Monday, August 26, 2019

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)"
08 January 2010

Pancho, Jawbone and E Clampus Vitus

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There's a funny, wonderful California organization you may have heard of (or then again maybe not!) by the name of E Clampus Vitus.  This ancient and honorable order of pranksters is somewhat akin to the Moose or the Elks or Lions Clubs, only a bit goofier.  As they say on their website, "The early meetings of E Clampus Vitus in the California gold fields were devoted so completely to drinking and carousing that none of the Clampers was ever in any condition to keep minutes, let alone remember what had happened the next day!"  ECV was founded in the 1950s, and over the years ECV has had many famous members, including two California governors — Edmond G. Brown and a friend of Pancho's named Ronald Reagan.
Lebeck2
LebeckWell, Pancho Barnes wasn't a member of E Clampus Vitus, but her own sense of vitality, humor and playfulness attracted the attention of this esteemed group.  So, the day after April Fools' day in the year 2000, the Peter Lebeck Chapter (named, incidentally, after some poor sucker who was killed and eaten by a grizzly bear) of the group decided to honor Pancho by commissioning a plaque in her honor.  The beautiful, red sandstone marker was placed at the Jawbone Canyon General Store.  This business, which is still operating in the present day, was originally owned by Pancho and Mac McKendry.  That's a story we didn't cover in any detail in the film, because it's not too great of a tale!  Pancho and Mac bought it after the Happy Bottom Riding Club went out of business, with hopes of starting a new fly-in guest ranch.  They even talked about building a desert marina complete with an artificial lake.  Unfortunately things did not work out as Pancho had hoped.  She couldn't attract her old friends at the new location, and her big schemes failed to take off as her bank account emptied.  Then she discovered that Mac was cheating on her with a former Riding Club hostess. . . an affair that would lead to their eventual divorce, and Pancho's surrender of the store to McKendry.

Well, that's an awful sad story!  But what I really wanted to write about, was the plaque which, if you will remember what I said a few paragraphs ago, was placed by this wonderfully fun-loving group ECV.  If you visit the store, you'll see it right out front in a place of honor.  It says many positive, wonderful things including that Pancho's "sense of adventure, integrity and independence is an example for all."  Amen they got that right!  But what I find funny is that the plaque also says that Pancho "toured the world as a lecturer honored by the Air Force and aviation organizations" like some sort of Lowell Thomas or Al Gore of the air.  Well truth be told, I don't think Pancho ventured outside the United States after 1930 (except for a few trips to Mexico), and probably never went farther than the state of Nevada after 1965.  As for "lectures", that's a nice thought but Pancho wasn't a university professor or one to mince words!   Perhaps better wording would have been something like, "she was honored by the Air Force and aviation organizations, and told them some wonderful stories and some jokes that were so dirty that mud looked clean." 

Then again, "toured the world as a lecturer" has a nice ring to it.  I am sure it made Pancho smile, the day that plaque was dedicated, wherever she was . . . knowing that the joke was on the pranksters of ECV!

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