Saturday, April 10, 2021

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

Photographically, my dear Watson.

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Delmar Watson comes from a special family. So special, in fact, that they have their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! The Watsons, as it happens, have special DNA that has a camera lens and shutter in between the base pairs. You see, nearly every Watson for a generation was a photographer. The photo you see at right shows the Watsons — including his five brothers and his uncle — in action. It's hard to believe, but for a time this group of people with the same last name were photographers for the L.A. Times, Daily News and the Herald Express and other papers now defunct. Delmar's uncle George had the foresight to compile all the photos shot by this illustrious group of relatives, and they've ended up in the Delmar Watson Photographic Archive. It's one of the largest photo archives in private hands in California if not the U.S.A., and it virtually chronicles the history of Los Angeles.

Delmar Watson runs this business, located in Hollywood just two blocks from the family star. He spends his days helping people like me find photos of people, places and things, and at night he does lectures and slideshows on favorite subjects including Babe Ruth. The day I visited he was preparing to do a Shirley Temple tribute. All in an average day for this 80+ wonder! I visited the Watson archive at the suggestion of librarian Carolyn Cole. "Sure", Delmar told me on the phone, "I have a few pictures of Pancho Barnes. I've been waiting for you to call. Where have you been these last fifty years?" That last bit was with a laugh — because when you have a collection of tens of thousands of photos you never know who might ask for what. Every phone call or email is an opportunity to share your wealth.

In the end, I came away from the Watson archive with three nice photos of Pancho, two of which I'd never seen before. The one shown here features Bobbi Trout on the left, and I think that's Gladys O'Donnell (identified by our super production assistant Pam Dotson) in the middle. Note the cigarette in Pancho's right hand and her beret, which features the "Betsy Ross Corps" insignia.

Anyway, my wife when she saw this photo commented that the style shown by these three is marvelous, and it really is!! Look at those jodphurs and string ties. Ralph Lauren catalog covers have nothing on this photo!

Delmar Watson and his wife and co-archivist Antoinette listened to me tell a few stories about Pancho, and then shared a few dozen about his extraordinary life. In 1946, he became a United Press photographer in Los Angeles. After two years, he joined the Mirror-News where he was a staff photographer for 10 years. In 1958, he entered the commercial photography business with his brothers... Needless to say, he saw history as it happened through the finder of a Speed Graphic. He photographed celebrities, Presidents, and America's favorite dog, Lassie. Life Magazine gave him a award in the 1950's and he's got a heap of them from all sorts of organizations elsewhere in the office.

If you're interested in visiting the archive, the best place to start is on their website, here

Follow up: Antoinette informs me via email that Delmar notes that he doesn't have tens of thousands of photos as I indicated...but two million. Well...if a picture is worth a thousand words...

Bob Hoover, Meet Pancho Barnes Part II

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Continuing our discussion with the Gentleman of Flight Bob Hoover, director Amanda Pope turned to the story of the X-1 program. As I mentioned earlier, Hoover flew as back-up pilot for Chuck Yeager during the sound barrier attempt. Notably, neither Yeager nor Hoover was initially thought of for the job. Rather, civilian test pilots hired by Bell Aircraft would do the deed. That is, until they began commanding premium prices for what they regarded as very risky trips into the stratosphere. The presence of civilian and military test pilots (who were paid nowhere near the same amount of money) under the same roof led to natural rivalries. "Well, there were a lot of civilian test pilots who had never been in combat, most of them hadn’t," recalls Hoover. "And they would stand around and [talk]. They were expecting to go faster than sound before the X-1 program. And it turns out that one day I heard Gene May bragging about how much flying time he had. And he said, 'How much flying time do you have?' And I said, 'Well I don’t really know but it’s a pretty fair amount.' And he said, 'Well I’ve got over 10 thousand hours.' And I said, 'Well Mr. May I don’t know how much good that’s going to do you. How much jet time do you have?' And he said,'Oh, not very much.' And I said,'I don’t think all that prop time’s going to do you much good when you are chasing for the supersonic record. And that ended that conversation.' And there was another fellow by the name of Slick Goodlin. And he would show up and oh boy he thought of himself. And he asked for 150 thousand dollars to do the job. And they felt if they would just be nice to him, maybe he would share some of his experience [with us]. And he wouldn’t even speak to us. He said, 'How much money you gonna pay me to talk with me?' And we said we’re not going pay anything, thank you very much. We thought you were a test pilot that did all the rest, we’d know. And that was the end of the conversation. I never spoke to him again - never saw him again."

According to several different sources, one day Pancho overheard one of the civilian test pilots — possibly Gene May — criticizing Hoover and Yeager's flying abilities, suggesting that there was no chance the two could break the sound barrier. Allegedly Pancho strutted over and added this classic two cents: "Yeager and Hoover could fly up your asshole, tickle your left eyeball, and fly out and you'd have no idea what happened except that you were farting shockwaves."

