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)"
14 November 2009

History Surfaces One Image at a Time

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It's always a lot of fun to present the film at various venues, but especially in Southern California where sometimes we meet people who knew Pancho, or are somehow related to her story.  It's also interesting to see what surfaces at some of these screenings (and sometimes in our email in-box).  Case in point, aviation history enthusiast Philip Dockter attended a recent screening at Flabob Airport, and showed up with this marvelous photo of Pancho Barnes having a get-together at hePancho_at_Laguna1r house in Laguna Beach.  The scene is shot near her "infinity" swimming pool situated on a cliff facing the ocean (see left side of photo).  "I got this from Beverly Bittle, who was the niece of a racing pilot and test pilot for Douglas Aircraft back in the 1930's named Dave Elemendorf," Philip explained in a recent email.  "Dave's wife Helen (Long) was a movie actress and a very pretty young gal when she married Dave in 1932. She had a very interesting story, she must have known a lot of Hollywood types and went to many Hollywood parties as she was a good look'in gal. I was interested in what Helen had from her film career, so Beverly let me copy some neat photos, that is where the Pancho photo came from."  I'm not exactly sure which one Helen is in the photo -- possibly the woman on the right side?  Philip if you are reading this, please let me know!

LowesAnother neat photo surfaced at our Palm Springs screening, which was attended by a woman named Myrna Jeanne Reichert.  It turns out that she is the great, great granddaughter of Pembroke C.S. Lowe, the brother of Pancho's grandfather Thaddeus (who is shown sitting on the right side of the image).  "We believe the photo was taken about 1890-1900," she wrote to me recently.  "The notes on the back of the photo, which was passed down through our family, indicate the man standing in teh center is older brother Percival Green Lowe (1829-1908).  We think the gentleman seated on the left is younger brother Pembroke C.S. Lowe (1834-1907) but it could also be brother Oscar Lowe (who died in 1908)."  This is one we'll have to refer to resident Lowe expert Michael Patris, who doubtless will have an answer.  Michael?

Another great one comes to us from Mike Story, who sent us an email and a couple of attachments.  One of them is a wondeful photo of Pancho and her hostesses.  This photo is well known to us, and can be found in the collection of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate, but Mike was able to add a little information on it since it turns out he knew two of the women in the photo, Vi Ryburn and Big Dottie.  His mother was a "mainstay" at Pancho's, and best friends with Vi.  "I lived at Oro Verde, the Happy Bottom for 1 1/2 years in the late forties when my Mom was one of the cocktail waitresses at the famous bar there,”staff_copy he wrote.  “She was known as ‘Big Red'.  I have great memories of that time.  Then-Major Chuck Yeager took me up for my first flight in a Navion (a Navy test plane).  I first learned to swim in Pancho's round pool. I also remember several wild parties as an 8-year-old. I went on to become a pilot in 1968. I knew Pancho & Mac very well. In fact Pancho let me think 'Happy' (her horse) was mine!  Pancho taught me how to ride bareback as well. I used to take Happy to the round pool for a drink of water.”

Neat Mike, thanks to you and everyone else for sharing their photos and their stories!

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