Arthur Penn, best known for directing such classics as “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Little Big Man,” died Tuesday night in his Manhattan home, of congestive heart failure, a day after his 88th birthday. A memorial service will be held before the end of the year.
Before making his way into film, Penn first made his name on The Great White Way as the director of the Tony Award-winning plays “The Miracle Worker” and “All the Way Home.” His film adaptation of “Worker” garnered his star Anne Bancroft the Best Actress Oscar, and netted himself a nomination for Best Director. His next nomination for the same award came with his most infamous and influential film in his canon, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Released in 1967 by Warner Bros. with the memorable tagline, “They’re young. They’re in love. They kill people,” when opposition to the Vietnam War was on the upswing, “Bonnie and Clyde” was a product of the time that spoke to a generation clamoring to rebel. The film’s violent climactic final scene in which the heroes meet their demise, only added to the film’s appeal, and continues to, to this day.
“Bonnie and Clyde” remains Penn’s masterwork, and is regarded by many as the dawn of a golden age in Hollywood, when the old studio system crumbled, paving the way for directors such as Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola to make their mark on Tinseltown.
“Arthur Penn brought the sensibility of ‘60s European art films to American movies,” writer-director Paul Schrader said in an interview with The New York Times. “He paved the way for the new generation of American directors who came out of film schools.”
Films that followed in its wake include “Easy Rider,” “The Graduate,” and “The Wild Bunch,” all youth-oriented, taboo-busting films that were huge successes. Penn himself followed “Bonnie and Clyde” up with the low key “Alice’s Restaurant,” starring Arlo Guthrie, and soon after directed the sprawling “Little Big Man.” “Night Moves,” starring Gene Hackman, who starred in “Bonnie and Clyde,” marked Penn’s next film. Over the following years Penn continued to direct, working on such films as “The Missouri Breaks,” “Four Friends,” and “Target,” once again featuring Hackman.
In his last years, Penn worked in television, serving as an executive producer on several episodes of “Law and Order,” and directing an episode of “100 Center Street.” He also made his way back to the stage, directing the 2002 Broadway production of “Fortune’s Fool,” that won two Tony Awards.
Penn is survived by his wife Peggy Mauer, son Matthew Penn, daughter Molly Penn and four grandsons.
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