Amanda Pope asked Hoover to repeat this famous bit of business in the interview, but ever the polite rascal — rarely do foul words emerge from the lips of the Gentleman of Flight — he slyly smiled and decined. "Yes, I remember saying that very well," he commented. "But well, she said so many things..."

(Photo at right: Bob Hoover in 1958, preparing for another round of flight tests. Courtesy Edwards Air Force Base History Office.)

Bob Hoover, Meet Pancho Barnes !

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Before there was a "Production Journal" for the website, we conducted a series of interviews with some of the legends of aviation who were friends of Pancho. This includes astronaut Buzz Aldrin, W.A.S.P. Babe Story, and test pilots Chuck Yeager, Bob Cardenas, and the "gentleman of the air" Bob Hoover. As time permits, we'll revisit some of these interviews.

According to his best friend Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover is "the greatest pilot I ever saw". A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross in WWII, he was Yeager's back-up pilot on the X-1 program, a test pilot for North American, and is known throughout the world as an aerobatic pilot. Back when he met Pancho in 1947 at MUROC (later Edwards AFB), Hoover had just missed his chance to be primary pilot of the X-1. You see, as a favor to a fellow pilot who wanted to impress his family, Bob had buzzed the Springfield, Ohio airport in his P-80 upside down. The idea was that the family and friends would think that Bob was actually this other pilot, and the ruse nearly worked except that some smarty from the Civil Aviation Authority wrote down his plane's tail numbers. Bob was busted, and as punishment Col. Al Boyd demoted him from primary pilot on the X-1, to backup!

The way Bob met Pancho was, well, remarkable. Yeager took his buddy to the Happy Bottom Riding Club and, as a courtesy, he went over to the door of Pancho's house and knocked. Pancho answered, and opened the door. That's when Bob's mouth fell open, because Pancho was practically nude! Just as he was recovering from the shock, she opened her mouth.

"I was in for the surprise of my life," says Bob, "because I’d never been around a woman that spoke as she spoke. And I mean she was outspoken and you just can’t imagine that a woman would talk like that. I mean worse than any man you’ve ever heard!"

Soon enough, Pancho and Bob were good friends. When Pancho heard that Bob had punched out of an F-84 during a test flight, she and Yeager rushed to the hospital. It was a moment Hoover would never forget. Here he was lying in bed, jaw broken, with two shattered legs, and in shock, when Pancho and Yeager burst into his room. "Pancho was was wearing a long black coat and she said ‘how you doing?’ And I said I've never hurt this bad in my life," he remembers. "And she said ‘those dumb f-ing doctors, they don’t know a thing about pain.’ And so she pulled a bottle of booze out of her coat — down this deep pocket — and she opened it up and said ‘take a slug of this.’ And I was lying down you know, being raised up like this and she - I took a little sip and she said ‘gotta take more than that.’ She then took a slug and passed it to Chuck. He took a big slug and then ... Pancho grabbed the bottle and she said ‘I want to see some bubbles come up when you drink the booze.’

Needless to say, despite his injuries Bob soon felt no pain!

More on the Bob Hoover interview to come... If you're interested in reading Bob's biography, Forever Flying, it comes highly recommended. You can find it on and in your local library.

Special Thanks to FilmTools

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Stan McClain has earned a tremendous reputation (and a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Operating Cameramen) as an aerial cinematographer. His credits include TV shows and commercials, industrials, and feature films from Rambo to Passenger 57, Dropzone to The Doors, and more (see: this link for more on Stan's career ). Stan has always been passionate about flight and the history of aerial photography. In fact he wrote an article about the birth of the motion picture cameramen which traces all the way back to Pancho's grandfather, Thaddeus Lowe. You can read it at this link here

Stan is an enthusiastic supporter of our project. He contacted us and offered the use of an interview with aviatrix Bobbi Trout, which he shot a number of years ago. Now, he and his wife Kim have made a generous donation to KOCE-TV in support of the film, through their company FilmTools. We're grateful for the gift, for as we enter the post-production phase of the project, financial support is critical.

Incidentally, FilmTools is a terrific company that supplies all sorts of expendables and camera equipment support for the motion picture industry. Based in Burbank, it's well worth a visit if you're in need of tape stock, grip and lighting equipment, or heck even a matte box...they've got it all there. Check it out at:


Pancho Barnes and Aimee Semple McPherson

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Tonight on "The American Experience" (and April 12th on our sponsor station KOCE-TV, PBS of Orange County) is "Sister Aimee". This documentary, which I have not yet seen, is about Aimee Semple McPherson, an evangelist who made her mark in the Los Angeles of the 20's and 30's, and the founder the Four Square Church. A visionary woman who lived her life by her own rules and who defied her first husband's wishes, Aimee had something in common with Pancho. It's no surprise then to learn that Pancho and Aimee were friends, and that Pancho visited Semple's Four Square Church (and possibly later, the Angeles Temple).

