Monday, October 1, 2012

The Man Who Shot Bonnie and Clyde and more

Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a hail of gunfire, their guns brought a hail of dollars. Two guns that they had with them when they were killed in 1934 were sold at auction Sunday for more than half a million dollars. The guns, Bonnie’s .38-caliber Detective Special and Clyde’s 1911 Colt .45-caliber automatic were among a flood of Bonnie and Clyde items in the sale.

Fascination with Bonnie and Clyde endures. The 1967 Arthur Penn film about the couple helps that. Unfortunately, the romanticized vision of the couple Penn fashioned was nothing like reality. These were very bad people responsible for the murder of nine police officers and an unknown number of civilians. But the myth lives on.

Faye Dunaway starred in the ’67 film as Bonnie. Now, Miley Cyrus – yes Miley Cyrus - is to play the infamous bank robber for Lifetime and the History Channel. They have a 4-hour biopic in the works.

The Man Who Shot Bonnie And Clyde

It will be interesting to see how Frank Hamer is portrayed in this version. Hamer did not come off well in the Penn film. Hamer was played, in a not very flattering light, by the late Denver Pyle. That was not Pyle’s fault as it was the script. He was the type of actor who learned his lines, hit his marks and did as he was told. He was also from Burlington, Colorado.

Hamer was in reality a remarkable guy. He had been a Texas Ranger for years, starting when they were still on horseback, chasing down desperados. He fought in nearly 100 gunfights, is reputed to have killed fifty-three men, was wounded in action seventeen times and left for dead four times. He was also a crack shot and is legendary for being able to fire his pistol from a moving car and keep a can skipping ahead of the car.

Lee Simmons, then head of Texas State Prisons brought Hamer in to track down Bonnie and Clyde. Simmons was incensed that the Barrow gang had been involved (on the outside) of a prison escape in which a guard was killed. Ironically, it was Texas Governor ‘Ma’ Ferguson who gave Simmons the go-ahead to hire Hamer. Hamer, though he still retained a ‘Special Ranger’ commission had left the Rangers when Ferguson had been elected because he thought she and her husband were too corrupt.

Hamer also played a small role in the infamous Jim Wells County Ballot Box scandal. Hamer went with the Governor Coke Stevenson to Jim Wells County to try to examine ballot box 13 – they were never able to examine the ballots. Stevenson was running for the US Senate against then Congressman Lyndon Johnson. Johnson won but Stevenson supporters always believed that Johnson only won because of fraudulent ballots in Jim Wells County.

I became interested in Hamer and was working on a screenplay,with my writing partner, about the guy. I had read an authorized biography by John Jenkins, “I Am Frank Hamer”. In trying to pitch the screenplay we decided we needed to obtain the rights to the biography and reached out to Jenkins. We initiated contact and were prepared to go to Austin to meet with him to try to work something out. Before that happened, however,we got word that he had died, or actually had been killed. He was found in his car with a gunshot to the back of his head. It was ruled a suicide by the Sheriff, though the Sheriff could never explain how this was accomplished and why the gun was not at the scene or never found. No, you can’t make this stuff up.

I always thought there was a story in that, too but never followed up, nor did we ever sell the screenplay.

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