Thursday, May 23, 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)"
31 July 2009

Presentation at the Huntington Library August 12th

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What: Special Presentation at the Huntington Library

When: The evening of August 12th, at 7 p.m. in the Friend's Hall

Where:The Huntington Library 1151 Oxford Road  San Marino, CA  91108

More details: Read below!

Although it was not incorporated until the 1910s, the area we now know as San Marino was an exclusive and affluent city even in the late 19th Century.  By the time that Florence Lowe Dobbins – later in life “Pancho” Barnes – was born, San Marino was home to many powerful and wealthy people.  Her parents were representative of that class.  Her father Thaddeus Lowe Jr. was the son of Thaddeus Lowe (shown in newspaper at right), whose inventions revolutionized the natural gas industry, and who later built the Mt. Lowe Railway and helped found CalTech.  Her mother Florence Mae Dobbins’ father Richard was a Philadelphia blue blood, and an architect of some note.  No wonder the Lowe-Dobbins union was widely celebrated in the society pages. One of their wedding presents, courtesy of Florence’s mother, was a modest house in San Marino.  It would later be replaced by something more in keeping with the family’s status: a thirty-five-room mansion on South Garfield Avenue complete with servants’ quarters.

Some of the families the Lowes and Dobbins rubbed elbows with back in the day included George S. Patton, Sr., whose grandfather was governor of Virginia and whose son became famous as Major General George S. Patton, Jr.    Another would have been the Huntingtons, who controlled a rather large part of Los Angeles’ Pacific Electric  trolley system.  They may have been neighbors, but they were also rivals in business.  Henry Huntington apparently played a role in undermining the Mt. Lowe Railway’s business, and after Thaddeus Lowe went bankrupt in 1902, his company took it over.   The loss of the railway, and of Thaddeus Lowe’s personal fortune, signaled the beginning of a long decline in the family’s social standing.  
MtLowe(Photo at left: A postcard of the great incline portion of the Mt. Lowe Railway, one of the most popular attractions in early 1900's Los Angeles.)

During the Great Depression, Pancho sold her family mansion for $5500, and used the proceeds to help improve a ranch she’d bought in the Mojave Desert -- land that would later become the Happy Bottom Riding Club.  The decrepit mansion was later demolished.  Just a few years later in 1938, the Mt. Lowe Railway was abandoned and slowly disappeared.  Even Henry Huntington’s Pacific Electric trolley system was dissolved, a victim of conspiracy in the late 1940’s. 

Fortunately for us, Henry Huntington’s substantial mansion and gardens remain in San Marino, visited by tourists and scholars the world over.  (In fact I visited it about eighteen months ago, in order to look at materials related to the Lowe family.)  It is a living monument not only to the Huntington family, but to a by-gone era, one that includes the Lowes, Pattons, and Dobbins.   

Which is a rather long way of getting around to the fact, that we’ve been invited to San Marino to do a presentation about the documentary.  On August 12th, at  7 p.m., join Amanda Pope and I at the Friend’s Hall at the Huntington Library.  We’ll be showing a portion of the film, and giving a presentation about the project and one of San Marino’s favorite daughters, Florence “Pancho” Barnes. Dr. Lou D'Elia of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate will also be in attendance as our special guest.    For directions click here.

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