Friday, October 1, 2010

Director Arthur Penn Passes On

Arthur Penn, best known as the director of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), passed on September 28, 2010 at the age of 88. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Arthur Penn was born on September 27, 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After his mother divorced his father, Mr. Penn moved with her and his brother, later to be famous photographer Irving Penn, to New York and later New Jersey. When he was fourteen he went back to Philadelphia to live with his father. It was there that he became interested in the theatre while in high school. In 1943 he enlisted in the United States Army. At Fort Jackson in South Carolina he and fellow soldiers formed a theatre troupe. While he was stationed in Paris, he was part of the Soldier's Show Company. Following World War II he attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He would later study at the Universities of Perugia and Florence in Italy. Once back in the United States, he studied at the Actor's Studio in New York and with Michael Chekhov in Los Angeles.

After his return to New York City Mr. Penn became a floor manager at NBC's television studios. It was in 1953 that he made his directorial debut. Fred Coe, with whom he served in the Army, gave him the opportuniaty to direct an episode of The Gulf Playhouse. In all he would direct six episodes of the series. Arthur Penn would go onto direct yet more episodes of television series, including Goodyear Playhouse, Producer's Showcase, The Philo-Goodyear Playhouse, Playwrights '56, and Playhouse 90. It was in 1956 that Arthur Penn made his debut on Broadway, directing the play The Lovers. In 1958 he made his film debut, directing The Left Handed Gun.

Over the next several years Mr. Penn would direct such films as The Miracle Worker (1962--based on the teleplay and later the play, both directed by Mr. Penn), Mickey One (1965), The Chase (1966), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Alice's Restaurant (1969), Little Big Man (1970), Night Moves (1975), The Missouri Breaks (1976), Four Friends (1981), Target (1985), Dead of Winter (1987), and Penn and Teller Get Killed. He was very active on Broadway, directing such plays as Two for the Seesaw (1958), The Miracle Worker (1959), Toys in the Attic (1960), Golden Boy (1964), Wait Until Dark (1966), Golda (1977), and Fortune's Fool (2002). He directed little television after the Fifties, although he would direct the telefilms Flesh and Blood, The Portrait, and Inside. His final work was a an episode on film was an episode of the TV shows 100 Centre Street.

Arthur Penn specialised in films which centred on outsiders, whether the title outlaws of Bonnie and Clyde, Alice Brock in Alice's Restaurant, or the title character in Little Big Man. For the most part Penn's films tended to be naturalistic, intimate, and physical, with a greater emphasis on the inner workings of the individual than action or plot. In approaching film in this manner, Mr. Penn would be revolutionary in his direction of Bonnie and Clyde. The film had a greater degree of violence and was more sexually explicit than the vast majority of films made since the end of pre-Code Hollywood. Largely influenced by the French New Wave, Mr. Penn's films would have a lasting influence on directors as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Quentin Tarantino. While Arthur Penn's career faltered in the Seventies, with films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Alice's Restaurant, and Little Big Man, he left his mark on film history.

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