Study Guide

Bonnie and Clyde Screenwriter

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Robert Benton and David Newman

These two literary dudes met while they were working for Esquire Magazine in New York in the early 1960's—Esquire at that point was less "what cologne to wear" and more "check out this story by Norman Mailer."

Benton, who was from rural Texas, told Newman the story of how his father had attended the separate funerals for both Bonnie and Clyde back in the 1930's…and the screenplay started to develop from there.

Both men were also big fans of French New Wave films, which were super popular in New York at the time. And the script—a mixture of Benton's boyhood stories of rural Texas in the 1930's, elements of traditional American gangster films, and New Wave influences (especially in the film's unusual editing for the time)—took shape.

Originally, Benton and Newman, neither of whom had any film credits at the time, liked the idea of getting one of the leading French New Wave directors (such as Jean Luc Godard or Francois Truffaut) involved with the project.

After hearing about their script, actor Warren Beatty—anxious in getting into the production end of filmmaking—read it, loved it, and bought it. Beatty offered the script to both Godard and Truffaut and, when both declined, offered it to a number of established American directors including George Stevens and William Wyler. Finally, another American director, Arthur Penn—who had had great success with his film adaptation of the play The Miracle Worker in 1962—accepted.

As it did for Beatty, Penn, and many of its actors, Bonnie and Clyde launched Benton and Newman's screenwriting careers. For a few years, they worked as a team on such films as Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? in 1972. Afterwards, they went their separate ways.

Newman was probably best known for his writing contribution to three very popular movies about Superman in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Increasingly, he worked with his wife, Leslie, on many of his scripts. He died in 2003 at age 66.

Benton went on to have a successful filmmaking career of his own as a director as well as a writer. Nominated for numerous Academy Awards (including his and Newman's screenwriting nomination for Bonnie and Clyde), he has won Oscars for both writing and directing the 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer and a third Oscar for writing the script for his very touching 1982 rural drama, Places in the Heart.

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