Thursday, November 30, 2023

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)"
22 December 2006

Aviatrix Books to Read and Enjoy

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I've been doing a lot of reading for the Pancho project! It's a lot of fun to immerse yourself in books, and periodically in the production journal I'll write a little review. To come in the next couple months will be mention of books about Bob Hoover, Chuck Yeager, Roscoe Turner, Bobbi Trout, and other friends of Pancho. Today let me mention the book "Jackie Cochran" by Maryann Bucknum Brinley and Jackie herself. Some may think it is sacrilege to mention Jackie C. and Pancho in the same context — the two notoriously didn't like one another! But it is hard not to compare the two. Jackie learned to fly a few years after Pancho did, in 1932, but her career lasted far longer and had a far greater impact than Pancho's. She was the first woman to fly at Mach 1, winner of the Bendix Trophy, fifteen Harmon trophies, president of the 99's, and the organizer and commander of WWII's Women's Air Service Pilots, the W.A.S.Ps. She was arguably the most illustrious female flier of the 20th Century.

Jackie's story is similar in some ways to Pancho's. Both women were absolutely fearless in the air, and both craved speed. While Pancho worked as a motion picture stunt pilot and set speed records in her Travelair Mystery Ship, Cochrane competed in air races around the country, flew in the grueling MacRobertson London-to-Australia endurance race, and tested aircraft for the likes of Sasha Seversky, founder of Republic. They shared many friends in common, including Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle and Hap Arnold. According to friends we interviewed, Pancho and Jackie competed for Yeager's attention in particular. Cochran believed Pancho was "the most uncouth woman alive" according to Gen. Fred Ascani, who got to witness the rare event of the two being in the same room, on the occasion of a party celebrating Cochran's breaking the sound barrier. For Pancho's part, the attractive, accomplished Cochran must have brought out her competitive spirit. What's interesting, and you'll get this if you read the Brinley book, is the subtext that underscored the relationship between the two. Pancho came from an extremely wealthy family and flew for the thrill of it. Her wild, outsized behaviour shocked many of her blueblood friends and her family, and made her an outsider. She ended her life fairly impoverished, her wealth gone, forced out of high society in part because of her love of flying and antics. For Jackie's part, she came from nothing. Adopted as a child, she grew up dirt poor, and strived her whole life to succeed, and to do so with finesse and polish. From a start as a beautician, she became enormously successful as a business person and pilot, a friend of presidents and generals who came to be accepted into high society. The arc of her life, in short, was the opposite of Pancho's. From that standpoint alone, no wonder these two did not get along.

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