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)"
22 February 2007

Florence Barnes Goes Hollywood

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Remember, before she went to Mexico and became known as Pancho, she was known as Florence Lowe Barnes... The Barnes part of it stemmed from her marriage to the Rev. Rankin Barnes in 1921. The wedding and the birth of her first and only son Billy nine months later, kept her occupied in a way that must have chafed at the hide of the normally uncontainable, unrestrainable Florence.

One of the outlets she sought out, as soon as she could separate herself from the obligations of being an Episcopal minister's wife, was Hollywood. The bright lights and glamor of it all must have enthralled her, and offered an escape.

One of the earliest movie sets Florence may have seen was a Mary Pickford movie that filmed on her parent's estate. Photographs of Pickford are in the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive.

In 1924, family friend Malcolm St. Clair directed The Lighthouse By the Sea in Laguna Beach, where Pancho and her family maintained sizeable homes. Florence got a job as a stand-in, doubling for actress Louise Fazenda.

In recent days, we've been making scans of some old negatives in the Pancho Archives. Lo and behold, there are two interesting photos which may date from the filming of Lighthouse. The first photo shows Pancho on the beach with a couple of actors — note the movie cameras on the right side of the photo — and then the second photo shows her replaced by an actress. Could it be Louise Fazenda? We're not sure. Based on photos on the internet, I don't think it is her.

Just for kicks, I watched Lighthouse (copies of the film are available on home video) to see if I could spot this scene in the movie. To my surprise, it doesn't appear that this scene or shot appears in that film, nor do these actors. (The movie incidentally is about a blind lighthouse keeper and his innocent daughter, and stars the dog-star Rin Tin Tin!)

The photo makes it look like whatever movie this was, it took place in an Asian or polynesian locale, complete with grass huts. So the question is...who are they...and what movie is this? Anyone out there who knows the silent era, feel free to chime in!

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