Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 August 2015 04:31 13 August 2010 Nick Spark Hits: 2915
If Pancho Barnes and her Happy Bottom Riding Club hadn't existed, life would have been quite a bit duller at Muroc AFB, that's for sure. Pilots would have had to find another watering hole and place to congregate. Most likely that place would have been the establishment owned by Vemba Greene, better known as "Ma" Greene. Back in the 1940s, Ma and her husband Angus opened a restaurant and liquor store located very close the air base that everyone referred to as "Ma Greene's". You can see what it looked like, by taking a peek at the Walter Williams production journal entry -- the book cover is a shot of the place. Not much to look at, but apparently a fairly cheery place that was out of the sun.
"Ma's was the nearest place to the base to get food," Chuck Yeager told us when we asked, "that you didn’t have to wait in the mess hall for. It was almost like a railroad car, you know, diner. And she served quick food, you know, hamburger and things. But," he continued with a laugh, "Pancho had good steaks!" Indeed, the Greene's little dining establishment couldn't really hold a candle to Pancho's, which had a hotel, gambling hall, airport, dairy, riding stables, swimming pool, and all those cute gals too!
Photo: trade token from Ma's place. The sign for the establishment still exists, and you can see it at this link.
There are some really interesting parallels between Pancho and Ma. Clearly they both were strong women, and good business people too. As Vemba's 1977 obituary in the Desert News put it, "the Greenes, like Pancho Barnes, were sort of surrogate parents to the many G.I.s stationed at Edwards. Mrs. Green always wore a broad-brimmed straw hat and was a formidable woman with a heart of gold which she usually carefully concealed." Like Pancho, the Greenes nearly lost everything when the U.S. Government condemned their place in the 1950s for an expansion of the air base. They relocated and operated the "Muroc Jug Factory" which operated until 1970. One of the main hangars at present-day Edwards now sits on the original "Ma Greene's".
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 August 2015 04:31 13 August 2010 Nick Spark Hits: 2933
It's amazing what you can find on the Internet if you look hard enough ... a few years ago while doing research on the film I stumbled across a wonderful electronic book entitled Recollections of Dryden History, The Early Years edited by Curtis Peebles and published in 2003. You can download it for free at this link: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/
This collection of oral histories features discussions with twelve or so "old timers" who worked at NACA from the years 1946-1958, when the organization formally became NASA. Among those interviewed are test pilots A. Scott Crossfield and John Griffith, and perhaps most interestingly the "father of NASA Dryden" Walter Williams (1919-1995). Williams recalled that when he first met Pancho and saw her hotel, she commented that she "didn't want families around" because "people come here to raise hell." On page 17 he expands on this a bit (!), explaining that at one point he attended a party there where "quite a bit of drinking" was taking place, and some of Pancho's girls decided to disrobe and model for photographs. "There was this one guy," Williams remembered, "a Texan who had on a blue gabardine suit, coat and tie and everything. One of the girls was sitting across the pool, and he walked down the steps into the pool and walked over to her, fully dressed." Needless to say, that was a memorable evening. Another interesting entry you may stumble across, is the evening after first flight of the X-4 Bantam, during which an inebriated Scott Crossfield ended up in this same swimming pool -- only it was December and there were no girls around, and it was freezing cold water thank you very much!
Photo below: Walter Williams (right) poses with Captain Charles Chuck Yeager, USAF pilot and Gerald Truszynski, Head of Instrumentation circa 1948.
While stories like the gabardine suit are hilarious, the most interesting part of Williams' oral history is far more serious. It concerns Williams' recollections of Pancho's defamation case against the commander of Edwards AFB General Stanley Holtoner. It's quite a chilling tale that gives some insight into the ugly atmosphere that existed at Edwards AFB as a result of Pancho and Holtoner's dispute. Here it is in a nutshell: it turns out one of Williams' aide was Cliff Morris. Cliff had a sideline at Pancho's place as a bartender and helper. In fact he's the dapper, thin fellow in the photo below left, cutting his wedding cake at, where else, Pancho's restaurant (note Pancho in the left side of frame). Anyway, despite his lightweight appearance Morris apparently had some huge cajones, and he did Pancho an enormous favor. Holtoner spent quite a bit of time successfully dodging Pancho and her husband Mac's attempts to serve him legal papers, by simply denying them access to the base. Morris then decided to help by taking the papers and served Holtoner himself. Needless to say, that did not endear Morris to Holtoner, and Williams recalls flat out that "they wanted me to fire him." Williams declined, and managed to show that Morris had been technically on leave when he served the papers, so he had done nothing wrong. Holtoner persisted, at one point apparently intimating that Morris was a communist. Back in that era such words might have ended Morris' career, but Morris' immediate boss Paul Bickle saw right through the accusation and refused to do anything, either.
It's the kind of scary story that underscores how Pancho, by taking on a ranking Air Force officer, really put herself in the crosshairs. If Williams' comments are true, then the commander of the base would certainly have been guilty of abusing his rank and office in a misguided attempt to punish Pancho.
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 August 2015 04:31 11 August 2010 Nick Spark Hits: 8065
A Celebration of Women in Aviation
Allen Airways Flying Museum
Airplane Owners and Pilots Association National Convention
Arlington Air Show
Big Muddy Film Festival
California Museum of History / Sacramento
Cal State Dominguez Hills / Rancho Dominguez
Douglas Aircraft Alumni Association
Evergreen Museum of Aviation
Flying M Ranch
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Los Angeles Women's Film Festival
Mission Viejo CIvic Center
Montana CINE Film Festival
NewFest Film Festival
Northrop Grumman Bethpage
Northrop Grumman San Diego
Northrop Grumman Torrance
Oakland Museum of California
Palm Springs Museum of Aviation
San Diego Air and Space Museum
San Francisco Airport Museum
San Francisco Women's Film Festival
San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
San Marino Public Library
Santa Monica Public Library
Society of Experimental Test Pilots
South Pasadena Public LIbrary
Sun N Fun Air Show
Western Museum of Flight
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 August 2015 04:31 11 August 2010 Nick Spark Hits: 1944
We're proud to announce that we've partnered with Air Show Buzz, the #1 aviation entertainment website in the known universe, to bring The Legend of Pancho Barnes to the Internet! Yes, for a small chunk of change, you can now see Pancho on ASB.TV anywhere in the world, anytime in the day or night. Just click here.
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 August 2015 04:31 31 July 2010 Nick Spark Hits: 7804
Sunday, August 1st represents the international debut of Legend of Pancho Barnes, as the broadcast version of the film airs on ABC-TV Australia. We're extremely proud of this event, because it indicates (as we've always believed) that Pancho should be a woman known throughout the world much less the universe. Plus this is our chance to turn the tables on the Aussies, since they've given us memorable characters over the years like Crocodile Dundee -- it's only fair we send them "Pancho"!
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 August 2015 04:31 31 July 2010 Nick Spark Hits: 1864
We're happy to announce several screenings in Southern California! Pancho will be showing in Santa Monica on August 4th, in celebration of the anniversary of the Powder Puff Derby (which ran from Santa Monica to Cleveland). We're also booked to show at Cal State Dominguez Hills as part of the centennial of the DH Air Meet of 1910, on Sept. 11th. Finally, we'll be showing the film right near Pancho's old residence, South Pasadena, on Sept. 2nd. Check the "Screenings" bar above for more details on specific events. Come out and meet us, and learn about the making of this award-winning film.