Florence Lowe (later "Pancho") was practically born on a horse. Supposedly she rode a pony at age three. By the time she was a young lady, she was an accomplished horsewoman who had trained her gelding "Platinum King" to do all sorts of tricks. "P.K." ended up getting Florence into the motion picture business, because trick horses and riders were needed for the early Westerns. "He would gallop up to a stagecoach and get a cowboy off the stagecoach," Pancho wrote in a never-published autobiography," with perfect timing in front of the camera."

Florence's riding skills caught the attention of Aimee Semple McPherson. (The two may have even met as a result of horses; two photos in the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive appear to show McPherson at Florence's stables.) According to Pancho, this led to an offer to ride "Radiant" at the Ambassador Horse Show ring. It was a bit of classic showwomanship, McPherson style, with a bit of deception thrown in for good measure!

"Aimee was quite a girl," writes Pancho, "She would come to the shows dressed in side-saddle attire with ahigh silk and parade around and talk to people. She would ride Radiant out around the exercise ring... There was a kind of tunnel that went into the entrance of [the ring]. She rode him into the tunnel and we changed places. I was dressed in an outfit exactly like hers...I used to ride that ring so fast with my head hunched down between my shoulders that nobody could tell I wasn't Aimee. We changed again in the tunnel, I dismounting (sp) and she getting on the horse and she took him out and cooled him off. All the people gathered around that admired Aimee and she took her bows happily."

Pancho enjoyed her part in the ruse quite a bit, and noted that Aimee paid her well for her performance. "I remember how [Aimee] used to beg the audience not to desecrate the Temple with the vulgar clinking of change," Pancho noted with a wink of admiration, "and to quietly put folded bills and money into the plates when they passed them."

Pancho also admired McPherson for another reason: like herself (as Florence Lowe Barnes she was the wife of an Episcopal minister), the evangelist led a double life, one on the edge and full of romance and adventure. "She drank and smoked with the best of them," Pancho recalled. She also noted, attempting to explain Aimee's scandalous disappearance (which she explained as a kidnapping), that "Joe Flores who is an old horseman...spent a lot of time with her. They were very gay between each other. It was pretty well understood thing around Flores' barn that when Aimee made her disappearance act, Joe went with her."

Wonder if these details made it into the documentary?? Stay tuned!

Some Perspective on Pancho

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Barbara Hunter Schultz's house speaks volumes about her character: the rear part of the spacious home is not a garage, but an airplane hangar. In it are five or six aircraft in various states of repair — but at least three are flyable and Barbara goes aloft regularly, often with her husband Phil who is a professional pilot.

Barbara lives near Fox Field in Lancaster, California, and has been in these parts for over thirty years. When she first came to the area, the name "Pancho Barnes" was still on the tip of everyone's tongue, especially around Fox Field where Pancho's son Billy maintained his hangar. Billy and Phil worked for several years, in fact, to restore Pancho's Travelair "Mystery Ship" to flight status, before Bill was killed in an airplane crash in 1980.

Being an adventurous woman herself, and one fascinated with aviation, it seemed natural that Barbara would feel a bond with Pancho. That's the reason, back in the 1980's, that she began to seriously think about the idea of writing a Pancho Barnes biography. The task ended up taking roughly ten years.

The result is a great book, one that not only tells Pancho's story in an entertaining fashion, but does a great deal to separate fact from fiction. In Pancho's case, there seems to be a lot of fiction about what she said and did ... and who she did it with!

One of Barbara's biggest breaks in writing the book, she explained to director Amanda Pope during our recent interview, occured when she met Gertrude Marya Caraman. Marya had been Pancho's social secretary during some of her most formative, and riotous, days — during the late 1920's when she the world was her oyster. Marya helped plan many of Pancho's wild Hollywood parties, and started helping Pancho write an autobiography (one of many attempts she would make during her lifetime!) Barbara Schultz quotes a terrific letter from Marya to Pancho in her book, recalling Christmas 1929: "You gave me your travel case and a huge bottle of toilet water you had bought for Ramon (Novarro) and decided wasn't good enough for him...I remember sitting by the bed and you sitting up IN the bed and thoughtfully (philosopher style) scratching your legs and telling me that you were a genius and I admitting that you might be."

Writing the biography might have taken nearly a decade, but Barbara enjoyed the task thoroughly, as it allowed her to meet a cast of fascinating characters. "Every now and then, the human races produces unique, one-of-a-kind characters who become our celebrities, menotrs and the stuff of which legends are born," Schultz writes in her book's introduction, "Florence Lowe 'Pancho' Barnes was a character among characters."

If you're interested in the book, you can find it on or other internet booksellers. You can also buy it directly from Barbara's amazing internet shop, PlaneMercantile. While you're there, you can also take a look at some of the other neat merchandise she carries, from Amelia Earhart Luggage to books and jewelry.

here is a link


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