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Pancho in Palm Springs

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On Wednesday, November 11, we'll be barnstorming into Palm Springs for a special screening of The Legend of Pancho Barnes at the Palm Springs Air Museum.  The event begins at 6 p.m. and is free to members, $5 for non-members.  To RSVP, please call 760-778-6262.  

For those of you who have never been to the Palm Springs Air Museum, this is a great excuse to come out and see an amazing collection of WWII aircraft, most of which are still in flying condition.


Pancho and Mexico

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One thing I did not anticipate but should have, is when you make a film about someone named Pancho Barnes, you get a lot of confusion.  Pancho who?  Many people think the film must be a story about a Mexican.  We even had someone Pickwick3come up, just prior to a screening, look at our poster and say "Huh, The Legend of Pancho Villa, why would you show that at an air show?" 

Pickwick2Well, there's no question that even though Pancho wasn't Mexican, Mexico had a profound influence on her life.  I've previously mentioned the story of how Florence Lowe Barnes became "Pancho" Barnes during her infamous trip to Mexico in 1927.  While that might have been the first time she went to Mexico, it certainly wasn't her last.  Shirley and Seth Hufstedler told us about an airplane trip with Pancho and Mac in the 1950s, and Chuck Yeager also recounted a vacation  "South of the Border" with Pancho and Mac.  In that instance, they made the flight in their Stinson Station Wagon airplane (pictured above at an unknown airport in Mexico). The sound-barrier-busting test pilot was more than little surprised to discover that Pancho could not only speak passable Spanish, but got on well with local Indians in their own native tongue.  Perhaps she had spent time with them in 1927.

During her career as a professional pilot, Pancho flew into Mexico on several occasions.  One of the first might have been accidentally, as a navigation mix-up during the Pecos leg of the cross-country "Powder Puff Derby" of 1929 caused her to drift over the Rio Bravo.  That mistake didn't reflect too badly on Pancho, and in 1930 the fledgling Pickwick Airways company (an off-shoot of a motor bus co.) hired her to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City.  The idea put out in the press was that the airline wanted Pancho to find a suitable route for commercial flight service.  The reality was probably different -- a history of Pickwick indicates that survey flights were actually made by company pilots.  Perhaps the company's owners felt that having a woman make the trip would help put prospective passengers at ease? 

Whether it was a publicity stunt or not, it would be a long flight. The itinerary PanchoPickwick chose included stops in Tucson, Nogales, Mazatlan and Guadalajara, and as Lauren Kessler wrote in her biography "the trip took her five leisurely days".  Accompanying her on the jaunt as navigator was Ramon Novarro's brother Mariano, who supposedly was to act as her interpreter. One has to wonder if that was his only role, as he was just about as handsome as his movie star brother.

Pancho successfully reached Mexico City and was treated like the heroine she was, and awarded an honorary Mexican pilot's license.  She also achieved a record of sorts, becoming the first woman to fly from L.A. to Mexico D.F. along the western route (Mildred Morgan had done it previously from the East just weeks earlier).  Pickwick Airways did launch service to Mexico City and even Guatemala, using Ryan Broughams.  The fare was a whopping $238, which according to an inflation calculator amounts to about $3000 in today's dollars.  With the arrival of the Depression and the failure by the company to land a U.S. mail contract,  Pickwick Latin American Airways went bust in the spring of 1930.

That didn't prevent Pancho from going back, although her next trip was more of a lark.  In 1932 her friend, L.A. district attorney Buron Fitts suggested that Pancho run for County Supervisor.  She lost badly, but Buron handily won re-election.  He decided to celebrate with a vacation in Mexico, and asked Pancho to fly him down.  In Pancho's unpublished autobiography (now property of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate), she recounts the flight to Phoenix, El Paso and on to Chihuahua, where the airport "looked like a lake" thanks to a recent tropical storm.  The landing in Mexico City was also hairy thanks to driving, freezing rain.  They landed in darkness and must have been very glad to have been on terra firma. 

Pancho's return was a triumph.  Several high-ranking members of the Mexican Air Force, who Pancho had met during her previous trip and had hosted at her mansion, made a "big fuss" .  She was outfitted with the uniform of a colonel, and promptly whisked to a local house of ill repute.  I can't repeat what transpired there, but Pancho summed up the adventure this way: "we put in about a week of carousing without hardly going to bed."  When it came time to have an audience with the President of Mexico, one of her new-found companions actually collapsed from the effects of too much drinking, and too little sleep.  Pancho, Buron and the Mexican pilots joined President Rodriguez in resuscitating the poor fellow which according to Pancho "kind of broke up the formality of the occasion."  I should think so!

There's only one way to conclude remarks about Pancho and Mexico, and that's with something she wrote in her autobiography.  "I wish everybody in the United States could know what nice people the Mexicans really are," she said.  "[Americans] go down and act like such heels more of the time, throwing around money and insulting the people in Mexico. ...  There's not a finer, politer, lovelier nation I believe than the Mexican people.  I love them dearly."


