Vince Barnett (1902-1977) was an American film actor and comedian who specialized in playing practical jokes on his audiences. He was a licensed pilot since 1921.  His initial involvement in Hollywood was writing screenplays for two-reeler silent movies of the late 1920s. He began appearing in films in 1930, playing hundreds of comedy bits and supporting roles. After World War II Barnett became a familiar face on television.

A master of disguise, Vince Barnett for years was known in Hollywood as a professional ribber, appearing at banquets and parties as a paid practical joker. His most famous prank was to show up at an event as “the worst waiter in the world.”  He would insult the guests in a thick German accent, spill the soup and drop the trays, all to the delight of hosts who enjoyed watching their friends squirm and mutter, “Who hired that jerk?” Among the celebrated victims of his practical jokes were President Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Pancho Barnes.

It was in March 1949 when Vince Barnett showed up at the Happy Bottom Riding Club, on the advice of Pancho’s friend, comedian Milton Berle.  Disguised as a government health inspector, Barnett approached Barnes with an air of severity and urgency. He introduced himself as “Agent Schmidlapp from the Department of Public Health,” and he was there for a surprise inspection of the Club’s facilities.

Barnett started noting an array of fictitious health violations throughout the Club: “too many horses in proximity to the dining area,” “insufficient natural light in the bar area,” “the presence of unidentified substances on the kitchen floor.” He even held up a glass of water and squinted at it, commenting, “I think I see microorganisms swimming in there!”

Barnett then presented Barnes with an official looking but totally fabricated document, stating that her Club was to be shut down until the violations were addressed.

Pancho Barnes was initially furious at the thought of having to close down. She knew that her employees kept the kitchen, restaurant and bar area spotlessly clean. However, she soon noticed the twinkle in the inspector’s eyes and recognized the thick German accent that was eerily similar to the ‘terrible waiter’ who had entertained guests at a party she had attended hosted by her friend, Milton Berle, a couple of months ago at his home in Beverly Hills.

Before she could call his bluff, Barnett burst into laughter, pulling off his disguise. “Gotcha, Pancho!,” he exclaimed, revealing his true identity. The initial shock on Barnes’s face quickly gave way to laughter. Though initially fooled, she was a good sport, and the Club’s happy-hour patrons who had seen this spectacle enjoyed another hearty laugh at the expense of Pancho Barnes’s temporary discomfort, all thanks to another of Vince Barnett’s classic pranks.  

In addition to loving to laugh, Pancho and Vince Barnet shared a love of aviation, and they became close friends.  She made him an honorary member of the Happy Bottom Riding Club.  In 1952, when Pancho married Mac McKendry, Barnett performed at her wedding.