Arthur Penn
Arthur Hiller Penn

(1922-09-27)September 27, 1922
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedSeptember 28, 2010(2010-09-28) (aged 88)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s)Director, producer
Peggy Maurer
(m. 1955)
Children2, including Matthew
FamilyIrving Penn (elder brother)

Arthur Hiller Penn (September 27, 1922 – September 28, 2010) was an American filmmaker, theatre director, and producer. He was a Tony Award winner, and was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Director, as well as a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, two Primetime Emmys. As a member of the New Hollywood movement, Penn directed several critically-acclaimed films dealing with countercultural issues of the late 1960's and 1970's, notably the drama The Chase (1966), the biographical crime film Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the comedy Alice's Restaurant (1969), and the revisionist Western Little Big Man (1970).

Penn was nominated for three Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play, winning in 1959 for The Miracle Worker, a play based on the childhood of Helen Keller. He received his first Oscar nomination for directing the 1962 film version. His other notable films included the neo-noir Night Moves (1975) and the revisionist Western The Missouri Breaks (1976). In the 1990's, he returned to stage and television direction and production, including an executive producer role for the crime series Law & Order.[1]

By his death in 2010, Penn was the recipient of several honorary accolades, including an Honorary Golden Bear, a Tony Award, and an Akira Kurosawa Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Early life

Penn was born in 1922, to a Russian Jewish family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Sonia (Greenberg), a nurse, and Harry (Tzvi) William Penn,a watchmaker, both natives of then Novoaleksandrovsk, Russia, now Zarasai, Lithuania.[2][3] He was the younger brother of Irving Penn, the fashion, portrait and still life photographer. During his early years, he moved in with his mother after she divorced his father. Some time after, he came back to his sickly father, leading him to run his father's watch repair shop. At 19, he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II (1943–1946), serving as an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10] While stationed in Britain, he became interested in theater. He started to direct and take part in shows being put on for the soldiers around England at the time.[9] As Penn grew up, he became increasingly interested in film, especially after seeing the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane.[citation needed] He later attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and was a featured commentator in the documentary Fully Awake about the college.[11]


After making a name for himself as a director of quality television dramas, Penn made his feature debut with The Left Handed Gun (1958) for Warner Brothers. A retelling of the Billy the Kid legend, it was distinguished by Paul Newman's portrayal of the outlaw as a psychologically troubled youth (the role was originally intended for James Dean). The production was completed in only 23 days, but Warner Brothers reedited the film against his wishes with a new ending he disapproved of. The film failed upon release in North America, but was well received in Europe.[12]

Penn's second film was The Miracle Worker (1962), the story of Anne Sullivan's struggle to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate. It garnered two Academy Awards for its leads Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Penn had won a Tony Award for directing the stage production, written by William Gibson, also starring Bancroft and Duke,[13] and he had directed Bancroft's Broadway debut in playwright Gibson's first Broadway production, Two for the Seesaw.[3]

Penn began working on The Train in France in June and August 1963 when star Burt Lancaster had Penn fired after three days of Penn's filming[14] and called on John Frankenheimer to take over the film.[3]

In 1965 Penn directed Mickey One. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave, it was the dreamlike story of a standup comedian (played by Warren Beatty) on the run from sinister, ambiguous forces. In 2010, Penn commented: "You know, you could not have gone through the Second World War with all that nonsense with Russia being an ally and then being the big black monster. It was an absurd time. The McCarthy period was ridiculous and humiliating, deeply humiliating. When I finally did 'Mickey One', it was in repudiation of the kind of fear that overtook free people to the point where they were telling on each other and afraid to speak out. It just astonished me, really astonished me. I mean, I was a vet, so it was nothing like what we thought we were fighting for."[15]

