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.

Information Sign up

Sign up to be on our mailing list for updates.


Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"
13 February 2009

A Title and a Poster ... for a Legend

Print Email

Those of you who have been tracking our production through the course of the many months it has taken, know that our film never really had a title. We originally referred to it as the “Pancho Barnes Documentary Project” or the “Pancho Barnes Film”. In fact, our original web address, www.PanchoBarnesFilm.com, reflected the fact that we really didn’t know what we wanted to call our film! Suggested titles ranged from “A Woman Called Pancho” (too blah) to “The Happy Bottom Riding Club” (already the name of a book – and besides, our story is about Pancho’s whole life, not just her time as a hotelier) to “Pancho Barnes!” (nice, but not that intriguing).

In the end, after a long debate, Amanda Pope and I agreed that there could be no better title than one our friend, musician Russ McDaniel suggested: “The Legend of Pancho Barnes." We've expanded it slightly for effect, to "The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club”. It’s a title that, as we’ve lived with it for a little while, seems more and more appropriate. Because not only is Pancho a legendary figure, but she did everything she could during her lifetime to position herself that way.

We've learned that, if Pancho saw a way to garner publicity, or help spread a shocking rumor about herself, she generally took it! We’ve grown accustomed to hearing some crazy stories as we meet people at presentations, about how Pancho did this, did that, said this, and said that. Some of these stories are true, but many of them are – how shall we put it? -- a little hard to believe. One aspect of our film, is that early on we realized it was going to be hard to distinguish fact from fiction when it came to Pancho. So, we embraced that aspect of her character. As Jimmy Stewart’s character says in that wonderful John Ford movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, sometimes you have to “print the legend”. (Of course, it is our responsibility as documentarians not to mislead anyone ... so we tried to make it fairly obvious where we scratched the historical record.)

For a film about a legend, we sought out the artistic talents of Joe Jones. Joe, who is well known in the aviation community for his stellar renderings of classic airplanes, seemed to be the perfect choice as art director for our film. Little did we realize how much enthusiasm Joe had for Pancho! Within just a few weeks of contacting him, Joe had a rough sketch of a poster ready for review. When Amanda and I opened the PDF file on our computers, we were blown away. Clearly, Joe understood the heart of our film and the spirit of Pancho. The poster, which had an appropriate vintage look, clearly exuded Pancho’s toughness and swagger. Front and center in the image is Pancho and her famous Mystery Ship, in which she set a women’s air speed record. Above the title graphic, zooms Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1. The poster thus neatly evokes Pancho’s role in two important eras of aviation: the Golden Age of Flight in the 20’s and 30’s, and the early jet and rocket plane era of the 40’s and 50’s.

The finished piece, which took Joe several weeks of painstaking work, has finally been delivered. It is something to behold, an eye-catching reverie that has been getting rave reviews. Joe’s design for our main titles and text graphics have also been warmly received. Well done Joe, and don’t let Hollywood go to your head! Joe’s poster art and our new title inspired us to make a big change, on that you’ll be seeing very soon as our newly redesigned website debuts. Look for it, along with a new promotional trailer, soon! For more information about Joe and see some of his amazing creations, visit his website, click here

Facebook Box

You Can Help

Your tax-deductible donation can help make "The Legend of Pancho Barnes!" a reality.


News Letter

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