Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Information Sign up

Sign up to be on our mailing list for updates.


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

A Photo Comes Full Circle

Print Email

Months ago we did a screening of the film at Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California.  I made a lot of new and wonderful friends at that event, including James Lowe, lead singer of the seminal 1960s rock band Nikrent3The Electric Prunes and a relative of Pancho's grandfather, Thaddeus Lowe.  Another person in attendance that night was Nikki Nikrent Robinson, whose great uncle was a fellow named Joe Nikrent.  Back in the 1910s, Joe and his brothers were a famous race car driving team known as, what else?, the Nikrent Brothers.  They raced against the likes of Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet, among others, and were sponsored by Chas Howard of Seabiscuit (the horse) fame.  Joe even raced at Indy in 1913, but had his hopes dashed when a bearing gave out in his car after lap 67.  He also ran at Muroc  — the dry lake was used as a race and proving grounds for many decades —  and reached a speed of 108 mph in his Buick.

Given his penchant for speed and daring, it is no surprise that in the 1920s Joe Nikrent became the official timer for the National Aeronautic Association.  In this capacity he attended all sorts of aviation events and record attempts.  I've seen photos of him congratulating Pancho's friend and fellow female aviator Bobbi Trout after she set a new solo endurance record in 1929, and with pilot Waldo Waterman as he prepared to conduct a new high-altitude flight for Bach.  So it's no surprise that when Pancho set out to break Amelia Earhart's air speed record, that Joe Nikrent showed up as official timer.  Photos taken that day of Pancho, such as the one seen at left, frequently show Nikrent at her side giving what appears to be, shall we say some fatherly advice?  One has to imagine, given the informality of those poses, that they had a good rapport. NikrentPhoto It seems to me based on the photos, that Joe Nikrent wasn't just there as a stern judge of whether or not Pancho had set a new speed record — he was clearly there as a friend and supporter.  The first attempt Pancho made on the record, she came up short.  But you know the rest of the story: she came back the next day, refreshed and recalibrated, and flew at 196 miles per hour to become fastest woman on earth.  It was front page news and the biggest achievement of her aviation career.

At some point after that Pancho gave Joe Nikrent a personalized glossy photo (seen at right) emblazoned, "To Joe Sincere best wishes from Pancho 1931".  This was one of two photos that Nikki brought to our Planes of Fame screening, and which everyone in our audience was allowed to hold and admire. It was wonderful to see such a terrific photo of Pancho and to know that when she signed it, she was flying high.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as Amanda and I arrived in Mission Viejo for the first screening of the film in Orange County.  Waiting for us at the auditorium was Nikki Robinson and her husband, and they brought a special gift: one of the two photos in a beautiful custom frame.  I was absolutely floored when Nikki announced the photo was for me, a gift in honor of Pancho and our film.  It's just about the nicest gift I've ever received, and completely unexpected.


The photo is on the wall of my living room now, where I see it every day.  I'm thrilled to be custodian  for it.  Every time I look at it, I get a little thrill knowing that it was handed from one speed demon to another, in celebration of a very special achievement.  There's a little more to it, of course.  One thing Amanda and I both learned about Pancho as we created the film, was that although life threw her a lot of curves, she never gave up.  Pancho constantly re-invented herself, endured, and then rose to the top again.  In many ways that thread in Pancho's life helped keep us going, as we faced all sorts of adversity while making the film and almost gave up two or three times.  The fact that Pancho never gave up, and that neither did we, is brought home to me whenever I look at that print.

San Luis Obispo Film Festival Here We Come!

Print Email

Exciting news just in: The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club was just accepted by the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.  This renowned festival takes place in various venues in and around San Luis Obispo, California from March 12-21st.  Pancho will be screened twice, first at the Park Cinemas @ 1p.m. on 3/13, and then at the Palm Theater @ 4 p.m. on 3/14. The SLO Fest is a full-fledged celebration of film and video that features a wide variety of new contemporary films from around the world. Hundreds of filmmakers, celebrities and movie buffs will be in attendance during the festival's 10 days of screenings, special events, filmmaking panels and parties. A full schedule for the festival will be unveiled on February 15.  For more information visit the SLOIFF website by clicking here.

The San Luis Obispo festival represents the third major festival where Pancho will be screened, and the first California film festival for us.  We're absolutely delighted to be a part of it!