Penn's next film was The Chase (1966) a thriller following events in a small corrupt Southern town on the day an escaped convict, played by Robert Redford, returns. Penn was excluded from the post-production process, which was instead overseen by producer Sam Spiegel.[3] However, the film was still praised by critics, with Dave Kehr later calling it one of Penn's "most personal and feverishly creative works".[3] Also that year, he directed the stage version of the thriller Wait Until Dark starring Lee Remick and Robert Duvall.[3]

He reunited with Warren Beatty for the gangster film Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The film went on to become a worldwide phenomenon. It was strongly influenced by the French New Wave and itself went on to make a huge impression on a younger generation of filmmakers. Indeed, there was a strong resurgence in the "love on the run" subgenre in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde, peaking with Badlands (1973; in which Penn received acknowledgement in the credits). Beatty had given him 10% of the potential profits of the film before production started and the success of the film earned Penn over $2 million.[16]

At the time he had completed Bonnie and Clyde, Penn was residing in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, when he heard a story of a large-scale littering incident that had happened in the town two years prior. He contacted Arlo Guthrie, received permission to adapt his song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" into a film, and secured Guthrie's participation as well as several other Stockbridge town residents while filming in many of the same locations where the events took place. The film Alice's Restaurant was released in 1969.[17] Guthrie later stated in 2023 that he was angered by the film, believing Penn and his co-writer had come to a fundamentally wrong conclusion about whether or not hippie values were still relevant, and had walked out of the film's premiere;[18] Alice Brock and Richard Robbins, who were also portrayed in the film, were similarly offended.[19][20]

Penn followed up Alice's Restaurant in 1970 with Little Big Man, a "shaggy dog" account of the life of a white man (played by Dustin Hoffman) who gets adopted into the Cheyenne tribe.[3] In 1973 Penn provided a segment for a promotional film for the Olympics titled Visions of Eight along with several other major directors such as John Schlesinger and Miloš Forman. His next film was Night Moves (1975) about a private detective (played by Gene Hackman) on the trail of a runaway. Next came The Missouri Breaks (1976), a ramshackle, eccentric story of a horse thief (Jack Nicholson) facing off with an eccentric bounty hunter (played by Marlon Brando).[3]

In the 1980s, Penn's career began to lose its momentum with critics and audiences. Four Friends (1981) was a traumatic look back at the 1960s. Target (1985) was a mainstream thriller reuniting the director with Gene Hackman, and Dead of Winter (1987) was a horror/thriller.[21] Subsequently, Penn returned to work in television, including as an executive producer for the crime series Law & Order.[3]

Penn maintained an affiliation with Yale University, occasionally teaching classes there.[22]

Personal life

In 1955, he married actress Peggy Maurer. They had two children: son Matthew Penn and daughter, Molly Penn.[3]

Penn became friends with Alger Hiss during the production of Mickey One, saying in a 2010 interview, "Alger got married here in my apartment. And so I became more of a student of the Hiss period than I knew what to do with, frankly".[15]


Penn died from congestive heart failure at his home in Manhattan on September 28, 2010, the day after his 88th birthday.[3]



Year Title Notes
1958 The Left Handed Gun
1962 The Miracle Worker OCIC Award (San Sebastián International Film Festival)
nominated–Academy Award for Best Director
nominated–Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
1965 Mickey One nominated–Golden Venice Lion
1966 The Chase
1967 Bonnie and Clyde Bodil Award for Best American Film
Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Film
Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Director
Mar del Plata Festival Award for Best Film (International Competition)
Mar del Plata Critics Award for Best Film
nominated–Academy Award for Best Director
nominated–BAFTA Award for Best Film
nominated–Golden Globe Award for Best Director
nominated–Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
1969 Alice's Restaurant nominated–Academy Award for Best Director
nominated–Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay
1970 Little Big Man FIPRESCI Prize (Moscow International Film Festival)
1973 Visions of Eight segment: "The Highest"
1975 Night Moves
1976 The Missouri Breaks
1981 Four Friends
1985 Target
1987 Dead of Winter
1989 Penn & Teller Get Killed
1995 Lumière and Company 1 segment


