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The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde

by Jeff Guinn

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5706-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

An exercise in historical revisionism revealing, among other things, that Bonnie Parker didn’t like cigars.

Texas journalist Guinn (co-author: The Sixteenth Minute: Life in the Aftermath of Fame, 2005, etc.) has bones aplenty to pick with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Arthur Penn and the other principals involved in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. For one thing, he notes, it should have been Clyde and Bonnie, since Clyde Barrow was the brains and muscle behind their Depression-era exercise in mayhem. For another, the depiction of Texas lawman Frank Hamer as a bumbler who let Bonnie and Clyde escape “clearly was false.” Hamer had no contact with the pair until the fateful day when he caught up with them in Gibsland, Texas, where they were famously filled with lead. Guinn’s list of errors goes on, a touch tediously, but he has a point. During their 1932–34 crime spree, readers drew on tabloids for information about the Barrow Gang and viewed them as latter-day Robin Hoods until the ugly murder of a Texas cop led the public to change its opinion and dub the gang psychopaths. (Bonnie was transformed overnight from “sexy companion of a criminal kingpin” to “kill-crazy floozy.”) Today, most people who know anything about them know it through the highly romanticized lens of the Penn film. Guinn assembles what is reliably certain about Barrow and Parker, who grew up lean and mean in Texas and used crime as a means of escaping poverty and boredom. Neither offers much potential as an icon, though Gibsland now milks their corpses for what it can. Guinn’s prose is often ham-fisted, but the story’s intrinsic interest survives.

Detailed if middling tale of white trash taken out none too soon—but, as Barrow’s tombstone says, “Gone but not forgotten.”