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Landings: Review: RE: The book: "The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pacho Barnes by Lauren Kessler"

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By: Michael E.Marotta
E-mail Address: mercury@well.com

"The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pacho Barnes" by Lauren Kessler.
Random House, New York, 305 pp.

David Bostock recommended this in July on rec.aviation.student, so I borrowed it from the public library and then ordered it from a locally owned bookstore.

Kessler draws on all of the previous books directly about Pancho, though not on secondary books, such as Bob Hoover's autobiography which has some "Pancho" material in it. The author also dug into other archives, for instance from the schools Pancho attended as a girl, and Pancho's own pilot's logbooks.

Pancho's grandfather, Thaddeus Sobieski Lowe, influenced her early life -- and therefore her later life, since she never really grew up. Lowe made a fortune in applied science. During the Civil War, he ascended in balloons for reconnaissance.

Pancho learned to fly in the summer of 1928 and soloed in September of that year. The intersection of Hollywood and Flying put her in the center of movies such as Wings, Test Pilot, and Dawn Patrol. (Last month, I watched Test Pilot. Pancho did not get a credit, but she did get a cameo, standing behind Clark Gable.) The Depression ultimately took her large houses and other property. However, she knew about an oasis in the high desert where you could take off and land in any direction. During World War II, Pancho supplied meat and milk to Muroc before it was Edwards. By the time Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover showed up, she was well established.

Pancho never learned to manage money. She survived totally on cash flow. Part of this attitude, perhaps a foundation of it, was her generosity. Pancho's "club" was her home. Pilots came over, helped themselves to steaks from her fridge and cooked them on her stove and ate them at her table. It would be a few years before consumer demand forced Pancho to formalize the setting. Even so, her home was always open to Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, and the elect.

The Happy Bottom was in the way and Edwards condemned it. Pancho was out on her own and it took a toll on her. Ten years she lived in exile, isolated and lonely. Then, she was rediscovered by people to whom she was a legend. She ended her life giving speeches at test pilot dinners.

Lauren Kessler obviously threw herself into the work. Pancho captivated her, the way Pancho drew everyone. Kessler is not a pilot, but she was able to get pilots to talk about flying and she transmits the emotions behind the words. Some of the words came from Pancho herself.

Pancho Barnes was not reflective, insightful or introverted in any way. She never completed any project that required sustained effort. If not for Kessler and other biographers nothing Barnes wrote or did would have come to us.

Back to Hangar talk


NOTE: Reviews and Opinions do not necessarily represent those of Landings, its personnel and employees.
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