Monday, July 22, 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)"
11 June 2009

Transitions in 2009

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Rumor has it that we’ll be doing a very big premiere event for the film here in Los Angeles on September 10th.  You may want to mark your calendar!  

While we expect to see a lot of good friends at our premiere, we know for a fact that two of the most important people won’t be there.  We learned back in February that Pancho’s ranch manager Tony King, passed away at age 92.  And just last month, Pancho’s piano player and head hostess Dallas Morley, moved on to the big dance hall in the sky.  Both of these people appear in the film, and will be sadly missed.  They were two of our favorite people, and audience favorites to boot, because they told it like it was and didn’t mince words about Pancho and their tempestuous friendships with her.

Tony KingInterviewing both of these crusty, time-worn individuals was memorable in and of itself.  Tony King lived out on a ranch out in the Mojave with his wife Betty, not that far from where Pancho’d lived and, in the end, where she’d died.  Surrounded by cactus, sage, Chihuahuas and his beloved horses, Tony lived the life of a rancher, as he’d done his whole time on earth.  We interviewed him in his kitchen, where he sat wearing a cowboy hat and boots, and a grin a mile wide – an appearance produced by the fact that he had just a few permanent teeth left in his mouth and his dentures were out on order.  He had us in stitches as he described some of the things he witnessed at Pancho’s ranch, but he was also reflective as well.  Pancho’d pretty much raised Tony from the time he was a boy, and probably was the person most responsible for teaching him to read and write.  (See October 24, 2007 Production Journal).  He said he owed her nearly everything he had.

While Tony was happy to share his life story with us, Dallas Morley was another matter.  The self proclaimed “Bitch of the Red Dog” – the Red Dallas MorleyDog Saloon was where she headlined as a piano player – Dallas had an attitude thick as gravy and about as dark.  We caught up with her at her house in Pioneertown, where she was holed up in bed after a nasty fall.  That might have put some people in a poor mood, but not Dallas.  Despite barely being able to walk, she dressed up for our interview in her best duds, and put on her performer’s make-up and her special hat as well.  But while she invited various questions, and was happy to reflect on her life at Pancho’s ranch, she made no secret of the fact that some things she’d rather not discuss.  Old, dead and gone test pilot boy friends was one, and scandal was another.  At a couple of moments, she just about beat up Amanda with her retorts to these questions, although in a way that let you know she was just having fun.  “Pancho used to cuss me out, and I’d just throw it back at her,” Dallas said in our interview.  “I’d cuss her out like she’d cuss me, and she’d laugh.  That’s why I was head hostess.”  Indeed!  (See December 16, 2007 Production Journal). 

While we can’t help the disappointing fact we finished the film after these two people are gone, there is one item we can take solace in.  Which is that our editor, Monique Zavistovski, was able to use some of the material from Dallas and Tony’s interviews to make a memorial segment for the two of them that will show up on our DVD. 

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