Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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)"
02 April 2007

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!

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