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)"
02 November 2009

A Special Visitor to the Ruins of Pancho's Ranch

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In April of this year, a very special visitor was allowed through the high security gates of Edwards Air Force Base and given a VIP tour of the ruins of Pancho’s Rancho OroLassie Verde.  This special guest, a direct descendant of one of Pancho’s good friends, was allowed free run of the grounds.  That included sniffing the empty swimming pool, chasing jack rabbits through the brush, and possibly even urinating on  the ruins of the hotel.  Because you see, this special visitor was of the four-legged variety.  It was Laddie, one of a long line of collies descended from film and TV star Lassie. Bob Weatherwax, the son of Lassie’s original trainer Rudd Weatherwax, accompanied her on her special tour — along with Col. Jerry Gandy, the commander of the 95th Air Base Wing!

How is that Lassie and Pancho have a connection, you ask?  Well, as you may have gathered from reading James Farmer’s interview with Pancho, she herself was a Hollywood dog trainer at one point in her life.  It was only natural she’d get along terrifically with Weatherwax and “Bruce” — yes, that name “Lassie” was just as much a stage name as Alan Smithee.  In comments he made in the 1950’s,  Weatherwax said he would fly up to Pancho’s all the time because “the ranch was an ideal place for Bruce to rest from working under pressure, which dogs are just not used to.  The accommodations were good for me and Bruce.  There was plenty of room for Bruce to run and it was just an ideal set-up.”

Lassie2Dallas Morley, Pancho’s former head hostess who we interviewed for the documentary, became a special friend of Weatherwax and was invited down to Van Nuys to pick out a collie puppy.  “I had my little LaddieLassie3,” she told us, her face lighting up.  “He was the image of Lassie, only he was a puppy. Pancho said, ‘What do you want with that damn dog?  You’re gonna be spending all your time taking it out to piss.’ And I said, ‘No I won’t.’  So I started training him as soon as we got him home.”  Obedience was in the puppy’s blood, and it proved easy to train.  But the dog’s bloodline also attracted unwanted attention.  Dallas never saw it coming, but someone stole her beloved dog before it could ever make its own splash in Hollywood.

Once Pancho got embroiled in her lawsuit against the U.S. Government, she tried to play a trump card to attract media attention.  She subpoenaed Weatherwax and Lassie, and succeeded in having the dog’s trainer show up in court to promote the worth of the Rancho Oro Verde.   Lassie couldn’t make it to court however — she had a prior commitment at a television studio.

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