Bonnie and Clyde – Not So Secret Obsession

That is such a great photo of Bonnie and Clyde, their smiles are so sweet.  I know, they did a lot of bad things and they died after being made into human swiss cheese.  The photo even lower is pure perfection, but how could it not?

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (October 1, 1910 – May 23, 1934) and Clyde Chestnut Barrow (March 24, 1909 – May 23, 1934) were well-known outlaws, robbers, and criminals who traveled the Central United States with their gang during the Great Depression. Their exploits captured the attention of the American public during the “public enemy era” between 1931 and 1934. Though known today for his dozen-or-so bank robberies, Barrow in fact preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and committed several civilian murders. The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in Louisiana by law officers. Their reputation was cemented in American pop folklore by Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.

Even during their lifetimes, the couple’s depiction in the press was at considerable odds with the hardscrabble reality of their life on the road—particularly in the case of Parker. Though she was present at a hundred or more felonies during her two years as Barrow’s companion, she was not the machine gun-wielding cartoon killer portrayed in the newspapers, newsreels, and pulp detective magazines of the day. Gang member W. D. Jones was unsure whether he had ever seen her fire at officers. Parker’s reputation as a cigar-smoking gun moll grew out of a playful snapshot found by police at an abandoned hideout, released to the press, and published nationwide; while she did chain-smoke Camel cigarettes, she was not a cigar smoker.

Author-historian Jeff Guinn explains that it was the release of these very photos that put the outlaws on the media map and launched their legend: “John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all—illicit sex. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were young and unmarried. They undoubtedly slept together—after all, the girl smoked cigars… Without Bonnie, the media outside Texas might have dismissed Clyde as a gun-toting punk, if it ever considered him at all. With her sassy photographs, Bonnie supplied the sex-appeal, the oomph, that allowed the two of them to transcend the small-scale thefts and needless killings that actually comprised their criminal careers.”

Barrow and Parker were ambushed and killed on May 23, 1934 on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. The couple appeared in daylight in an automobile and were shot by a posse of four Texas officers (Frank Hamer, B.M. “Manny” Gault, Bob Alcorn and Ted Hinton) and two Louisiana officers (Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Morel Oakley).

Every year near the anniversary of the ambush, a “Bonnie and Clyde Festival” is hosted in the tow of Gibsland, off Interstate 20 in Bienville Parish. The ambush location, still comparatively isolated on Louisiana Highway 154, south of Gibsland, is commemorated by a stone marker that has been defaced to near illegibility by souvenir hunters and gunshot. A small metal version was added to accompany the stone monument. It was stolen, as was its replacement.

Through the decades, many cultural historians have analyzed Bonnie’s and Clyde’s enduring appeal to the public imagination. E.R. Milner, an historian, writer, and expert on Bonnie and Clyde and their era, put the duo’s enduring appeal to the public, both during the Depression and continuing on through the decades, into historical and cultural perspective. To those people who, as Milner says, “consider themselves outsiders, or oppose the existing system,” Bonnie and Clyde represent the ultimate outsiders, revolting against an uncaring system. “The country’s money simply declined by 38 percent”, explains Milner, author of The Lives and Times of Bonnie and Clyde. “Gaunt, dazed men roamed the city streets seeking jobs… Breadlines and soup kitchens became jammed. (In rural areas) foreclosures forced more than 38 percent of farmers from their lands (while simultaneously) a catastrophic drought struck the Great Plains… By the time Bonnie and Clyde became well known, many had felt the capitalistic system had been abused by big business and government officials… Now here were Bonnie and Clyde striking back.”

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