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The Astonishing Estelle Parsons

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“When I look at the movie Bonnie and Clyde I see an actress who is so free in her work. It’s astonishing.”

Yes, Estelle Parsons, you are astonishing! Just shy of her 88th birthday, Parsons was given a lifetime achievement award by the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival this past weekend. After a screening of the 1967 movie she engaged in a Q&A with film historian Foster Hirsch, who described the film as a landmark in cinema. Parsons won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for it.

Hirsch noted two most unusual things about the initial reviews of the film. In the face of criticism from a public who clearly loved the movie, the New York Times fired its movie critic who gave it a bad review. The TIME magazine critic who panned it watched the movie again and “recanted his original review- the only time that has ever happened.”

Parsons was actually appalled by what the film represented in glorifying crime. “It’s quite terrible. I have a big social conscience and a high moral standard. I believe in the rule of law. When it first got to a scene of murder I was so horrified. I had no idea what sort of film I was in.”

The movie, Parsons said, “literally swept the entire world. It set the tenor of the times.” One element of this was the score, originally done by Charlie Strause. But the director didn’t like it, so he turned to the bluegrass musicians Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. “The lyrical score by Charlie Strouse didn’t give it the ping the Scruggs music did.” The most popular tune from the movie, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, was actually written by Scruggs in the 1940s.

The director calling the shots was Arthur Penn. Parsons said he and Warren Beatty, co-star of the film with Faye Dunaway, “would fight every day about what was going on in the film. The movie has the life that it has because of their discussions.”

One scene Parsons wanted to change was where she asked for a share of the loot. “I told Arthur I had another idea of how I wanted to do it. He looked at the rushes and said it was fine as is. That was the only time I tried to assert my creativity.”

The result was more than acceptable, as she won the Academy Award that year. Looking back on the real Bonnie and Clyde (not the glamorized versions in the film), Parsons described them as “folk heroes, but their lives were horrendous. But if the movie had been made that way it likely wouldn’t have made 2 cents.”

Parsons is shown on the red carpet with actress Romina Power, daughter of famed actor Tyrone Power. Miss Power was also at the Sunrise Civic Center for a screening of her new film, The Secret of Italia. She is shown posing with a glittery handbag that looks like a camera. Photo copyright C. Cunningham

The Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival runs through Nov. 22. The gala awards dinner with Ed Harris will be held Nov. 21 at the Diplomat hotel, and many films will be screened in the coming days. For details visit their website:


Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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