When you hear the word “outlaw”, a few names come to mind. Billie the Kid. Jesse James. Jesse McCree. Lone bandits who had their names etched in history with their gunslinging and firefights. Grown ups all the school kids pretended to be. They not only shaped history, but shaped those children growing up. Children like Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
The Ravishing Redhead
Bonnie was born in Rowena, Texas on October 1st, 1910, as the middle child of Charles and Emma Parker. At the age of four, Bonnie’s father passed and, because there was no way for a single mother to provide for her three children, Bonnie moved with her family to Cement City just outside Dallas.
As a child, Bonnie Parker would do anything to be the center of attention. She thrived in the spotlight. An early example of her showmanship was during Sunday School when she was just three years old. She was selected along with a few other children to take turns singing their favorite hymns in front of the entire congregation. But when little Bonnie took the stage, she shocked everyone by belting out a honky-tonk tune called “He’s a Devil in His Own Home Town.” Emma was appalled. Bonnie was thrilled with the extra attention.
When Bonnie turned six, she started attending school. She was cute and incredibly bright, showing a keen interest in poetry and literature. School pageants always included her in featured roles. But school also brought out her more bothersome traits. On any public occasion, Bonnie was liable to do something outrageous to make herself stand out. She also had a hot temper. Her mother admitted that Bonnie “fought her way” through school, slugging it out with boys as well as girls over the smallest slights.
On her free time after school and on weekends, the Parker girls would often be sent out to fish to help feed the family. Billie Jean, Bonnie’s younger sister, loved it, but Bonnie found it boring and tiresome. So, to compensate, Bonnie would sing at the top of her lungs. Billie would later say that anytime she tried to hush her, Bonnie’s normal reply was “When I’m on Broadway and have my name in lights, you’ll be sorry you talked to me like this.” Her absolute favorite performer was Jimmie Rogers. The loved his songs like “My Old Pal” and ironically “In the Jailhouse Now”.
Puberty hit, and with it, an obsession with fashion. The “flapper look” of the day consumed many girls lives and wallets of the time. Many of them would get dolled up and rush to Fair Park to show off their new looks in 3-for-a-nickel photo strips. But not Bonnie. She saved up enough money to pose for a studio “glamour shot” (below) that became one of her prized possessions.
But Bonnie knew how hard it would be. Her dreams of stardom were far fetched and her education would end after high school due to a lack of tuition. Her only option, in her mind, for even the smallest bit of joy was love. And marriage. And a teenage heartthrob like Bonnie would have no trouble finding a man to settle down with. Or so she thought.
The Wayward Son
Clyde was born in Telico, Texas on March 24th, 1909 as the fifth of seven children to be
born to Henry and Cumie Barrow. Although his family was poor, they all were very close to each other. The Barrow boys all went by nicknames instead of their given names. Elvin was “Jack”, L.C. was “Flop”, while Ivan went by “Buck”. Clyde, due to being such buddies with his older brother, adopted the name “Bud”.
As a child, Clyde hated school, but knew the benefits of attending it and did his best to stick it out, unlike his older brother. He also as a child very much enjoyed church, even being “saved” and and baptized at Eureka Baptist Church.
Clyde definitely had a few bothersome traits growing up. He had a knack for hero-worshipping his brother Buck and, whenever he played with his friends or siblings, he always had to be the one in charge, and was charismatic enough to get everyone to go along with it. His favorite actor, William S. Hart, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid were idols that he would pretend to be during playtime. And it showed too, because little Clyde was just as handy with a gun as his heroes. His mother recalled that, although he “could shoot good”, he far preferred handling guns over using them to hunt for the family. He hunted out of duty more than pleasure. Target practice was more his taste.
Clyde had a temper too, even as a child. Bud remembered every insult hurled his way. Every betrayal. And would let them fester inside him long term, plotting revenge. Forgiveness was not part of his character. Clyde was also involved in a few fights as a youth. Although he usually tried to avoid them, preferring to talk his was out of disagreements, when he had to fight, he would completely lose control and explode into violence using anything nearby as a weapon. And if he lost, he would strike back at the next chance he got.
A lesser known fact is that Clyde’s greatest pleasure through most his life was music, much like his Ma. Clyde taught himself to play guitar and was known by many to be an “extra good dancer”. He announced proudly to many that his first professional ambition was to be in some kind of band with other boys.
But times became more difficult. When Buck and Clyde lived out in the country, the only mischief they could manage was stealing chickens and skipping school. After WWI ended, and the Barrow family made their move to West Dallas, the temptation for greater crimes to sustain a livable lifestyle became too great.
A Brush with Love and Death
When Bonnie met Clyde, her life was in shambles. Everything from dwindling dreams of becoming an icon, to her husband walking out of her life for good had torn her down. With her passions fading, she wrote twice in her diary “Why don’t something happen?”
When it finally did, she knew immediately. Bonnie went over to her brother’s in laws home for a party and one of the relatives brought a stranger that immediately caught her eye. In the instant they met, they both knew that the other would fill exactly what was missing in their lives. For Bonnie, she liked a man in charge who made all the decisions. He reminded her of all the stars she saw in the movies. He dressed well. Drove a nice car. Even if it was stolen, maybe it would bring her a little needed excitement in her life. It was love at first sight.
For Clyde, the attraction was mutual. Bonnie was petite. Made him look and feel taller, and he was already sensitive about his short height. She was clingy and always had to be attached to him, which made Clyde feel greater than he was. But above all, her drive to escape the mundane lives they were destined to live matched his own.
From there we know the story. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They fall in love. They steal cars. They rob banks. They get ambushed and killed in a blaze of glory. The story may seem tragic to some, or romantic to others, but to a few, the world will remember them. And isn’t that what really matters?
Come meet author, JT Fischer as Clyde Barrow, in our production of Bonnie & Clyde, a musical you won't forget. Get your tickets today!