LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was a clear spring day in 1937 when Amelia Earhart, ready to make history by flying around the world, brought her personal photographer to a small Southern California airport to document the journey's beginning.
Al Bresnik took dozens of still photos, including a few that have likely been seen by millions. His brother John, who tagged along, made a very dark, grainy 3.5-minute home movie almost nobody saw — until now.
The film, "Amelia Earhart's Last Photo Shoot," is being released this month by The Paragon Agency publishing house, along with an 80-page book of the same name that documents a journey that ended tragically short of the finish line when Earhart's plane vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
A downloadable copy of the film is being provided to those who buy the book. Paragon publisher Doug Westfall said he eventually plans to donate the fragile original given to him by John Bresnik's son to an archive or museum.
The film, taken with a 16-millimeter camera, sat on a shelf in his father's office for more than 50 years until his death in 1992, said Bresnik's son, also named John. After that, it sat in the younger man's home in Escondido, California, for about 20 more years.
Amelia Earhart's life and career
Film taken before Amelia Earhart's last flight surfaces
(Original Caption) Amelia Earhart, 27, who plans to hop to England with Wilmer Stultz. Amelia seated in aircraft.
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Located in front of the 1860 home where Amelia Earhart was born in 1897
(Original Caption) Washington, D. C.: Famous Aviatrix Gives Views To Air Crash Committee On American Aviation Needs. Amelia Earhart Putnam appeared before the Senate Aircraft Accident on Friday to outline what was in her opinion the outstanding needs of American Aviation for the prevention of accidents. Left to right: Senator Royal Copeland and Miss Earhart. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
7/7/1937-Los Angeles, CA-ORIGINAL CAPTION READS: here is one of the last pictures made of Amelia Earhart, missing with her navigator in the mid-Pacific. The picture was made as she completed preparations for her ill-fated flight. Photo shows Earhart seated and staring to her left.
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), American Aviation Pioneer, Portrait, 1937. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Amelia Earhart in Hawaii. Honolulu, Hawaii: Tea in Hawaii for Amelia Earhart, famous aviatrix, after a day's flying, shortly before she took off on her sensational solo hop across the Pacific to Oakland, California. As she took refreshments in a Honolulu home where she was a guest.
The reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, is pictured in this October 1937 photograph released on March 21, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, saying fresh evidence from the remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of renowned Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Executive Director Ric Gillespie said that new analysis of the photo appeared to show what could be the undercarriage of a Lockheed Electra airplane such as the one that Earhart was flying, emerging from a reef. The anomaly on the reef that could be wreckage is on the left between the beach and the open water. REUTERS/TIGHAR/Eric Bevington/TIGHAR/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
(Original Caption) 'Free Air' as long as she can stay aloft in trans-ocean flying for Amelia Earhart, but if forced down she was prepared for the worst with this tiny rubber lifeboat. The famed aviatrix demonstrated it before taking for the East from Los Angeles 'to see it would have worked.' Inflated by a tiny cylinder, the boat has to be kept pumped up by hand.
American aviator Amelia Earhart smiles May 22, 1932 upon arriving in London, England having become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic alone. Carlene Mendieta, who is trying to recreate Earhart's 1928 record as the first woman to fly across the US and back again, left Rye, NY on September 5, 2001. Earhart (1898 - 1937) disappeared without trace over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. (Photo by Getty Images)
Close-up view of an aircraft fuselage skin that is claimed to belong to famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart's plane as shown during a press conference in Washington on March 16, 1992. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery claims that the skin and other items including a woman's shoe prove conclusively that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan perished on the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro while on the final leg of a round-the-world flight in 1937. REUTERS/Mike Theiler BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
The patch is shown on the plane under this yellow arrow. (TIGHAR)
This patch, found on a remote Pacific Island by researchers with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, is believed to have come from Earhart's plane Electra. (TIGHAR)
The shredded patch being held up against a reproduction of where on the plane it would have fit. (TIGHAR)
The patch covered the special window denoted at the back of the plane. (TIGHAR)
(Image courtesy of: Miami Herald)
Renowned U.S. pilot Amelia Earhart is pictured in this 1928 photograph released on March 20, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Earhart, saying fresh evidence from a remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A close-up view of what scientists say could be the undercarriage of a Lockheed Electra airplane is pictured at the reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, in this October 1937 photograph released on March 21, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, saying fresh evidence from the remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Executive Director Ric Gillespie said that new analysis of the photo appeared to show what could be the undercarriage of the aircraft such as the one that Earhart was flying, emerging from the reef. REUTERS/TIGHAR/Eric Bevington/TIGHAR/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS QUALITY FROM SOURCE
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Miss Amelia Earhart, the American airwoman, who is missing on the last and longest stage of her world flight. It is feared she has been forced down in the Pacific. With her navigator, Captain Noonan, she was making for Howland Island, but is now many hours overdue. (Photo from stock) (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
circa 1935: American aviator Amelia Earhart (1898 - 1937), the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, decorated with leis during her visit to Honolulu, Hawaii. Earhart had arrived by ship. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) A Pardoned Trespass. Culmore, Londonderry, Northern Ireland: No admonitions were forthcoming when Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam landed on a private field at Culmore, Londonderry, Ireland, completing her flight from Newfoundland across the Atlantic. Here's Amelia (center) with Miss Gallagher (holding child) and the Misses Burns, after she had descended from her plane on the field owned by Miss Gallagher.
