The old Grand Theater in Wymore, Nebraska has been boarded up for years, but I never drive through main street without thinking about how I looked forward to spending an evening there as a child and the worlds that waited for me behind those musty velvet curtains. It was there that I first saw Bonnie and Clyde. Several years later, the building was sold and my cousin and I spent a Saturday afternoon kicking around dust in the upstairs projector room and sorting through discarded marquee posters and lobby cards. I salvaged one oversized poster and six pristine lobby cards that day from what I considered my favorite film of all time. I still have them.
I was sixteen years old when Clyde Barrow shot his way through my world. I don't remember thinking of the film as a great love story, but Warren Beatty's passionate pursuit of life came through Clyde Barrow with an intensity that left me breathless. I had grown up hearing the hard lessons of life the Great Depression had imposed upon my Father, but this was a new twist to a very tired story. The impact of the film influenced my life for months, while my classmates were quoting respectable excepts from Tennyson and Wordsworth, I was reciting Bonnie's poetry. In 1967, I was in popular company, my class would graduate the most students in the history of Southern High School. Rural communities like mine thrived across the United States and nurtured a generation uninspired by the materialistic ideals of their parents and searching desperately for something or someone to set them free.
Recently, I watched a taping of Faye Dunaway being interviewed by a film school student body, her knowledge of and devotion to her craft goes without question. Yet, I remember thinking she couldn't have known all of these intricacies of acting while filming Bonnie and Clyde. I wanted to believe unforgettable performances like Faye's as Bonnie happen in the first fragile months of theatrical innocence and in a rare situation where an actor is fortunate enough to find a character they can inextricably identify with. All of those years, I believed Faye instinctively understood Bonnie Parker. It was comforting to finally read her comments on her role as Bonnie (Los Angeles Times, Blasts From The Past, August 24, 1997). I, too, knew exactly how Bonnie felt.
When Bonnie and Clyde swept the world in 1968, the film was under immediate attack for glamorizing thugs. In 1969, I came across a book titled The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde as told by Bonnie's Mother, Mrs. Emma Parker and Clyde's Sister, Mrs. Nell Barrow Cowan. While the film was being condemned for excessive violence, I was learning that the imagination of filmmakers sometimes pales in the face of reality. Never mind the press had already learned it could sell papers perpetuating and sensationalizing rumors about the two outlaws, Mrs. Parker's account of the days following the ambush on the morning of May 23, 1934 on a road eight miles out of Gibsland, Lousianna makes an even more profound observation of our society than the final image of the bullet riddled bodies which emptied theaters around the world in utter silence for months on end in 1968.
The following are excepts of quotes from the Epilogue of The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde copyright 1968 as told by Mrs. Parker:
The horrible things which occurred both in Arcadia and Dallas, following the death of Bonnie and Clyde, were the sort of revolting episodes which shake one's faith in civilized humanity. We didn't expect people to have respect for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They were due no respect. But the state of death deserves respect in any land, and this was denied them.
Dr. Wade, the coroner at Arcadia, related afterwards that when he arrived at the scene of the killings two hours after it occurred, officers were still milling around. A crowd of several hundred had gathered about the death car, and Bonnie's dress, which was shot to ribbons, was almost cut from her back by curiosity seekers who were gathering souvenirs. Clyde's blood stained shirt and undershirt were in the same condition. We still have these garments, bearing mute testimony to the truth of this statement. Bonnie's hair had been clipped away, also, and someone was trying to get her diamond rings off her fingers. One man was reported to have been rifling Clyde's pockets when the coroner and undertaker arrived. They stopped them. Other people had ripped open the trunk on the back of the car and scattered its contents. Some enterprising onlooker was attempting to remove the hub cap from a wheel. Every piece of broken glass was eagerly picked up. The spot where the officers had lain in wait was trampled level by those who hunted for empty shells to take away. The crowds even cut down the trees and dug bullets from them I was told by a man who was there that he stopped some unknown person in an attempt to cut Clyde's ear off. This person wanted to preserve it in alcohol, he said.
The bodies were not brought to Arcadia till noon, and then the undertaker was held up for two hours for the inquest ..
When the bodies arrived in Dallas on the morning of May 24, people behaved in about the same manner as they did in Arcadia, but the Dallas police made an effort to control them. Twenty thousand people jammed the street in front of the funeral home where Bonnie lay and almost as many came to view Clyde. It was a Roman holiday. Hot dog stands were set up; soda pop vendors arrived to serve those who waited to view all that was left of the South's most noted desperadoes.
The final grim and sardonic touch was the great loads of flowers that arrived. It was impossible to hold the crowds back and they were wrecking both the place where Bonnie lay and the establishment where Clyde had been taken. Some newsboys contributed money for wreaths for Clyde and Bonnie. A small bouquet of lilies arrived with a note asking that they be placed in Bonnie's hands that night. The sender said that another bouquet would be sent the following day when these flowers had wilted, and asked that the wilted bunch be saved and given to me. I don't know who the person was. ..
We had planned to bring Bonnie home on Friday night. They tried to talk me out of it, but I was determined. "It was her last request," I said. "She wanted to come home and she's coming home."
They asked me then to look out of the door at the crowds who were waiting at my home. I realized the hopelessness of the attempt and gave it up. A car with a police escort was sent to bring me to the funeral home. We fought our way in. We had lived through so many things that none of this penetrated to our minds. We were finally past being hurt by anything. ..
We buried Clyde on Friday afternoon and Bonnie on Saturday --- not together, as they had wished. Each family wanted the privilege of placing the body in its own private burial plot ..Both funerals were nightmares. Nell was unable to get within forty feet of Clyde's grave. While the curious fought their way toward the grave side, as a last fantastic touch, aviators swooped low and dropped flowers on the bier. All of this hysteria, for and against, was enough to make one lose one's reason and go mad laughing. But none of us cared. We were past caring. The long trail had ended. Bonnie and Clyde had sinned and suffered and paid the price. They had broken the laws of God and man, and Death had come to meet then on a morning in May --- death for Bonnie and Clyde.