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)"
30 August 2009

Huntington Library Event a Huge Success!

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The presentation at the Huntington Library was one of the best so far.  That's not surprising, considering that San Marino and adjacent Pasadena are where Pancho Barnes spent her childhood and much of her adult life.  Still, it was hard not to be impressed by the crowd, which began forming over an hour and a half before our presentation was scheduled to start (photo at left). As the crowd grew, our host Dan Lewis began to express a hint of nervousness.  There were only 200 chairs in place in the Friends of the Huntington Auditorium, and the catering service had only arranged for coffee,  tea and cookies for 50.  In the end, Dan cancelled the food and drinks, and his staff made a mad scramble for more chairs.  By the time all was said and done, the auditorium was filled to overflow as about 400 people showed up.  We finally shut the doors and turned away visitors, lest we run afoul of the fire Huntington2marshall.

It was a very special evening, and the audience really connected with the portion of the film we showed which focused on Pancho's childhood and upbringing.  There were especially loud hoots and laughter regarding Pancho's husband Reverend Rankin Barnes.  The crowd was, shall we say, uniquely well equipped to understand how remarkable it was that a woman could have rejected the trappings of refinement and ended up getting her hands covered in oil and av gas.

Joining us at the Huntington was our special guest Mike Salazar (seen in the middle of the photo below), one of the guardians of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate.  Mike, who also has had a long career as an architect, spoke a bit about some of the local structures and homes affiliated with Pancho and the Lowe and Dobbins families.  The Q&A session went on for a long 45 minutes, and might have gone on longer had we been Huntington3allotted more time.

At the end of the evening, a clearly pleased Dan Lewis expressed that he'd like us to return to do another presentation down the line, and show the film in its entirety.  We're ready to do it, so stay tuned!

Special thanks to Steve Demory for the photos.

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