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)"
20 February 2007

An Interview with Lauren Kessler

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Author Lauren Kessler has written ten books, among them the critically acclaimed Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family and a recently-published biography of Cold War spy Elizabeth Bentley, entitled Clever Girl. Her subjects are often women, especially badly behaved women, because as she notes with a smile, badly behaved women change the world. It's perhaps little surprising then that one of Lauren's books is a biography of Pancho Barnes, The Happy Bottom Riding Club, published in 2000 by Random House.

Last Saturday, Lauren Kessler sat for an interview about her book and Pancho at the historic Fenyes Mansion in Pasadena.

This wonderful location was made available for the interview by the Pasadena Museum of History, and was the perfect locale. After all, Pancho grew up in a similar mansion in nearby San Marino, and may have even known the Fenyes family.


Lauren Kessler's biography of Pancho is a rich, and very readable book that has broad appeal. During the interview, Lauren told director Amanda Pope her belief that Pancho would have made a name for herself in any arena. If airplanes hadn't existed, she still would have probably been famous or, perhaps, infamous.

The interview was wide-ranging, beginning with a discussion of Pancho's childhood, and then touching on her failed marriage, her expedition to Mexico (where she took on the name "Pancho") and her exploits as an aviatrix. Of course no interview would be complete without a discussion of "The Happy Bottom Riding Club". So does Lauren Kessler believe Pancho was a madam? Stay tuned...or read the book! (You can get it on or your local bookstore or library).

Incidentally, we couldn't help but ask Lauren what she's working on now. Turns out her new book Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's will be published on June 4. Based on her work as a minimum-wage caregiver in an elder care facility, this promises to be a heartwarming, and heartbreaking, read.

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