Arthur Penn RIP

Bonnie & Clyde director dead at 88

Arthur Penn RIP

by James White |
Published on

Arthur Penn, the multi-talented man behind such films as Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, Night Moves and The Miracle Worker, has died in New York mere hours after turning 88.

Penn’s long career crossed four decades, and while he found it difficult to replicate his earlier successes, he’ll still be remembered as one of cinema's most influential directors.

Among his biggest achievements was staging various versions of the Helen Keller story The Miracle Worker, first as a TV version (which scored Emmy nominations), then in 1959 on Broadway, taking home Tony awards for the director, his writer and star Anne Bancroft. And finally, there was the 1962 film based on the true-life tale, which saw Bancroft again awarded, this time alongside co-star Patty Duke, with both actresses taking home Oscars.

Before he was well known as a film director, he was probably most famous for advising then little-known senator John F Kennedy on his manner when debating Richard Nixon on camera. Penn’s advice, to keep his answers pithy and to look into the camera, helped the young politician score major points against his more experienced competition.

But if Penn is to have a truly lasting legacy, it’s in bringing Bonnie and Clyde to the world. Influenced by the French New Wave, the story of real-life, if largely unknown gangsters Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), the film caused a sensation with its amped-up blend of violence, sex and comedy. The movie would go on in turn to inspire other directors, including Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, among many others.

His career would yield a few more memorable movies, but after the late 1970s, he hit a period of serious decline and never quite recovered his creative vigour.

His wife, two children and four grandchildren survive him.

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