Amanda Pope's Film to Debut at Santa Barbara Film Festival

Print Email

While The Legend of Pancho Barnes kept Amanda Pope busy these last few years, a great deal of her time and energy was devoted to another project, The Desert of Forbidden Art which she co-directed with Tchavdar Georgiev.  The film is now completed and there is wonderful news -- the film will have its debut at the 25th Santa Barbara International Film Festival!  Desert tells the remarkable story of Igor Savitsky, a man who daringly rescued over 40,000 works of art from the clutches of the Soviet government.  The collection he saved is housed in a museum located in the desert of Uzbekistan.  For more information on the film and the premiere screening, visit the website



Print Email

The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club will be screened as part of the 17th annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.  This renowned festival takes place in various venues in and around San luis Obispo, California and takes place March 12-21st.    Pancho will be screened twice, first on 3/13 at the Park Cinemas @ 1p.m., and then on 3/14 at the Palm Theater @ 4 p.m.  For more information visit the SLOIFF website by clicking here.  The San Luis Obispo festival represents the third major festival where Pancho will be screened, and the first California film festival for us.  We're delighted to be a part of it!


Pancho Gets a Gold Record ... Almost!

Print Email

One aspect of Pancho Barnes' life that we didn't get to cover adequately in our film, was her career as Musica songwriter.  That's right, in addition to being a movie stunt pilot, adventurer, animal wrangler, barkeep and hotelier, Florence "Pancho" Barnes was a prolific composer of music and lyrics for popular song.  The Pancho Barnes Trust Estate has a huge stack of her sheet music like the one at right, penned in Pancho's inimitable bold penmanship.

It's not that surprising that Pancho developed a career in writing music because music and entertainment were a big part of the Rancho Oro Verde.  All sorts of bands and musical personalities would find their way up to Pancho's hotel including the Sons of the Pioneers, Stan Worth and Jerry Wallace.  Relentlessly creative in all pursuits be they business or pleasure, Pancho found an outlet at the piano.

But this wasn't just fun and games — Pancho wanted to be a big name in the music business and she almost succeeded thanks to her musician friends.  At least eight of her songs were recorded and released including "Christmas, Christmas", "Hello Heaven", "Moon Crazy", "Turn That Page" (seen at right), "You Can't Get Me Down, Down, Down", by Stan Worth.  (Bandleader and musician Worth is perhaps best known for writing the theme to TV's "Hollywood Squares".)  The Sons of the Pioneers recorded "Ghost of the Badmen" and the Kings Four put "Yippee It's Rodeo Day" out on vinyl.  (This last song is currently the only one available on the internet.  Click here to take a listen.)  As you can guess from the titles, many of the songs had a definite country-western flavor, perfect for the dude ranch life Pancho was living and the Western-obsessed era.  Other songs were in different genres including romantic ballads and sentimental love letters of the type commonly heard on the radio in the late 40's and 50's.

Music2When the U.S. Air Force came into being as its own separate branch of service in 1947, Pancho imagined that it would need a service song to rival the Navy's "Anchor's Aweigh" and the Marine hymn.  She boldly wrote music and lyrics for a new "Song of the Air Force" and had sheet music printed up (seen at left) featuring the supersonic Bell X-1 rocket plane on the front.  She then sent the music to highly-placed people in the military in an attempt to convince them that her song should be adopted as THE song.  (I forgot to take a picture of the rear of the sheet music, but if memory serves it has a nice picture of Chuck Yeager and a couple of Pancho's other USAF friends on the back giving endorsements to this concept!)

Lauren Kessler describes Pancho's Song of the Air Force in her book The Happy Bottom Riding Club this way: "...the lyrics celebrated the accomplishments of the high-flying, faster-than-sound, circling-the-earth pilots whom Pancho knew and loved.  It was a rousing, singable military march, simple and catchy, with a node to Stephen Foster.  The pilots sang it loudly and happily at the Club."

It seemed absolutely fitting to Pancho that as the granddaughter of Thaddeus Lowe, the real founder of the U.S. Air Force, that she should be the author of the service's pep song.  Unfortunately, she had reckoned without a little ditty that had been in circulation since the mid-1930s.  Adopted and sung frequently by the U.S. Army Air Corps, it began with a line in it you may find familiar: off we go into the wild blue yonder. That particular song, written by Capt. Robert M. Crawford, had actually won a competition in 1938 against over 750 rivals to be selected as the official USAAC song.  Pancho's good friend Hap Arnold actually was involved in the selection of Crawford's "U.S. Army Air Corps Song" as the winner, and he or his successor rubber stamped a revised version (substituting "Air Force" for "Air Corps") as the official service song.

While Pancho's attempt to dethrone the AIr Force Song with the Song of the Air Force failed, her musical career knew better days, Recordincluding the time "Moon Crazy" was performed on TV.  According to Barbara Schultz's biography Pancho, one of Pancho's biggest musical successes was as a result of a challenge made by Bob Roubian, the owner of the popular Crab Cooker Restaurant in Newport Beach.  Roubian had apparently written a popular song entitled "Too Pooped to Pop" (probably not the song made famous by Chuck Berry, but I'm not sure!)  Anyway Pancho felt the "popcorn" song was ridiculous, and set out to top it.  The result was "By Your Side" which her friend Jerry Wallace promptly recorded for the Challenge label.  Can you believe it, the song ended up as a B-side on an A-side single entitled "Primrose Lane" that by happenstance ended up becoming Wallace's top hit ever and the song that defined his career. (You can see a cheesy video of "Primrose Lane" here ; "By Your Side" I could not find on-line at present).   As sales of the single went through the roof, Pancho began receiving fat royalty checks in the mail.  It was an enormous success, although with qualifications of course.