Year Title Notes
1958 Two for the Seesaw nominated–Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play
1959 The Miracle Worker Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play
1960 An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May
All the Way Home nominated–Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play
Toys in the Attic
1962 In the Courting House
1963 Lorenzo
1964 Golden Boy
1966 Wait Until Dark
1976 Sly Fox
1977 Golda
1982 Monday After the Miracle
2000 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
2002 Fortune's Fool


Year Title Notes
1953 Gulf Playhouse 7 episodes
1953–1955 Goodyear Television Playhouse 6 episodes
The Philco Television Playhouse 11 episodes
1954 Justice episode: "Man on the Hunt"
1954–1955 Producers' Showcase 2 episodes
1955–1956 Playwrights '56 7 episodes
1957–1958 Playhouse 90 5 episodes
nominated–Primetime Emmy Award for Best Direction – One Hour
1968 Flesh and Blood TV movie
1993 The Portrait TV movie
1996 Inside TV movie
2000–2001 Law & Order executive producer – 13 episodes
nominated–Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series
2001 100 Centre Street episode: "The Fix"


  1. ^ Whitaker, Sheila (September 29, 2010). "Arthur Penn Obituary". The Guardian. London.
  2. ^ Jewish Journal: "'Bonnie and Clyde' director Arthur Penn dies at 88" by Danielle Berrin Archived January 17, 2017, at the Wayback Machine September 29, 2010
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kehr, Dave (September 30, 2010). "Arthur Penn, Director of 'Bonnie and Clyde,' Dies". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  4. ^ Arthur Penn, American filmmaker (1922–2010) World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  5. ^ Movies of the 60s Müller, Jürgen (2004). Cologne, Germany: Taschen, pg 92, ISBN 3-8228-2799-1. ISBN 978-3-8228-2799-4.
  6. ^ AFI 100 Years 100 Heroes & Villains American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains via YouTube @ the 1:05:20 mark. Originally broadcast on CBS on June 3, 2003. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  7. ^ Oscar Directors: Penn, Arthur, Bonnie and Clyde Director, Dies at 88 Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  8. ^ Arthur Penn Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Penn, Arthur Senses of Cinema. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  10. ^ Penn, Arthur Hiller Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  11. ^ Ashley (October 5, 2010). "Arthur Penn and Black Mountain College".
  12. ^ Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of the New Hollywood. Penguin Press. p. 17. ISBN 9781594201523.
  13. ^ "1960 Tony Award Winners".
  14. ^ p. 15, p.47 Penn, Arthur Arthur Penn: Interviews Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008
  15. ^ a b Gregory Zucker; Robert White (August 2010). "Radical Reflection Arthur Penn, In Conversation with Gregory Zucker and Robert White". Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  16. ^ "Warren Beatty 'Bonnie' Share May Hit $6,300,000; He Gave Arthur Penn 10%". Variety. August 8, 1968. p. 1.
  17. ^ Cummings, Paula (November 21, 2017). Interview: Arlo Guthrie Carries On Thanksgiving Traditions And Fulfills Family Legacy Archived October 26, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. NYS Music. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  18. ^ Daley, Lauren. "Just in time for Thanksgiving, Arlo Guthrie tells it like it is". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  19. ^ Arlo Guthrie's Alice is alive, glad to be here. The Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (November 22, 2006). Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  20. ^ Shea, Andrea (November 26, 2017). "Arlo Guthrie's 'Alice's Restaurant' Is A Thanksgiving Tradition. But This Year The Real Alice Needs Help". The ARTery. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  21. ^ Nat Segaloff (2011). Arthur Penn: American Director. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813129815.
  22. ^ Bernard Weinraub (August 24, 2000). "Rare Vote for Experience Over Youth". The New York Times. Retrieved September 30, 2010.


Preceded byFrank Corsaro Artistic Director of the Actors Studio 1995–1998 Succeeded byEstelle Parsons