The Happy Bottom Riding Club by Lauren Kessler

The Happy Bottom Riding Club

By Lauren Kessler

  • Release Date: 2000-05-23
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 8 Ratings
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Pancho Barnes was a force of nature, a woman who lived a big, messy, colorful, unconventional life. She ran through three fortunes, four husbands, and countless lovers. She outflew Amelia Earhart, outsmarted Howard Hughes, outdrank the Mexican Army, and out- maneuvered the U.S. government. In The Happy Bottom Riding Club, award-winning author Lauren Kessler tells the story of a high-spirited, headstrong woman who was proud of her successes, unabashed by her failures, and the architect of her own legend.
Florence "Pancho" Barnes was a California heiress who inherited a love of flying from her grandfather, a pioneer balloonist in the Civil War. Faced with a future of domesticity and upper-crust pretensions, she ran away from her responsibilities as wife and mother to create her own life. She cruised South America. She trekked through Mexico astride a burro. She hitchhiked halfway across the United States. Then, in the late 1920s, she took to the skies, one of a handful of female pilots.
She was a barnstormer, a racer, a cross-country flier, and a Hollywood stunt pilot. She was, for a time, "the fastest woman on earth," flying the fastest civilian airplane in the world. She was an intimate of movie stars, a script doctor for the great director Erich von Stroheim, and, later in life, a drinking buddy of the supersonic jet jockey Chuck Yeager. She ran a wild and wildly successful desert watering hole known as the Happy Bottom Riding Club, the raucous bar and grill depicted in The Right Stuff.
In The Happy Bottom Riding Club, Lauren Kessler presents a portrait, both authoritative and affectionate, of a woman who didn't play by women's rules, a woman of large appetites--emotional, financial, and sexual--who called herself "the greatest conversation piece that ever existed."

From the Hardcover edition.


  • Great story but left a burning question!

    By CVudu
    I had been fascinated by the life of Pancho Barnes since I was a teen and saw the 1988 TV movie based on her life (very loosely, I learned). A short time later, I got my hands on a book written by her last husband, from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University library. I believe it was compiled mostly from Pancho's unfinished memoirs. It was a very personal look inside Pancho and further increased my desire to learn more. I enjoyed every minute of this telling of Pancho's life and hung on every word. The detail was fascinating, and I began to feel as if I understood Pancho in a new and very human way. The one question that was never answered for me was regarding her love of flying. I know that she owned planes during her time in the Mojave Dessert, but what importance they had in her life is left unanswered. There was little detail as compared to earlier chapters about her flying exploits. Perhaps, there wasn't much to tell, but my curiosity is still burning about this question. I highly recommend this story to flyers and non-flyers alike. It is the story of an extremely human person that lived an extraordinary life. Pancho did not believe in wasting a minute of her life and we can all learn from that philosophy.