Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend

Movie lovers of a certain age know the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway also featured Gene Hackman as Clyde’s older brother and Estelle Parsons as his irritating wife. Some of us can even recite lines of dialogue from the movie and anticipate the most dramatic and violent scenes.

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Lake Highlands resident and author Karen Blumenthal says we’re not the target audience for her new book, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend.

Blumenthal, author of 11 books, says her newest project is one of eight she’s written for younger readers.

“This is a book for teens, and I’m pretty sure most of them haven’t seen the movie.”

Blumenthal, shockingly, said she hadn’t seen the film before she began her research on the bank robbing duo, both born in Texas.

“I was pretty young when it came out,” Blumenthal says.

“Also, as you and I know, the movie isn’t the real story,” Blumenthal told me. Shock Number Two.

“A lot of young people have heard of Bonnie and Clyde because they are all over music and modern culture, especially in hip-hop, rap and country music. But when I started asking, most kids didn’t know details about them, other than they were some kind of outlaws or gangsters.”

Blumenthal says she wanted to write about something local, and she wondered why the pair remain so famous, even after their violent deaths at the hands of lawmen in 1934.

“Can you imagine any other killers who are as romanticized and glamorized? To me, there’s a parallel with celebrity today, especially reality TV. What would the Bonnie and Clyde story, and how they became a legend, tell us about our celebrity culture?”

Blumenthal worked as a financial journalist for more than 25 years, including eight as Dallas bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, and her team won a Pulitzer Prize for 9/11 reporting. As a nonfiction writer, she is a skilled researcher, and her experience came in handy as she accessed archives and old Dallas Times Herald microfilm to read stories about the bank robbers.

“I tried to get to the bottom of ‘myths’,” said Blumenthal of her interviews with relatives and Bonnie and Clyde historians. “One very sad story is that one victim’s fiancé wore her wedding dress to his funeral, but none of the news coverage at the time mentions it, although it became an often-told story later.”

Luckily, Blumenthal had access to resources not available when Beatty and Dunaway made the film. Digitization of local newspapers gave her access to stories written after the robberies without driving to libraries in the many states where crimes were committed. The FBI released 1,000 pages of documents 10 years ago, after all the other Bonnie and Clyde books were written. And Blumenthal found a treasure trove in the Dallas Public Library, scrapbooks kept by Sheriff Smoot Schmid with articles from the Dallas Evening Journal and Dallas Dispatch, otherwise unavailable.

I asked Blumenthal if students benefit when they read about history in her book(s), or if it’s just a fun story. She said “fun,” in this case, is relative.

“This is a fascinating story, but also a pretty gory one. Being a criminal is not a great way to live. The real benefit, I think, is getting a broader view of our world. There are lots of other themes here, indirectly: Growing up in grinding poverty in unincorporated West Dallas, the gruesome reality of Texas prisons in the 1920s and 1930s, how our police forces developed, how legends and myths evolve – even ‘fake news.’ This is more than a true crime tale.”

The book jacket says the author lives near where Bonnie and Clyde were said to have buried cash, and Blumenthal says that refers to the claims of a now-deceased Barrow family member that the duo buried stolen money along Abrams Road, which was the road to Greenville, Texas, back in their day. Blumenthal doesn’t believe the tale, but she’d like to hear if you find it.

Blumenthal’s next project is a social history for teens of the Dallas lawsuit Roe v. Wade, a story like Bonnie and Clyde, she says, where “it’s not what you think it is.” She’s also adapting a book on the opioid crisis for young adults.

Blumenthal is launching Bonnie and Clyde at Interabang Books, Preston and Royal, on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 1 p.m. and she’ll be speaking at the Lochwood Library Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 6: 30 p.m. Her book is published by Viking Books for Young Readers and will be available online and in stores Aug. 14 wherever books are sold.

Karen Blumenthal. Photo by Robin Sachs Photography.

Clyde Barrow’s mug shot