Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Emmy™Award-Winning Documentary Film

"Broadcast" version now airing on most public television stations.

"Uncensored" version now on DVD and in film festivals.

Synopsis: A charismatic figure featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, Florence "Pancho" Barnes was one of the most important women in 20th Century aviation. A tough and fearless aviatrix, Pancho was a rival of Amelia Earhart's who made a name for herself as Hollywood's first female stunt pilot. Just before WWII she opened a ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that became a famous -- some would say notorious -- hangout for test pilots and movie stars. Known as the "Happy Bottom Riding Club", it became the epicenter of the aviation world during the early jet age. Chuck Yeager celebrated breaking the sound barrier there in 1947, and Howard Hughes and Jimmy Doolittle caroused in the bar. The Club's destruction by fire in 1953 is seen by many to mark the end of a Golden Era in post-WWII aviation. In the same fashion Pancho herself has become something of a legend, a fascinating yet enigmatic icon whose swagger is often celebrated, but whose story has been largely unknown. Until now.

A documentary film produced and written by Nick Spark and directed by Amanda Pope. Featuring interviews with test pilots Bob Cardenas, Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and biographers Barbara Schultz and Lauren Kessler. Narrated by Tom Skerritt with Kathy Bates as the voice of Pancho Barnes.

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Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"
16 December 2007

Happy Bottom Head Hostess Tells All !

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Dallas Morley may be her name, but she's known far and wide as "Dazzlin' Dallas". A resident of Pioneertown, California since 1949, Dallas played the piano and entertained at the Red Dog Saloon for nearly twenty years. "I was called, and I am known as, 'The Bitch of the Red Dog'," she says with a laugh, her bright eyes darting out from under her cowboy hat. A wonderful character with a keen smile and a fearless, tough attitude, Dallas is a consummate performer -- something we saw the second we turned on our lights and video camera. "I hope you are getting my good side," she said to director Amanda Pope. "Is my make-up reflecting at all?"

Way back when, Dallas worked for Pancho, and became the head hostess of the Happy Bottom Riding Club. Imagine that!

The way she ended up working for Pancho is a neat story. "What happened is that I was flat-ass broke and didn't have any place to go," she relates. "A couple of guys took me over there and bought me a meal. I practically inhaled that. That night I played the piano and we had a lot of fun. The next day, I heard Pancho talking on the phone, that they were going to have a rodeo and needed help. So I hit the old gal up for a job."

"[Pancho] didn't like too many people," Dallas continues with a laugh. "The only reason she liked me, was cuz I'd cuss her out when she'd cuss me. She liked that! She'd laugh, and get a big kick out of it, cuz she'd start cussing me and I'd just stand there and give it back to her. That's why I was head hostess!"

Photo (above): Hostess Mary Charles plays piano at Pancho's wedding to her fourth husband, Mac. Pancho's friend, comedian Vince Barnett, listens in. Photo (below): Pancho poses with her famous hostesses. Sadly, Dallas isn't in this photo...but you get the idea. They had more curves than the Indy 500...

Dallas' responsibilities as head hostess were myriad. She'd serve drinks and food to the guests, sometimes work at the ranch, play the piano and sing, and oversee the other girls. "There weren't any rules," she says, "Just, be nice to the customers and serve the drinks and serve dinners. Some of them had to be waitresses, some of 'em did other things. I had a couple of girls used to work out in the fields, harvesting grain and hay. They all had different duties. But at night-time we all dressed up pretty, and went in and danced and sang and carried on and had fun."

Of course, as head hostess, Dallas was tasked with hiring other girls, and keeping keep them in line. Finding girls to work at such an isolated ranch could be challenge, and initially was difficult. But Dallas hit on a solution. "Well, I went down to L.A., and got an old photographer that had been up at the ranch, Andy Anderson. I asked him if he had some nude models who wanted a paid vacation. I needed six, and twelve of 'em showed up. So, I just picked out the prettiest ones and took 'em with me."

While getting the girls was easy, keeping them in line was another story, especially when sexy test pilots and movie stars were guests at the HBRC. "One time we had Dennis O'Keefe and John Payne filming Passage West. I ended up being the cook, for the whole movie company. I worked until 2 o'clock in the morning, slept about an hour, and had a 5 o'clock call to get breakfast for that whole movie company. And wouldn't you know it, I couldn't find one girl to help me?! Movie struck bitches! They'd all ended up with the movie people."

Despite what that comment might imply, Dallas is quick to deny any implication that Pancho's hostesses were prostitutes. "I laid down the law," she quips. "It was called a 'cat house', and it wasn't. So, I was the head cat, and knocked [that reputation] down."

Working at Pancho's involved long hours, with very little time off. At one point, Barnes put on a rodeo that lasted three days, and Dallas was on duty for every moment of it. "I was carting trays of drinks out around the swimming pool, and out in the yard," she remembers. "And one of the fellas said, 'Dallas, sit down and let me buy you a drink.' I said, 'Honey, if I ever sit down, I'll never get up.' He did go get me a drink, but I stood up to have it. Cuz if I'd ever sat down I'd never get up again. I was so tired." She pauses, and then adds, "Every bit of it was fun. I never begrudged a minute of it. By the time the three days were over with, we'd be shot. We'd dig out chairs, and broken glass, and drinks, and clothes and everything else out of the swimming pool."

Yet, while work at Pancho's was always action-packed, busy, and full of excitement, it could be a bit of a downer, too. Dallas became friends with many of the test pilots who frequented the place. Sadly, a number of them were killed in flying accidents. "Joe Wolfe (a test pilot who flew the XF-92 delta wing aircraft) was a little kid. Oh, he mighta been 17 or 18, something like that," says Dallas somberly. "And 'Wheaties' Welch - he was the heir to the Wheaties cereal company. He killed himself (flying a YF-100A in 1954). And Buddy Pole (sp?), he was a cute guy too." Dallas learned not to get too close to the test pilots, unless she wanted to get hurt. And, she remembered the most important principle she'd learned in entertainment. "The show must go on," she says. "Nothing to do. They were gone. The other people were alive. That was Pancho's idea too. Cater to the living."

Photo (above): Dallas poses with test pilot Chuck Yeager. Pancho is behind him, and her husband Mac is on the far right..

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The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club ©2008-2010 Nick Spark Productions, LLC.