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST, 1929: Amelia Earhart speaks on radio during the Cleveland National Air Races. Earhart flew a prototype helicopter plane during the races. (Photo by Louis Van Oeyen/Western Reserve Historical Society/Getty Images)
June 1931: American aviator Amelia Earhart (1898 - 1937) climbs into the cockpit of her airplane at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, just before embarking on a trip to California. (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)
American aviator Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1837) leans out the window of the train engine with the engineer and a conductor during a trip from Pittsburgh to Altoona, Pennsylvania, August 1928. Earhart had recently become the first woman to be on a non-stop transatlantic flight. (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)
20th June 1928: US aviator Amelia Earhart (1898 - 1937), and Captain Raleigh on the roof of the Hyde Park Hotel, London, after she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, from Newfoundland to Wales (on 17th June 1928). (Photo by Hewerdine/London Express/Getty Images)
394033 03: (FILE PHOTO) Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called 'Friendship' in Newfoundland. Carlene Mendieta, who is trying to recreate Earhart's 1928 record as the first woman to fly across the US and back again, left Rye, NY on September 5, 2001. Earhart (1898 - 1937) disappeared without trace over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. (Photo by Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Miss Amelia Earhart--the Girl Lindy--of Medford, Massachusetts, as she appeared in 1918 when she graduated from the Ogontz School--a prep school at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Miss Earhart is the first licensed woman pilot in the United States and aside from her flying ability, her marked resemblance to Colonel Lindbergh in face and figure has been noted. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
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"I didn't even know what was on the film until my dad died and I took it home and watched it," Bresnik said recently. "It just always sat it in a plain box on a shelf in his office, and on the outside it said, 'Amelia Earhart, Burbank Airport, 1937.'"
He can't say with certainty that his father took the film, although he knows his uncle didn't because he's in it.
So is Earhart, looking jaunty and more playful than the public persona she sometimes projected. Dressed in a smart pantsuit rather than her standard flight jacket, she shows people around the plane, clambers on top to pose for still photos and occasionally grins broadly, something she rarely did in her official photos.
"It shows a more feminine side of her," says Nicole Swinford, who wrote the accompanying book.
Like all things Earhart, it comes with controversy.
Richard Gillespie, executive director of the International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery, said the film is obviously authentic, but he believes it was taken in March 1937 and not in May, as Swinford concludes.
It was in March that Earhart made her first attempt to become the first woman to circle Earth when she left from California. She only got as far as Hawaii, where she crashed her twin-engine Electra L-10E on takeoff and had to have it shipped home for repairs.
"You can tell from the way the airplane's configured," said Gillespie who has studied Earhart for nearly 30 years. "The airplane as shown in the film is very clearly the pre-repaired airplane."
Whatever the date of the photo shoot, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, left what's now known as Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on May 21, 1937, for a second try, this time heading east. Gillespie doubts there was a photo shoot before that flight because she left quietly that time.
Earhart and Noonan were about two-thirds through their journey when they left New Guinea on July 2 for Howland Island, a tiny speck of land in the Pacific, midway between Australia and Hawaii. In one of her last radio transmissions, the pilot said she thought they were near but couldn't see the island and were low on fuel.
The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart was one of the most recognizable celebrities of her time, and Westfall acknowledged that plenty of people may have taken her photo during stops on that trip.
But this appears to be the final film heralding her departure from California on the first leg of what would be her final flight.
"Then she left us forever," Westfall said.
This story has been corrected to show that the spelling of the Pacific island Earhart was heading to is Howland Island, not Howell Island.