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'Airplane!' Actress Talks About Becoming a Meme Following United Fiasco

By Nicole Levy | April 12, 2017 9:29am
 A screengrab from the
A screengrab from the "Airplane!" meme making the rounds following the United incident.
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Actress and Upper West Sider Lee Bryant wasn't expecting the barrage of emails, text messages and phone calls she received from friends Monday and Tuesday, after news broke that a United Airlines passenger was forcibly removed from his overbooked flight on Sunday.

Decades after her starring role in the iconic "slap scene" from the 1980 comedy "Airplane!" — in which a terrified Mrs. Hammen is shaken and slapped by a series of airplane passengers — each more preposterously unsuited to violently calm her fears than the last — found new life in an online meme this week — when it was overlaid with the text "United Airlines Training Video."

While the incident that sparked the meme's creation struck her as "absurd" and "horrendous," she said, adding that the security officer who dragged the passenger down the aisle appeared "out of control," she still thinks the "Airplane!" scene remains hilarious.

”It was great fun to do in the first place and it’s still funny, it still works," Bryant, 71, who continues to act while running her 20-year-old interior design business on West 78th Street, told DNAinfo New York. “It’s just be funny to be part of it."

Bryant takes credit for the slaps: the original script called for shaking, but the actress approached directors Jim Abrahams and David Zucker with the idea to elevate the physical comedy a step beyond while shooting, she recalled.

"I said the classic thing is that the hysterical person gets slapped. How about we do that? And get somebody else like a nun to come in that you wouldn’t expect?"

But she said the scene is also a little close to home — as she has a United flight to Los Angeles booked for May 2.

Asked whether she'd boycott the airline, Bryant said she didn't know.

Lee Bryant in 2012 (Credit: Patrick McMullan)

This isn't United's first public relations crisis in the last few weeks. 

In late March, the airline incited an angry furor on social media after barring two legging-clad teenage girls from boarding a flight for violating the company's dress-code policy

"The leggings incident, with kids for heaven’s sake!" Bryant recalled. "I can’t imagine what their stock is doing now."

United stock did indeed take a hit Tuesday, dropping 1.13 percent in value on the New York Stock Exchange since the previous day