‘Bonnie and Clyde’ miniseries isn’t factually bulletproof

Updated: 2013-12-08T05:00:14Z


The Kansas City Star

If you watch the new “Bonnie & Clyde,” you’ll eventually find yourself asking, “Hold on, did they really do that?”

The four-hour, two-part miniseries based on the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow begins Sunday on three cable networks, with Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch as the notorious Depression-era outlaws.

Kansas Citians who tune in will perk up when “Platte City, Missouri” flashes onto the screen. But before that, the Depression-era lovers get up to some business that seems straight out of a dime novel.

Here’s how it all really went down:

Did Bonnie sneak a gun to Clyde so he could break out of jail?

Yes, although this show paints it as her idea, while most accounts have Clyde doing the planning.

Did Clyde have a fellow inmate mangle his foot so he could get out of jail?

Yes. He sacrificed two toes for an early release from Texas’ Eastham Prison Farm, only to have his parole come through five days later. After his injury, he drove in stocking feet for better control.

Did Clyde infiltrate a prison work detail to free his buddy and exact revenge on a prison rapist?

Yes and no. Clyde beat his abuser to death with an iron pipe while they were both still behind bars. But he did return to Eastham, kill a guard and free three men who joined his gang, though this retelling places the breakout years earlier.

Did Clyde send a letter of appreciation to Henry Ford for making fast getaway cars?

Maybe, though some biographers think the handwriting is Bonnie’s.

Dear Sir:

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.

Yours truly

Clyde Champion Barrow

Did Bonnie send the famous photos of her with a gun and a cigar to a reporter in her quest for fame?

No. Authorities found the photos when they raided an abandoned hideout in Joplin. And Bonnie didn’t smoke cigars.

Did Clyde play the saxophone, even on the run?

Yes. His sax was found among the weapons and license plates in the Ford V8 he died in.

Did they really look that good?

Sometimes. Even during their crime sprees, the couple would drop their clothes off at a dry cleaner’s, then pick them up weeks later while on the run.

Did Bonnie wield a Tommy gun like a pro?

No. She almost certainly never fired a shot. And Clyde preferred a Browning automatic rifle.

Did lawmen really ambush the couple with a hail of bullets?

Yes, with 187 shots in 16 seconds. Bonnie, never wanted for any capital offenses, was eating a sandwich in the passenger seat when Clyde’s head was blown off. Former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who walked up to finish her off at close range, later said, “I hate to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down. But if it wouldn’t have been her, it would have been us.”

Great movies about bad couples

“Gun Crazy” (1950) A gun-toting gal is the instigator in this film noir classic directed by B-movie legend Joseph H. Lewis. With Peggy Cummins and John Dall as small-time crooks planning one last score that leads to a desperate manhunt and this profession of love: “We go together. I don’t know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.”

“Badlands” (1973) Terrence Malick’s tense re-imagining of the true story of 1950s Nebraska spree killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. With Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, who delivers haunting, fairy-tale narration while the body count rises.

“True Romance” (1993) Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater star in Tony Scott’s interpretation of Quentin Tarantino’s first big-screen script. A gleeful, nihilistic love story with hilarious turns from Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper and Brad Pitt, who smokes pot from a honey bear bong.

“Natural Born Killers” (1994) Oliver Stone’s visceral, blood-drenched satire of American mass media remains one of the most controversial movies ever made. Made from another (heavily revised) Tarantino story, with Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis and Robert Downey Jr. at the height of his crazy.

The Kansas City connection

The climax of the new “Bonnie & Clyde” takes place just north of Kansas City, based on the real events of July 20, 1933.

The Barrow gang was holed up at the Red Crown Tavern and Motor Court just outside Platte City. Clyde’s brother Buck was against the idea of coming to Kansas City: “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s Union Station Massacre, which had taken place just a month earlier, meant lots of heat. He was right.

Law enforcement officers, alerted to the gang’s presence, asked Jackson County Sheriff Tom Bash for Thompson sub-machine guns, shields and a bulletproof car. The Barrow gang was using Browning Automatic Rifles, which pierced the car’s armor quickly. Even with Tommy guns, the cops were outgunned.

Clyde, Bonnie and three accomplices escaped, but Buck received what proved to be a fatal head wound. They left behind six Browning rifles and 47 Colt .45 automatic pistols — they’d just robbed an arsenal.

In the 1967 “Bonnie and Clyde” film, the shootout takes place in “Platte City, Iowa.”

Bonnie, in her own words

Bonnie Parker wrote.

She wrote lyrical love letters to Clyde Barrow while he was in prison, then later she typed poems in the backseat of stolen cars while Clyde drove all night.

But most of her poems that survived were written while she was in jail, where she filled a small black notebook from the First National Bank of Burkburnett, Texas. The autobiographical “Story of Suicide Sal” begins:

We each of us have a good alibi

For being down here in the joint

But few of them really are justified

If you get right down to the point.

You’ve heard of a woman’s glory

Being spent on a “downright cur”

Still you can’t always judge the story

As true, being told by her.

“She’s not someone we’d remember for the quality of her poems,” said Christie Hodgen, director of creative writing at UMKC.

Parker’s most famous work, “The Trail’s End,” predicted her bloody demise in a form common to the era.

“The time had a lot of narrative poetry that rhymed. That style was popular, it was entertaining, but hasn’t lasted on its literary merit,” Hodgen said.

What set Parker apart was her subject matter, even though American literature had been moving away from fanciful, romantic concerns into realism since the Civil War. At the same time, women and minorities slowly gained traction in society.

“Writing was one of the ways in which women gained a voice,” Hodgen said.

The Street Girl (excerpted)

You don’t want to marry me, Honey,

Though just to hear you ask me is sweet;

If you did you’d regret it tomorrow

For I’m only a girl of the street.

Time was when I’d gladly have listened,

Before I was tainted with shame,

But it wouldn’t be fair to you honey;

Men laugh when they mention my name.

Back there on the farm in Nebraska,

I might have said yes to you then,

But I thought the world was a playground;

Just teeming with Santa Claus men.

So I left the old home for the city,

To play in its mad, dirty whirl,

Never knowing how little of pity,

It holds for a slip of a girl.

I soon got a job in the chorus,

With nothing but looks and a form,

I had a new man every evening,

And my kisses were thrilling and warm.

I might have sold them for a fortune,

To some old sugar daddy with dough,

But youth called to youth for its lover,

There was plenty that I didn’t know.

To reach Sara Smith, call 816-234-4375 or send email to Follow her at

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