Photo at right: the million-selling single of By Your Side.  You can make out the Barnes name on the far left, underneath the title of the song.  She apparently shared writing credit with three other people.  The most commonly-available piece of Pancho Barnes memorabilia sold on eBay, you can usually get a copy of this single for $3-$10 if you're interested. Just search for "Primrose Lane".

By Your Side was something of a fluke and Pancho knew it.   Although she was elected into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in the 1960s and collected royalty checks on her catalog, she never did have another big chart success.  While she had talent, she lacked focus and follow-through.   As Lauren Kessler notes, "Although Pancho was good at everything she tried ... she was a starter, not a finisher...(so) despite the success of seeing a number of her songs recorded, she tired of composing and moved on."  That wasn't the only reason, of course.  Most of Pancho's interest in songwriting and her inspiration for it probably derived from the Rancho Oro Verde and the talented musicians and composers who visited. Once she lost the ranch, she no longer saw these people and the music biz simply lost its appeal.

The PancHyperho Barnes Trust Estate keeps Pancho's songs under copyright, and has plans to make the back catalog available again.  Who knows, maybe they will release some of Pancho's recorded music on iTunes or elsewhere.  Stay tuned for that.

One Pancho-related bit of music is available on iTunes.   In 1996 the heavy metal band Hyper inexplicably named their album The Happy Bottom Riding Club.  I've auditioned a few tracks on iTunes, and I can tell you honestly that although one suggestive song on the album is entitled "Ride the Pony", I have no real idea what the connection is between Hyper and Pancho's guest ranch!  And no, "By Your Side" is NOT on this album.

A fairly complete list of Pancho's copyrighted music is available here.




Catching Up with Our Talented Crew!

Print Email

CircusRosaireOne of the wonderful things about making a film is that you get to work with wonderful and talented people.  In the case of "Pancho" we were truly blessed with an amazing crew.  Most of them are friends of ours from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, where I graduated from, and where Amanda Pope is a professor.  U.S.C. graduates or not, our crew's been extra busy with their own projects this past year.  A great example is our director of photography Clay Westervelt.  He just directed and produced a documentary film about legendary B-picture director Jim Wynorski entitled Popatopolis.  (The title, in case you were wondering, derives from the fact that Wynorski's pictures often involve gratuitous toplessness on the part of shapely actresses!)  Wynorski, who has literally directed hundreds of campy films that appear on a regular basis on cable television and in the video store, is the type of incredible character that only a business like Hollywood could produce.  In an era of shrinking budgets, Wynorski is forced to shoot a full-length feature film ... not in three months ... not in three weeks... but in three days' time.  The chronicle of how this film is made is alternatively hilarious, ridiculous and poignant, showing how one person's passion for bad filmmaking can endure against all odds.  An altogether different type of story is related in Circus Rosaire, a film produced by our cameraman Chad Wilson and his wife PopatopolisRobyn Bliley and cut by "Pancho" editor Monique Zavistovski. This documentary follows several generations of the Rosaire family as they struggle to keep their traditional "small top" circus in business.  A truly memorable tale full of trained chimps, horses and tigers and the people who love working with them, this is one doc you won't want to miss.  Another poignant film that involves animals is War Dogs of the Pacific, directed by our other cameraman Harris Done.  I haven't seen this one yet, but I understand that this chronicle of Marine Corps. dog platoons and the bonds made between young WarDogsinfantrymen and their canine servants is absolutely compelling.  Some of the other members of our crew have also been working hard at creative pursuits.  Sound man Stu Sperling recently had a series of photographs chronicling the decay of man-made objects on exhibit at the Santa Fe Center for Photography.  Our composers Nathan Wang and Knox Summerour have both been busy with new projects, and Monique Z. has been cutting a documentary about Japanese-American child custody battles.   Last but certainly not least, Amanda Pope has been finishing up a new documentary film that she co-directed with Tchavdar Georgiev.  Entitled The Desert of Forbidden Art, it documents a fabulous collection of modern Soviet art that was assembled in secret by a dissident museum director.  The film was just recently completed and will make its film festival debut in the near future.  Stay tuned!

Facebook Box

You Can Help

Your tax-deductible donation can help make "The Legend of Pancho Barnes!" a reality.


News Letter

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