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The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes Paperback – May 23, 2000


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The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes + The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club + The Right Stuff
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (May 23, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812992520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812992526
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #846,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A more unlikely minister's wife could hardly be imagined. Yet Florence Lowe Barnes (1901-74) was in fact married to an Episcopalian rector when she began training horses and flying stunt planes for Hollywood studios. As it turned out, however, the hard-drinking, hard-living, primarily male camaraderie she found there suited her far better than the well-mannered lifestyle of her affluent parents and undersexed husband. She acquired her nickname during a roistering 1927 trip to Mexico, and "Pancho" Barnes became legendary as a pioneering female pilot and a world-class party thrower with lovers to spare. (She was no beauty, but many men found Pancho's gusto and humor irresistible.) In the mid-'30s, past her prime as a pilot and looking for a business to support her free-spending ways, she set up as a Mojave Desert rancher near a tiny encampment of the Army Air Corps. Military and test pilots like Chuck Yeager flocked to Pancho's place--whether it was called Rancho Oro Verde, Pancho's Fly-Inn, or the Happy Bottom Riding Club--to savor her openhanded hospitality with food and booze, and to enjoy earthy stories about her past. Readers intrigued by Tom Wolfe's thumbnail sketch of Pancho in The Right Stuff will relish Lauren Kessler's full-length narrative of her adventurous life. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"Flying makes me feel like a sex maniac in a whorehouse," declares Florence "Pancho" Lowe Barnes in Kessler's colorful biography of the female flyer, raconteur and scandalmonger. Drawing on personal interviews and other primary sources, Kessler details Barnes's flamboyant life: her privileged childhood in Pasadena at the beginning of the 20th century; her disastrous arranged marriage with minister Rankin Barnes, 10 years her senior, and the birth of her only child, Billy; her years as a flying ace and sexual profligate; and her penniless end as a possible murder victim whose corpse was partially eaten by her numerous starving dogs. Barnes was encouraged in her love of flying by her balloonist grandfather, Thaddeus Lowe, who flew the first air reconnaissance for the U.S. during the Civil War. In the 1920s, she began stunt flying for Hollywood, no mean feat considering that in 1929 only 34 of the 4,690 licensed pilots in the U.S. were women and none but Barnes did such work. She tested planes for Lockheed; wrote scripts for director Erich von Stroheim; worked with Howard Hughes on Hell's Angels, his multimillion-dollar flying epic; and founded the Association of Motion Picture Pilots. In 1929, she broke the women's speed record; six years later, she established the Women's Air Reserves, organized along military lines for aid in disasters. She spent WW II catering to pilots like Chuck Yeager at her Mojave Desert ranch and nightclub, the Happy Bottom Riding Club, which may or may not have been a high-toned brothel. This intriguing tale of a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking former debutante engagingly evokes a woman who lived like she flew--fast and dangerous.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Lauren Kessler (www.laurenkessler.com) is the author of six works of narrative nonfiction, including My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, A Journey through the Thickets of Adolescence. She is also the author of Pacific Northwest Book Award winner Dancing with Rose (retitled in paperback Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's), Washington Post bestseller Clever Girl, Los Angeles Times bestseller The Happy Bottom Riding Club, Full Court Press and Oregon Book Award winner Stubborn Twig. Stubborn Twig was chosen as the book for all Oregon to read in honor of the state's 2009 sesquicentennial.

Lauren blogs with her teenage daughter at www.myteenagewerewolf.com. You can follow her on Twitter at LaurenJKessler

Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O magazine, salon and The Nation. She is founder and editor of Etude, the online magazine of narrative nonfiction, and directs the graduate program in literary nonfiction at the University of Oregon. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her writer husband, Tom Hager, her three brilliant and faultless children, five chickens and a cat that thinks it's a dog.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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There was and gosh, what a book!
Cathy Cooper
A great read for anyone that is into the history of early American aviation and a must read for women's herstory.
Gigi Pilcher
Superbly written, interesting, a fascinating story.
Spanky

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Terry Mathews on January 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Florence "Pancho" Leontine Lowe Barnes may have been to the manor born and bred, but she chafed at her parent's prim and proper society and decided to be true to the one person she could count on -- herself.

