Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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)"
21 March 2007

The Other Side of the Family

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A great deal of attention is always focused on the relationship between young Florence "Pancho" Barnes and her eccentric grandfather, Prof. Thaddeus Lowe. Lowe was after all a prodigious inventor who flew balloons during the Civil War for the Union Army, developed gas works and gas patents, and the builder of the Mount Lowe Railway. It's easy to forget that the other side of Pancho's family — her mother Florence was from the Philadelphia Main Line Dobbins family — was equally accomplished and celebrated in their time. Her grandfather Richard Dobbins was a famous architect who designed many of the buildings for the 1876 Centennial celebration. Caroline Dobbins, her grandmother, was a philanthropist who left much of her estate to endow CalTech. Their son (and Pancho's uncle) Horace was a shrewd investor and developer who became mayor of Pasadena. One of the things Horace is best known for, is building the "California Cycleway" in the late 1890's. An elevated wooden tollroad that ran through the heart of Pasadena, the Cycleway was a freeway for bicycles.

The cycleway was celebrated in a 1900 article as "an elevated perfectly adjusted road running from the heart of Pasadena to the Plaza of Los Angeles. In appearance it somewhat resembles the elevated road in New York, being apparently as high in places; but it is built of wood instead of iron..." The article concluded that the cycleway would have an income of approximately $20,000 a month "if half of the wheelmen in two cities patronize the road once a month". Unfortunately, these figures did not hold true, as the emergence of the automobile greatly decreased interest in the bicycle. In the end, the Cycleway was never completed, and portions of it were torn down to make way for commercial development. It's worth noting that four years after the "bicycle freeway" opened, a pair of bicycle mechanics named Orville and Wilbur Wright became the first men to perform powered flights in their home-built airplane!

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