Bonnie and Clyde are perhaps the most romanticized outlaws of all time. At a time when gangsters and bad guys were celebrities, they stood out. No one knows who Al Capone’s or John Dillinger’s lady friends were off the top of their heads; the fact that Bonnie and Clyde committed crimes as a couple made them special. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker met in 1930, and later went on a 21-month spree. Once they got started, they tore across various Southern states, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Yet the public was obsessed with them, this sexy young couple taking on the police and the banks, two of the most hated institutions in Prohibition– and Great Depression-era America.
But of course, there’s more to the story. Bonnie and Clyde were real people, with complicated and tragic pasts. Their love affair was more than a little twisted. And their crime spree wasn’t as impressive as it’s gone down in legend. Here’s the things the movies don’t tell you.
Bonnie and Clyde could have been famous by more traditional means
While Bonnie and Clyde ended up becoming famous by killing people and robbing banks, they probably could have taken the legal route. Both were talented in more traditional ways.
According to Bonnie and Clyde’s Hideout, Clyde had a "natural music ability." His brother-in-law taught him to the play the saxophone, and he also played guitar. It’s said he "brought a little happiness into the lives of others sentenced to poverty" when he’d strum the guitar around the fire at camps the couple stayed at while on the run. When one of their safehouses was raided, Clyde’s guitar was left behind, and he asked his mother to try and get it back to him. She failed, but he did manage to hold onto his sax. It was actually in the car, along with sheet music, when he and Bonnie were killed.
Bonnie was the one who actively wanted to be famous, though. The producers and writer of two different movies about Bonnie and Clyde all said she wanted to be a celebrity by any means necessary, whether it was as a Broadway star, a singer, a Hollywood actress, or even a poet. And she did have talent; growing up she starred in school plays and pageants, including one where Texas Monthly reports that a boy upstaged her, so she punched him. When the audience broke into applause, she cartwheeled across the stage. Once she became famous for her life of crime, she referred to their fans as "her public" and signed autographs.
Bonnie was married, but not to Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde are up there with Romeo and Juliet when it comes to famous (and extremely dysfunctional) romantic relationships, but Bonnie had found love long before meeting Clyde. She met and married Roy Thornton in 1926, and they never divorced.
According to Texas History Notebook, Roy was "blessed with naturally good looks." Bonnie certainly had a type; while he’s sometimes referred to as a welder, Roy was a hardened criminal. They met when Bonnie was just 15, and a year later she dropped out of school to marry him. Even back then people made stupid tattoo decisions, and Bonnie got her and Roy’s names inked in hearts above her knee, reports Bonnie and Clyde’s Hideout.
Roy would disappear for long stretches, committing crimes and seeing other women. Bonnie probably knew about the cheating, writing in her diary that she had a "roaming husband with a roaming mind." After he left for the third time in less than a year, she was pretty over it. She wrote that while she loved him "very much" and "[missed] him terribly," this time she was not going to take him back. Bonnie said she was swearing off guys, adding, "Let all men go to hell!"
Almost two years to the day after she wrote that, she met Clyde and it was love at first sight. But she wore Roy’s wedding ring until the day she died. Her first husband only outlived her by four years, shot to death in a prison break.