DAVID NEWMAN: I was a true-crime buff and had picked up a copy of John Toland's "The Dillinger Days." It had footnotes about other outlaws of the time--and there were Bonnie [Parker] and Clyde [Barrow]. In the appendix of the book, he'd published Bonnie's doggerel poem, "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde." Here was this uneducated white-trash West Dallas gangster who'd written this compelling poem. When I talked about it with Benton, who was from Waxahachie, Texas, he realized he had these memories, as a child, of kids getting dressed up as Bonnie and Clyde for Halloween. And we thought, this is the movie we want to write.
BENTON: I'd grown up hearing all the stories about Bonnie and Clyde--my father went to their funeral [in 1934]. Everyone knew someone who'd been robbed or kidnapped by them. Any farmer that had an old car that didn't work, they'd take it out, shoot it full of holes, pour some animal blood on it and show it off as the car Bonnie and Clyde were killed in.
NEWMAN: In late 1963 and 1964, we wrote a 75-page treatment, very detailed, down to the camera shots. We wrote it at night, with my record of Flatt and Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" playing in the background.
Two people we knew, Eleanor and Norton Wright, optioned the treatment for $10,000, which enabled us to take a month's hiatus from Esquire and go down to East Texas. It was a research trip and a pilgrimage, because we were falling in love with the characters. We met these two white-haired old ladies, Miss Mabel and Miss Eva Grizzard--one of them had been Clyde's third-grade teacher. Miss Mabel told us the "Don't sell that cow" story that we used, word for word, in the movie.
It took us five hours of hunting around an abandoned cemetery in West Dallas to find Clyde and Buck's graves in this huge garbage dump with bramble bushes and beer cans. Finally we found the joint headstone, which read: "Gone but Not Forgotten."
BENTON: Our friend Helen Scott, who knew all the French filmmakers, got the treatment to Truffaut. When he came back to New York, he went through the script with us--it was the only screenwriting lesson we'd ever had. It was his idea to have Bonnie write her poem, then cut to a Texas Ranger reading it in the newspaper, and then cut to Clyde reading the poem from the newspaper to Bonnie before they make love in the meadow.
NEWMAN: Everyone in Hollywood turned the script down. Truffaut was too busy to do the film himself, but he'd given the script to Godard, who came to New York, where we had a catastrophic meeting. He had this reputation as a wild man, so when he said, "Let's start next week, I'm ready," our producers panicked. They said, "It's the wrong time of year to shoot in Texas. Norton Wright actually called and got a long-range weather report, saying it would be stormy and cold for the next three months. And Godard just walked out. His last words were: "I'm talking cinema and you're talking meteorology."
WARREN BEATTY: I was in Paris with Leslie Caron and we had lunch with Truffaut, who told me about this script. He was very enthusiastic. So I called Benton and Newman.
NEWMAN: When Warren called and said he'd like to read the script, we said back: "Who is this really?"
BENTON: Warren called and said he'd be by in 15 minutes to pick up the script. My wife says she had just enough time to get her makeup on. He called that night and said, "I'm on Page 27. I want to do it." And I said, "Wait till Page 47." And he called back and said, "I still want to do it." Warren bought the script for $10,000. He asked us who we'd like to direct it and of course we said Truffaut or Godard. And he very wisely said, "You've already written a French New Wave film. What you need is a good American director."
ARTHUR PENN: I was dubious. But Warren kept after me. He can be very persuasive and so he persuaded me. The script's biggest problem was they'd written the Michael J. Pollard character, C.W., as this football player who was a sexual partner to both Bonnie and Clyde--it was a menage a trois. I thought that was way too sophisticated for those characters.
BEATTY: I didn't have a problem with that--I thought it was novel and unexpected.
NEWMAN: Our very first meeting with Warren, he came right out and said, "I'm not playing a [homosexual]." He had plenty of aesthetic reasons, but he thought it would make him terribly unsympathetic to his audience. Arthur thought Clyde should have some sexual dysfunction, so we came up with him being impotent.
'I WANT HER'
PENN: Warren wanted a lot of women for Bonnie. We offered Tuesday Weld the part, but her husband didn't like it. Natalie Wood was suggested, but I said no. I didn't want a movie star. We talked about Jane Fonda but she seemed too sophisticated.