Until I read this book, I only knew of Pancho Barnes and her Happy Bottom Riding Club from the movie THE RIGHT STUFF. She was the proprietor of the saloon/motel/dude ranch where all the test pilots from nearby Edwards Air Force Base hung out. Her character didn't get much footage in the movie, but she was compelling enough to warrant further investigation.

Author Lauren Kessler offers an insider's view into the life of this enigmatic woman, from her privileged childhood to her poverty-stricken death. This is no mere biography...it's a tour de force of the woman behind all the legends.

Pancho Barnes was raised by wealthy parents. Her grandfather had made his fortune with patents and in real estate in the early part of the 20th century. Her grandfather died broke, but he lived large. Her grandfather and father doted on her and indulged her every wish. She was puzzled by her mother's world of socials, needlework and fancy dresses. She was dazzled by horses, the outdoors and demanding physical activity.

Early on, it was clear that Florence was not going to be a beauty, nor was she the shy and retiring kind. She rode horses, played outside and generally behaved as a young boy. School bored her. Afternoon teas and the
idea of running a house set her teeth on edge. Even though she obeyed her family's wishes and married an Episcopalian minister and had one child, she was never a conventional wife or mother, in any form, shape or fashion.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kelley L. Ross on February 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is MUST READ for anyone interested in the histories of aviation, of the 1920s, of Los Angeles, of the California desert, and of Edwards Air Force Base in particular. Pancho Barnes is a larger-than-life character. A slightly sad one, in a way, since she spent her way out of fortune into poverty; but, wow, if you are going to burn the candle at both ends, this is the way to do it. Flying booze in from Mexico during probihition, stunt riding for Hollywood movies (and the Foursquare Gospel), barnstorming the country, giving daily parties for the earliest movie stars, and then providing round-the-clock R&R for all the Right Stuff pilots in the earliest days of experimental jet and rocket flight. Pancho knew how to live it up, tell a story, and deliver a line, and fortunately was appreciated and looked after in her declining years by the pilots she had entertained in the 40s and 50s. This story has hardly even been told (one TV movie was ridiculous) and is still largely esoteric knowledge to the fraternity of pilots.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By G. P. Roberts on September 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I saw the author one evening on BookTV and I immediatly went out and got the book. If you like aviation history, stories about wild parties, riches to rags stories, or tales about oversexed, hard drinking, foul mouthed women then this is a must read! I give credit to the author for her detail and for her ability to tell the story of a charater like Poncho Barnes and keep the content at a PG-13 level (for the most part). This story is a great lesson on what can happen to a rich child who is not tought the value of a dollar. For those of us who can only read about the rich and wonder what it would be like to be rich and have a good time; well, let me say you will not be disappointed in this read. Pancho is one of those people that you would like to know but (hopefully) not be like. I also learned alot about the early history of Edwards AFB (even how the name was changed to Edwards). I had read Chuck Yeager's Biography years ago and this book ties in and gives the reader a view of life off the base. Read it, you'll have fun.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John R. Skaggs on September 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Having been a pilot for nearly 30 years I had heard many stories about Pancho Barnes and her famous Happy Bottom Riding Club. Any pilot would love this book and it would make a great gift. A friend of mine gave it to me for my birthday and I could hardly put it down. I had also heard of Thaddeus Lowe, her grandfather and pioneer hot air balloon pilot in the Civil War and enjoyed learning more about this fabulous man who had a great influence on Pancho. Someone should make a movie about the life of Pancho Barnes because she is one of the most daring and gutsy women who ever took to the skies. This book is very well written and extremely interesting, especially for anyone who loves aviation. The details of Pancho's private life are sometimes shocking but brutally honest. I can heartily recommend this book!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What a great book! I've read about Pancho in other books but I had no idea that she was such an adventurer and entrepeneur (for lack of a better word). It's obvious that Kessler did a great job of researching Pancho and an equally great job of tell her story. A must read!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gigi Pilcher on July 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I had a hard time putting this book down. It offeres a well researched glimpse into the unconventional life of a most unusal woman. A great read for anyone that is into the history of early American aviation and a must read for women's herstory.
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