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)"
13 February 2007

The Shooting Has Started !

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It's been many months since we wrapped the first phase of shooting on the Pancho documentary. That first round of interviews was really something — we spoke with many of Pancho's favorite friends including R.A. "Bob" Hoover, Buzz Aldrin, Gen. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, Brig. Gen. Bob Cardenas, Women's Air Service Pilot Babe Story, and others.

After concluding those interviews, we took a hiatus so that we could fundraise for the film. Now, we're back in production! As of this past Saturday, the second phase of interviews is — finally — underway.

Our first interview subjects were Seth and Shirley Hufstedler, accomplished attorneys who became friends with Pancho during her legal cases against the Air Force in the 1950's. Like Pancho, Shirley Hufstedler is a woman who broke the mold. She passed the California bar in 1950, at a time when fewer than 10 women per year accomplished that feat . Later in 1968, she was appointed as a judge on the Ninth Circuit, and was appointed as the first Secretary of Education by President Jimmy Carter.

Shirley first met Pancho and her fourth husband Mac in a law library. At that point, Pancho was acting as her own attorney in a lawsuit against the U.S. Government. At issue was the price the government intended to pay for acquiring the Happy Bottom Riding Club and all of Pancho's ranch land and airport. (The USAF wanted to extend the runway at Edwards, and Pancho's ranch was in the way). After doing some consulting work with Pancho, Shirley brought in her husband Seth, who worked for an attorney who specialized in so-called "taking" cases. In the end, with the help of Seth's firm, Pancho won a judgement for about twice what the government had initially offered.

Unfortunately, Pancho's legal victory was something of a Pyrrhic one. Although she gained a lot of money in the settlement, she lost her ranch and with it her association with Edwards Air Force Base.

Shirley and Seth kept in touch with Pancho after her legal victory, and took a memorable trip with her and Mac to Mexico. One of the most memorable aspects of the trip was that Pancho's ex-husband Don Shalita came along just for the fun of it!!

Shirley also shared some nice memories of Pancho's force-of-nature personality, quick wit, and sense of fearlessness, and spoke about some of the anecdotes Pancho related about her adventures in Mexico in the 1920's and 30's.

All in all, it was a great day, and a great way for us to get "back in the saddle" with the filming.

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