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'Bonnie and Clyde' Revisited


He was riding in a car in December in Chicago, going to the Book and Author Luncheon at the Chicago Sun-Times and the car went past a theatre playing the movie and Bobby Kennedy said, "What about that movie?"

"I hear it's terrific," somebody in the car said.

"Best picture of the year," somebody said.

Kennedy stared at Chuck Daly, one of the people in the car.

"I hear it's the most immoral movie ever made," Bobby Kennedy said quietly.

Everybody let it pass without a discussion. The little guy always was especially interested when it came to guns.

Since then, two lifetimes that I know of have passed. And a lot of others that I just read about it in the papers, or on sheets of statistics. So the other day, on a hot, muggy afternoon, a Sunday, we were in the station wagon driving the kids to the beach, to Rockaway Beach, so they could surf, and we were coming along Woodhaven Boulevard and we stopped for a red light right across the street from a movie theatre I used to go to when I was a kid. The name of it is the Cross Bay, and it was right under the El in Ozone Park, a couple of blocks down from the clubhouse entrance to Aqueduct Race Track. And the marquee of the Cross Bay said, Bonnie and Clyde and underneath it, The Endless Summer.

"Out of sight," one of the kids said.

"What?" I said.

"The Endless Summer. We saw it four times," he said.

"I think I want to see the other one again," I said.

". . . It was Cagney's face and style you noticed, not the gun . . ."

I said I would see everybody later, and I got out of the car and trotted through the traffic and went up to the movie. The usher at the door said there was a half hour of The Endless Summer left, and then Bonnie and Clyde would come right on. I went down the block to a candy store and bought a yellow legal pad and a couple of black Bic pens. I was going to watch this movie closely. I was going to watch it closely because in Los Angeles, early in the morning, we had all been drinking coffee out of containers on the sidewalk in front of the Good Samaritan Hospital and somebody, I don't remember who it was, said, "We're living in a country that makes Bonnie and Clyde the best picture of the year." Then everybody made these quiet, bitter remarks about that and the thing stuck with me, and the minute I saw the sign on the marquee of the Cross Bay Theatre, I decided to go in there by myself and sit quietly and look at this thing real close. Maybe it would tell me something. So I paid $1.75 and went into the Cross Bay and watched the end of The Endless Summer and waited for my movie to come on.

Of course, I was bringing problems into the place with me. To begin with, there was this narrow balcony in front of the cluttered second-floor motel room in Memphis. There was a chicken bone on the balcony and part of the cement, the part which caught Martin Luther King's blood, had been scrubbed. Andy Young sat on the bed in the room and talked in this terribly wounded voice about the single rifle shot which had come earlier in the night. Then, two mornings later, on the plane to the funeral in Atlanta, Roy Jenkins, who was the British Home Secretary and now is Chancellor of the Exchequer, sat by the window and said, "Delighted to meet you," and then he began talking about violence.

"We've had two assassinations in England in recent times," he said. "General Sir Henry Wilson was shot outside his house in Eaton Square. That was in 1921. Of course, it had to do with the Irish problem and you could place your finger on the reason. It was really an act of war, you might say. The last actual assassination in Great Britain was Spencer Percival, the Prime Minister. He was stabbed in Parliament."

"When was that?" Jenkins was asked.

"Oh, the beginning of the 19th century. I think it was 1817. Yes, I think you'll find that's the correct year."

Later that day, in the heat of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Charley Evers, whose brother Medgar had been assassinated, broke down and sat in tears in a pew running along one wall of the church, and Bobby Kennedy, who had had a brother named Jack, came and sat next to him and grabbed Charley Evers' arm very hard. Outside, walking in the hot street, Kennedy said, to himself as much as anybody else, "Here's Evers, and somebody introduced me to a girl in church and said it was Malcom X's sister, and, gee, you begin to think every family has to have somebody killed over this thing."

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