Arthur Penn, the stage, screen and television director best remembered for his pioneering work on the 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde, died Tuesday night of congestive heart failure at his home in Manhattan. He has just turned 88. The New York Times has a very thorough obituary here, including the fact that he advised JFK during his TV debates with Richard Nixon in 1960. But the highlights of this gentle and well-liked man’s professional life include, like so many directors of his generation, working for the CBS series Playhouse 90. While there, he earned Emmy nominations for The Miracle Worker. He restaged the production for Broadway winning Tony Awards, and then in 1962 directed the film version winning Best Actress Oscar for Bancroft and the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Patty Duke, as well as writing and directing nominations for himself. Penn was praised for bringing the sensibility of 1960s European art films to American movies through his work on Bonnie and Clyde. His raw portrait of violence, from the bank teller shot in the face to the two anti-heroes deaths in a hail of bullets, was deliberate and designed to shock. It received 10 Oscar nominations but won only two. But it led a procession of taboo-breaking films and intro’ed a new generation of star directors. Penn then had his choice of projects but chose to make the small film Alice’s Restaurant in 1969, based on Arlo Guthie’s best-selling song narrative. It’s an undervalued treasure as was his Little Big Man in 1970. Afterwards, Penn’s career lacked momentum since he rarely made big studio films. “There hasn’t been much of a market for what I can do. I’m not into outer space epics or youth pictures,” he once explained. In his later years, he was an executive producer on several episodes of Law and Order and went back to directing for the theater.
R.I.P. Arthur Penn
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