Friday, July 19, 2024

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)"
19 March 2007

Don't piss on my boots...

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It's not every day that one gets a chance to meet a living legend. For Barbara Little, that time came in the late 1960's when she lived in Lancaster, California. She was writing for a local newsmagazine — sort of as a lark — when her editor suggested she write a profile of Pancho. "'Pancho who?' I remember asking," says Barbara. "It was the kind of question that, after you met Pancho Barnes just once, you never had to ask again!"

What was originally planned as a short profile of Pancho grew into a major, four- part series, and what might have been just a casual acquaintance made on a weekend afternoon grew into a friendship that lasted until the end of Pancho's life. Some of Pancho's spirit and attitude doubtless rubbed off on Barbara Little. Years after she'd written her series on Pancho, she became active in local politics. Eventually she became the first female mayor of Lancaster. Pancho would've been proud!

Photo: Barbara Little (right) poses with her good friend Lynn Harrison (left). Little was Lancaster's first female mayor, and Harrison the second. Can you say "neat"?!

During a lengthy stay in front of our camera's lens, an animated Barbara Little recounted the interviews she conducted with Pancho. "She really told it like it was," Barbara noted with a straight face, and then a laugh. "She would say, 'Don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining!"

Although they are not available in print or on the internet anywhere (maybe in the future), Little's articles make for really interesting reading. More than that, they are important from the standpoint that they represent a fairly accurate presentation of the facts of Pancho's life. Where other authors and commentators have drawn on interviews with Pancho's friends, books, and scuttlebutt, most of the details in Little's articles came from the proverbial horse's (well, Pancho's) mouth. The fact that Little took notes in shorthand adds to the accuracy of the quotes and details presented in the articles. In many ways, these articles as close to a Pancho autobiography as one is likely to find.

Pancho herself was so excited by the reaction the articles engendered, that she asked Barbara Little to help her write a real autobiography. "I remember standing in my kitchen and Pancho came to visit," she explained. "She tried to corner me and get me to write a book. Believe me, I wanted to do it, but I had two kids to take care of, and that was my priority at the time." Little always believed in her heart that she would take Pancho up on her offer, if she could only find the time. But when Pancho passed away in 1975, she realized the opportunity had passed her by... Fortunately, Barbara is still with us, and able to share her experiences and her article with us. What a wonderful morning we had!

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