Louis. That was Lindbergh’s hometown at the time, where he was an airmail pilot.
That’s key to the story because it ties into something else we see in the film: The Spirit of St. Louis not having any front window.
Lindbergh’s experience as an airmail pilot meant he was used to flying with limited visibility. You see, mail planes back then used to carry the mail bags in the front with the pilot in the rear cockpit. So, Lindbergh was used to navigating by looking out the side of the cockpit.
Since Lindbergh didn’t have to look out the front of the plane, having a front window didn’t matter that much too him. What mattered more was being able to carry more fuel, so the movie was correct to show that instead of a front window there was, instead, fuel tanks in front.
Oh, and there really was a periscope in the plane, too. That was just in case Lindbergh needed to see out front, but we don’t really know if he used it at all.
The film was also correct to show the main compass in the plane being mounted in a location where Lindbergh needed to use a mirror to see it. In some of the final tests before taking off, Lindbergh noticed it was too difficult to see the compass.
So, it’s also true that they used a mirror from a woman’s makeup case mounted with chewing gum to help him see the compass.
The takeoff itself was shown fairly well in the movie too, all things considered.
It is true that the weather wasn’t great. And just like we see in the movie, Lindbergh himself had trouble sleeping the night before, so he was at the airfield by about 3:00 AM. He wasn’t the first to the field as spectators had started showing up overnight.
He’d hoped to take off sooner, but the rain delayed them some. At 7:51 AM on May 20th, Lindbergh’s plane started down the runway to the delight of the 500 or so people who showed up to the field to watch.
After some bouncing on the wet runway, Lindbergh managed to get the plane in the air and he was off!
And while we didn’t talk about this part of the film, it was also this week in history that Lindbergh successfully landed in Paris, France at 10:22 PM on May 21st, 1927. That was 33.5 hours and 3,610 miles, or about 5,800 kilometers, away from where he took off in New York.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 1957 film called The Spirit of St. Louis. The takeoff sequence starts with James Stewart’s version of Charles Lindbergh heading to the airfield on the early morning hours of May 20th at about 53 minutes into the film.
Oh, and as a fun little fact, James Stewart himself was also born on May 20th in the year 1908.
May 20, 1932. Teterboro, New Jersey.
Our next event this week takes place exactly five years after Lindbergh took off for his historic flight. This is yet another historic flight, too.
There’s a woman wearing a brown, leather flight suit walks around the silver propeller of an otherwise bright, red plane. There are a few other people, all men, who are looking over the plane as well. She walks away from the plane toward a bespectacled man wearing a fedora and a suit.
He asks if she’s still tired. She smiles, saying she’ll nap on the way. That’s the good thing about flying solo, no one else is there to make any noise. She chuckles lightly at her own joke.
He gives her $20, saying he spent the rest of the money on the ship’s ticket back. It’s non-refundable, so he begs her to please do her part. She smiles and makes the promise. Then, she walks back to the red plane and hops in the cockpit.
In the next shot, we can see the plane flying above the clouds. A full moon is peaking behind the clouds in the distance as it casts light on the foreground clouds making for a beautiful scene.
In the cockpit, Hilary Swank’s version of Amelia Earhart smiles as she takes in the view. Then, a look of concern crosses over her face as she sees the flashes of lightning in the clouds. Here comes the thunder and the rain. And now her propeller plane shakes and rattles as she coaxes it through the clouds of a strong thunderstorm.
She makes it back above the clouds for a moment of peace before there’s another challenge: Ice. Her windshield starts to ice up, forcing her down below the clouds. This, too, she makes it through as she guides the plane back above the clouds into clarity.
The camera cuts to the same bespectacled man from the airstrip. This is Richard Gere’s character, George Putnam. He’s listening to the radio, which is talking about a crowd gathering in Paris in anticipation of the historic moment when Amelia Earhart touches down where Lindbergh did years ago.
Back in the cockpit, Earhart is facing a new challenge now: Exhaustion. We can see she’s starting to doze off to sleep. After a moment, she wakes up with a jolt.
The sun is coming up now and she laughs as she sees the sprawling, green landscape unfolding in front of her. She touches down in a grassy field.
Getting out of the cockpit, the first person she sees is a man with a bunch of sheep. She asks the shepherd where she is. He says she’s landed in Gallagher’s pasture. Where were you heading?
She tells him she was aiming for Paris.
He gives her the bad news—well, you missed. Then, raising his cane, he points it off to the left side of the shot: It’s over there.
Amelia laughs and greets the sheep with a look of joy on her face.
Back in the United States, the phone rings and George Putnam answers. The voice on the other end says that she’s made it. She landed in Ireland. Jumping out of his chair, George cheers the good news.
This sequence comes from the 2009 movie simply called Amelia, and it depicts an event that really did happen this week in history: Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic.
Although there was no $25,000 prize money up for grabs since Lindbergh had already gotten that, so there was no need for Amelia Earhart to fly from New York to Paris.
As a little side note, Richard Gere’s character in the movie, George Putnam, was based on a real person. The real George Putnam was the one who published Charles Lindbergh’s autobiographical story of his 1927 flight. That was published in July of 1927, just a couple months after the trip itself, and in less than a year it had made over $250,000.
That’s over $4.3 million in today’s U.S. dollars.
That was also a big driver for Earhart’s flight, because Putnam suggested she follow in Lindbergh’s steps to make history of her own.
I’ll admit that’s a bit of an oversimplification because Putnam himself was actually contacted by a woman named Amy Phipps Guest who wanted to finance a woman to follow in Lindbergh’s path. She contacted him because of his work with Lindbergh on the book and Putnam found Amelia Earhart.
So, it’s not coincidental that Earhart was trying to get to Paris, too. The movie is correct to show that was her destination. Although she took off from Newfoundland, the original plan was for her to follow in Lindbergh’s path and land in Paris. However, icy conditions and bad weather blew her off course. So that’s why the movie was also correct to show her landing in a pasture in Ireland.
While Lindbergh’s flight took him over 33 hours, Earhart’s flight took less than half that time at about 15 hours. Of course, as we just learned, Earhart didn’t make it to Paris. So, part of the reason her flight wasn’t as long was because she landed in Ireland instead. That cut the distance to about 2,000 miles, or about 3,200 kilometers.
Nevertheless, it was a historic flight as it made Amelia Earhart the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic as well as just the second human to do so. No one else had done it in the five years since Lindbergh’s flight.
Five years after successfully becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart tried to set another record in 1937. She was trying to become the first woman to fly around the world. Sadly, this attempt was not successful and she disappeared along with her navigator, Fred Noonan. They were presumed dead two years later, although searches for exactly what happened to her continue to this day.
If you want to watch her taking off in the 2009 movie called Amelia, that sequence starts at about 42 minutes and 37 seconds into the film.