Pancho Selected for Hot Springs Film Festival

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The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club was just selecteHotSprings2d to appear in the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.  This prestigious film festival is one of the oldest documentary film festivals in the world, and is held annually in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The festival began in 1992, with a screening of ten Academy Award nominated documentaries. The festival screens 100 documentaries each year and is recognized by the International Documentary Association and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as one of seven national Academy Award qualifying venues.  The festival runs from October 16-25th, and dates and times of the screening of LPB will be announced shortly.  UPDATE: screening times for the film have been announced!  It will be showing twice: Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 2:25pm and Friday, October 23, 2009 at 11:25am.

Can't make it to Hot Springs? Well, there's still time to join us at the Flabob Airport on Friday, October 2nd, when we screen the film for the Travelair Restorers Association.  As of early today, there were about eighty seats available.  RSVP by calling Kathy at (951) 683-2309 x 104, or email her: kathy(at sign)

Additional screenings will be announced in the near future, so stay tuned.


Pancho Flies to Hot Springs Film Festival

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We're extremely proud to announce that The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club is an official selection of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.  HSDFF is one of the oldest documentary film festivals in the world, held annually in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The festival began in 1992, with a screening of ten Academy Award nominated documentaries. The festival screens 100 documentaries each year and is recognized by the International Documentary Association and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as one of seven national Academy Award qualifying venues.  The festival runs from October 16-25th, and dates and times of the screening of Legend will be announced shortly.  UPDATE: the film will screen twice, first on Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 2:25pm and then on Friday, October 23, 2009 at 11:25am.


Rankin Barnes' Relative Relates

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One of the fun things that happens when we show the film in Southern California, is that we invariably have people in the audience who knew Pancho, were guests at her ranch, or are somehow related to her or one of her good friends.  The daughter of Gen. Clarence Shoop, actress Pamela Susan Shoop (who played Karen in Halloween II), attended our premiere along with a direct descendent of Pancho's grandfather, musician James Lowe (frontman of the awesome 60's band Electric Prunes).  They both have interesting stories to share, and hopefully one day we can include some of their remarks and memorabilia in the Production Journal.

JaneMackCozzo2Meantime,  I just learned that one of the attendees of our screening at the Huntington Library was author (and frequent contributor to American Enterprise) Jane Mack-Cozzo.  Turns out Jane is also the niece of none other than Pancho's first husband Rev. Rankin Barnes.  Jane offered to share a few photos and memories of Rankin with me.  I think they provide some really wonderful insight into Pancho's "better half", and asked her permission to share them below.  Reading her comments by the way, makes it all that much more inconceiveable that Pancho was ever married to this fellow Rankin.  The only good thing about that match, as far as I can tell, is that they were both Episcopaleans and could therefore get divorced without too much hassle!

Now without further ado, comments from Jane Mack-Cozzo:

My earliest recollection of my uncle Rankin Barnes is of a rather distant, stiff man who always wore a clerical collar.  As a child, and on into adulthood, I never could warm up to him, perhaps because he never seemed to warm up to anyone --- except his second wife Kath.  When they were houseguests, my parents would throw a dinner party and he would always beam when she made her "entrance."

I remember that I was exhorted to NEVER mention to Pancho's name in his/their company.  In fact, so hush-hush was Pancho's role in his (previous) life that I was eight or nine at least before I realized who she was and what she had achieved and accomplished.

Conversation with Rankin around always seemed to me, even at a very early age, stilted and proscribed.  I had the feeling everyone could not let loose, be ribald, be unbuttoned.  There was a big difference in the general conversation when he was and was not present.

Through the years, my dad regaled me with tales of Pancho's daring-do, for example buzzing St James Church during services, etc.  This one particularly delighted me, as I thought it Rankin's just desserts.

He also told me of calling on Pancho when she was still living in South Pasadena/San Marino, and Ramon Navarro answering the door.

In my estimation, Rankin's ego was enormous:  he loved being the center of attention, and a couple of times arranged things to achieve that end.  Once by hustling my parents and me into a pew ahead of him at St. James Church, so that the rector would be sure and see him during the processional, and thus acknowledge him to the congregation.

The other time which sticks in my mind is at my first wedding.  My dad insisted that he officiated, and at the end of the service, after communion, he smilingly came forward to "help" me up from kneeling.  It struck me as phony and all for show.

Lest I appear too negative in my appraisal of him, I will say that he was extremely devoted to Kath, and my mom always credited him with saying to her when my dad and she were married, "Welcome to the family."

Photos: (top) Rankin Barnes (on right) poses with Jane Mack-Cozzo's father and "Uncle Stan", and (bottom) Rankin Barnes poses with Jane Mack-Cozzo's father (who actually looks a lot like Billy Barnes!). Photos courtesy Jane Mack-Cozzo.

DVD Now Available!

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Guests at the Los Angeles premiere of The Legend of Pancho Barnes had an exciting opportunity to become the first people to own the film on DVD.  The official roll-out date on the disc is October 1, but you can pre-order it right now at  This deluxe DVD features both the broadcast (57 minute) and extended version (64 minute) of the documentary, along with nearly 18 minutes of additional video including deleted scenes. It also features an audio commentary from writer/producer Nick Spark and director Amanda Pope, a study guide for secondary school students, an interview with Pancho conducted by Don Kuhns, and more.  To pre-order, click HERE.

For more information about the DVD, click on the "Buy DVD" link in the top menu bar.


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