Saturday, May 18, 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)"
16 April 2007

Rebel Without A Cause...But With A Horse!

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As a young lady, Florence Lowe (later "Pancho" Barnes) was what we'd now call a "problem child". If she lived in the present day, my gosh!, she'd probably have been sent to Outward Bound, or put on Ridalin or who knows what medication. A tomboy born into high society, she was a rebel without a cause practically from the get-go. Except she did not really lack cause — she had a cause and that was to have fun!

In the late 1910's, Florence attended the Bishop School in La Jolla. It was Florence's fourth school in eight years, and as it turned out it would be her last.

Thankfully, we have a really good account of Florence's life at Bishop, thanks to her roommate Ursula Greenshaw (later Ursual Greenshaw Mandel). Greenshaw, who later attended college and became an acclaimed physician, wrote an autobiography entitled "I Live My Life" in which she recounted life with Florence. It was, shall we say, never DULL! (Photo at right: Pancho in her mid-teens.)

"Florence," Greenshaw notes, "...rebelled against convention and all attempts to encourage femininity. The careless dress she preferred was more becoming to her mannish build than was the fine apparel insisted upon and brought to her by her mother. ... One time her mother presented her with some particularly beautiful undergarments that had been imported from Paris. Not wishing to openly hurt her parent's feelings, Florence waited until she departed before placing the box of lingere on the floor and giving it a forceful kick. ... Sometime later, when casting about for a polishing cloth, she characteristically withdrew this finery from a dresser drawer and dusted her riding boots with it."

Florence's disdain for fine clothes and femininity was one thing, but what really got Greenshaw's goat was her penchant for pulling stunts and pranks, which Ursula refers to as "commotions" in her book.

"One night when I entered our room," she writes," I stumbled against a body. I switched on the light and there lay Florence on the floor in a pool of blood. Pinner to her chest with a dagger was a note saying that she had decided to end it all. I soon discovered the blood was red ink and the dagger wound faked."

On another occasion, Greenshaw returned to their room to discover that Florence had somehow managed to lead her horse, Dobbins, inside! "When called to the principal's office to explain this prank," she noted, "[Florence] feigned innocent surprise and soon was expressing deep sympathy for the horse...'he must have been so lonesome that he even came upstairs to look for me...'"

(Photo: Ursula Greenshaw at about the age when she attended the Bishop School).

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