Powder Puff Pilots

By Marian Partee, Noelle Donfeld, and Cindy O'Connor


Photo by Sandra Cortez

In the summer of 1929, Will Rogers hosts the first Women’s National Air Derby, a dangerous cross-country race. Exuberant Marvel Crosson participates for the pure joy of flying; strong-minded Louise Thaden wants to maintain her first place status; foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking heiress Pancho Barnes loves a good adventure, and surprisingly insecure Amelia Earhart longs to prove that she is worthy of her fame.
The aviatrixes are eager to achieve equality in the air with their male counterparts, and as an extension, in society as a whole. That goal is threatened before the derby begins, when the race manager, Frank Copeland, informs the pilots that they must each be accompanied by a male mechanic. The race sponsors are nervous because one pilot received an unsigned telegram that warned of sabotage. Angry at the officials’ condescension, the women demand to fly solo, or not at all.
Various pilots experience mishaps along the racing route, causing them to fear that their planes have been sabotaged. Blanche Noyes has a fire in her cockpit. Thea Rasche has engine trouble and finds debris in her gas tank. Louise Thaden nearly faints due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Claire Fahy’s wing wires snap, and she believes that someone poured acid on them. Her husband convinces her to withdraw from the race.
When Marvel Crosson is discovered dead near the wreckage of her plane, the aviatrixes–and the nation–are stunned. The sponsors call for the cancellation of the race. In light of the tragedy, the pilots must decide whether they will keep risking their lives to blaze the trail of women in the skies.

“Powder Puff Pilots” was presented as part of the 2nd Annual UC/Irvine Festival of New Musicals, as a concert reading for Stages Festival in North Hollywood, and as a workshop production at High Tech High, Los Angeles.  A selection was workshopped at Broadway Theatre Project in Tampa Florida.

Web site:  “Powder Puff Pilots” musical – Bing
  1. www.powderpuffpilotsmusical.com/#!/events


LOUISE THADEN, (Lead Female, Soprano, 23) Ambitious pilot from Arkansas

AMELIA EARHART, (Lead Female, Soprano, 32) Famous, insecure pilot determined to arrive first acros the finish line

MARVEL CROSSON, (Lead Female, Mezzo Soprano) Enthusiastic professional pilot from Alaska

FLORENCE “PANCHO” BARNES, (Lead Female, Alto, 28) Foul-mouthed heiress who drinks and smokes a cigar

BOBBI TROUT, (Supporting Female, Mezzo Soprano, 23) Looks like a teenage boy, buoyant demeanor, mechanic who operates a filling station

RUTH ELDER, (Supporting Female, Soprano, 26) Sexy, snobby star of the sky and screen

PHOEBE OMLIE, (Supporting Female, Soprano, 26) Thrill seeker, queen of aerial stunts, walks with a cane

OPAL KUNZ, (Supporting Female, 33) Sophisticated New York socialite and outspoken feminist

EDITH FOLTZ, (Supporting Female, Mezzo Soprano, 24) Hip fashion designer and mother

VERA DAWN WALKER, (Supporting Female, Soprano, 32) Tiny Texan with a sharp tongue

BLANCHE NOYES, (Supporting Female, 29) An actress, novice to flying

CLAIRE FAHY, (Supporting Female, 30) Insecure about flying without her husband/instructor

GLADYS O’DONNELL, (Supporting Female, 25) New to fight but a fierce competitor, down-to-earth, wants to start a flying school

THEA RASCHE, (Supporting Female, 30) Stalwart German aerobatic pilot

WILL ROGERS, (Lead Male, Baritone, 50) Cherokee-American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, radio personality, journalist

FRANK COPELAND, (Supporting Male, 30) Race manager, supportive and protective of the aviatrixes

MAN 1 (Supporting Male, Tenor, 30s) Plays Joe Crosson (Marvel’s protective brother, a pilot) / Cliffe Clark (schmaltzy singer) / Photographer / Erle P. Haliburton (pompous oilman)

Man 2 (Supporting Male, Baritone,30s) Plays G.P. Putnam (Amelia’s opportunistic manager) / Herb Thadan (Louise’s supportive husband) / Mechanic (dismissive chauvinist)

Man 3 (Supporting Male, Baritone, 30s) Plays Herbert Fahy (Claire’s overly protective husband) / Emory Bronte (Marvel’s fiancé) / Sheriff (ignorant redneck) / Photographer


For a video of I’m Not Coming Down at UCI:


Selected Music

Prologue. Louise, Marvel and Amelia reveal how they first aspired to fly.
Things Will Never Be the Same Again. Will Rogers announces the start of the race and a new world for female fliers’ husbands.
I Sat. Amelia Earhart complains that she was not allowed to actually fly over the Atlantic.
The Aviatrixes are all determined to come in first.
Pancho instructs the others on preparing for an unexpected landing in Mexico.
Sabotage. As continual problems are found on the planes, the ladies suspect sabotage.
A Woman Never Listens. Will Rogers continues to advise his fellow men.
I Am Up. Marvel leads the women on continuing the race despite problems.
Also Ran. Bobbie Trout crashes but is determined to continue the race.
Phoebe crashes and is mistakenly arrested as a drug smuggler.
Visions. Marvel is overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Power in Numbers. Pilots realize their potential in the aviation industry.