One evening in June 1949, on invitation from Pancho Barnes, Vince Barnett arrived at the Happy Bottom Riding Club, as usual incognito, however this time dressed as the head chef. His disguise was surprisingly successful, thanks to a carefully sculpted fake mustache, a pristine white chef’s hat, and a kitchen apron that helped to hide his identity from the unsuspecting Club diners. He let the hostesses serving dinners that evening in on his plans for the prank. After ensuring that the dinner service was running smoothly, Barnett decided it was time to make his appearance. 

With a flourish of exaggerated French accents and impressive culinary lingo, accompanied by Bella, one of the club’s most charismatic hostesses, he exited the kitchen and started moving from table to table, checking in with guests.  Barnett went about praising the quality of the “exquisite cuisine,” and sharing amusing anecdotes about the “challenges of the culinary world.”

But the real fun began when Barnett began his game of “Spot the Incognito Celebrity” prank.

“See that gentleman there,” he’d say to one of the guests, pointing discreetly to a table nearby. “He’s a very famous English prince, you know. He’s here in disguise to enjoy a quiet night.”

The guests at the ‘pranked’ table gasped, trying to steal glances, and whispering among themselves while the clueless “English prince” sitting at the table next to them carried on eating his steak, unaware of his newfound fame.

Moving on to the next table of unsuspecting guests, Barnett slyly pointed-out a rather stern looking lady engrossed in her book as a “renowned author, working on her next masterpiece.” The buzz of excitement rippled across the ‘pranked table’ as one of the guests tried to subtly snap a photograph. 

Then, Barnett gestured toward a guy in Hawaiian shirt, “And that fellow over there, why he’s the biggest movie star in Eastern Europe!” The unsuspecting guy merely continued sipping his Margarita oblivious to the stares and whispers.

By the end of the night, the Happy Bottom Riding Club was abuzz with starstruck patrons, all eager to get an autograph from the ‘celebrity’ sitting at a nearby table. The poor “celebrities” had no idea why they were suddenly the center of attention.

Barnett, energized by the success of his initial pranks, was keen to keep the ruse going.  Spotting an elderly gentleman enjoying his pot roast at a corner table, Barnett saw the perfect opportunity. Barnett walked over to large dining table in the middle of the room with 10 guests so that all could hear his comments. “Good heavens” he exclaimed, clutching Bella’s arm dramatically and pointing subtly at the unsuspecting man sitting alone at the corner table. “Do my eyes deceive me or is that the legendary Chuck Yeager sitting over there?”

Chuck Yeager, of course, was known to be a regular at the Happy Bottom Riding Club. Yeager was very recognizable because his face had recently appeared on the cover of the April 18, 1949 edition of Time Magazine. 

“But Chef,” Bella responded, playing along perfectly, “everyone knows Chuck Yeager is out of the country right now.”

Barnett looked genuinely perplexed, squinting at the elderly gentleman and then at his own glasses. “I just can’t believe it!  He looks so much like Chuck Yeager.  Maybe I need to clean my glasses!” He took out a large comic oversized handkerchief and started to polish his glasses, putting on a spectacle for everyone at the table and the guests started to chuckle.

After cleaning his glasses and putting them back on, Barnett looked again, shook his head, and sighed, “Nope, still looks like Chuck to me!”

The laughter grew louder as Barnett decided to march over to the old man’s table. “Excuse me sir,” he said, “I can’t help but notice you bear an uncanny resemblance to Chuck Yeager, the legendary test pilot. In fact, I bet my last dollar you’re him!”

The elderly gentleman, who had been enjoying his meal in peace, looked up, clearly puzzled. “I’m afraid I’m not Mr. Yeager, sir,” he said, smiling good naturedly.

Unperturbed, Barnett pretended to be even more shocked. “You’re not? Oh, my goodness, my apologies. I must have made a fool of myself. It’s these glasses, you see,” he said, taking them off and pretending to examine them in consternation.

This gag brought another round of laughs at the ‘pranked table,’ with the elderly gentleman also chuckling along with the absurdity of the situation.

Just as dessert was served, the real head chef of the Happy Bottom Riding Club emerged from the kitchen, bewildered and half laughing. He recognized Barnett right away, being a fan of his pranks, and the jig was up. He introduced Vince Barnett to all the diners and the entire restaurant erupted in laughter as people realized they’d been had.

That night Vince Barnett’s pranks went down in history as one of the funniest nights at the Happy Bottom Riding Club. And the guests? Well, they all left with an unforgettable memory, even if their autographs turned out to be from Bob, the local plumber, rather than a famous “Eastern European” movie star.

Vince Barnett, true to his reputation, made sure everyone at the Happy Bottom Riding Club went home that night with smiles on their face and a story to tell. Even the “not Chuck Yeager” had a chuckle and a story to share about the time he was mistaken for a legendary test pilot.