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.

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

Rankin Barnes' Relative Relates

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One of the fun things that happens when we show the film in Southern California, is that we invariably have people in the audience who knew Pancho, were guests at her ranch, or are somehow related to her or one of her good friends.  The daughter of Gen. Clarence Shoop, actress Pamela Susan Shoop (who played Karen in Halloween II), attended our premiere along with a direct descendent of Pancho's grandfather, musician James Lowe (frontman of the awesome 60's band Electric Prunes).  They both have interesting stories to share, and hopefully one day we can include some of their remarks and memorabilia in the Production Journal.

JaneMackCozzo2Meantime,  I just learned that one of the attendees of our screening at the Huntington Library was author (and frequent contributor to American Enterprise) Jane Mack-Cozzo.  Turns out Jane is also the niece of none other than Pancho's first husband Rev. Rankin Barnes.  Jane offered to share a few photos and memories of Rankin with me.  I think they provide some really wonderful insight into Pancho's "better half", and asked her permission to share them below.  Reading her comments by the way, makes it all that much more inconceiveable that Pancho was ever married to this fellow Rankin.  The only good thing about that match, as far as I can tell, is that they were both Episcopaleans and could therefore get divorced without too much hassle!

Now without further ado, comments from Jane Mack-Cozzo:

My earliest recollection of my uncle Rankin Barnes is of a rather distant, stiff man who always wore a clerical collar.  As a child, and on into adulthood, I never could warm up to him, perhaps because he never seemed to warm up to anyone --- except his second wife Kath.  When they were houseguests, my parents would throw a dinner party and he would always beam when she made her "entrance."

I remember that I was exhorted to NEVER mention to Pancho's name in his/their company.  In fact, so hush-hush was Pancho's role in his (previous) life that I was eight or nine at least before I realized who she was and what she had achieved and accomplished.

Conversation with Rankin around always seemed to me, even at a very early age, stilted and proscribed.  I had the feeling everyone could not let loose, be ribald, be unbuttoned.  There was a big difference in the general conversation when he was and was not present.

Through the years, my dad regaled me with tales of Pancho's daring-do, for example buzzing St James Church during services, etc.  This one particularly delighted me, as I thought it Rankin's just desserts.

He also told me of calling on Pancho when she was still living in South Pasadena/San Marino, and Ramon Navarro answering the door.

In my estimation, Rankin's ego was enormous:  he loved being the center of attention, and a couple of times arranged things to achieve that end.  Once by hustling my parents and me into a pew ahead of him at St. James Church, so that the rector would be sure and see him during the processional, and thus acknowledge him to the congregation.

The other time which sticks in my mind is at my first wedding.  My dad insisted that he officiated, and at the end of the service, after communion, he smilingly came forward to "help" me up from kneeling.  It struck me as phony and all for show.

Lest I appear too negative in my appraisal of him, I will say that he was extremely devoted to Kath, and my mom always credited him with saying to her when my dad and she were married, "Welcome to the family."

Photos: (top) Rankin Barnes (on right) poses with Jane Mack-Cozzo's father and "Uncle Stan", and (bottom) Rankin Barnes poses with Jane Mack-Cozzo's father (who actually looks a lot like Billy Barnes!). Photos courtesy Jane Mack-Cozzo.

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