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October 22, 2011
Posted By: Lauryn
Unscripted featured Buck Barrow's true life story this past Tuesday, and today we're highlighting his wife, Blanche Caldwell Callaway Barrow, who is a prominent character in the story of Bonnie & Clyde in her own right. In the 1967 film, she was played byEstelle Parsons (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role) and in theAsolo Rep production she is portrayed by Melissa Van Der Schyff. But who is the real woman behind the character?
Born Bennie Iva "Blanche" Caldwell on New Year's Day in 1911, she was the daughter of Lillian and Matthew Caldwell, a non-ordained lay minister, farmer, and logger. Her parents marriage was not an easy one, and the Caldwells divorced when Blanche was still a young girl. She was raised primarily by her father, with whom she was very close, while her relationship with her mother was often marked by periods of tension.
Despite their difficulties, when Blanche was 17 her mother was able to convince her to marry the much older John Callaway. In Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, Jeff Guinn writes that "The marriage was disastrous, and Blanche fled to West Dallas, where she stayed with a friend named Emma Lou Renfro." This turn of events would set the next chapter of her life in motion, as Emma Lou's home was in a neighborhood not far from where the Barrow family lived.
On November 11, 1929, Blanche met Buck Barrow and, by all accounts, the pair fell in love almost at first sight. Though she was still legally married to Callaway at that time, she and Buck became nearly inseparable and quickly became devoted to one another. Blanche nicknamed Buck "Daddy" and he called her "Baby." But things didn't stay idyllic for long. Soon after their meeting, Buck was caught by the police and sent to prison for four years for car theft and other assorted burglary charges. He broke out only a few months later, in March of 1930 and the pair went into hiding in Oklahoma.
However much she loved Buck, the fugitive life was not for Blanche. She desperately wanted to lead an upright and law-abiding life and so after she divorced Callaway in July of 1931 and married Buck, she and his mother Cumie began trying to convince him to go back to prison and finish out his sentence. They succeeded in late 1931, and two days after Christmas, Blanche drove Buck back to Huntsville prison where he turned himself in. He was paroled and pardoned in March of 1933 and Blanche accompanied him on a vacation to meet up with his brother Clyde.
Blanche and Buck were quickly absorbed into the life of the Barrow Gang, much to Blanche's dismay. They stayed with Bonnie and Clyde on the road for several months, during which time Blanche seemed to end up in charge of most of the cooking and washing for the entire gang. This, coupled with the fact that she didn't get along well with Bonnie and the fact that she morally objected to the crimes that the gang was committing, made her life on the run a rather miserable one. But her commitment to Buck was so strong that she refused to leave him. That commitment would only be tested further the longer they were on the run.
"People only live happily ever after in fairy tales...But when I met Buck it was a case of true love from the first. I knew I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone before, more than I could ever love anyone else for the rest of my life...But because I loved [him], married him, was loyal and true to him, and to my marriage vows to the bitter end, I am now serving a ten-year sentence in prison"
--The opening lines of Blanche Barrow's memoir, My Life With Bonnie & Clyde
On July 18, 1933 the gang was involved in a shoot out in Platte City, Missouri and Buck was shot in the left temple. With Clyde's help, Blanche carried Buck to the gang's car; as the gang escaped, the police fired at the car, breaking the windows. Glass became lodged in Blanche's eyes. For days after the escape, the gang was on the run with Blanche injured and Buck clinging to life. After arriving in Dexfield Park, Iowa, the gang was involved in another shoot out. Buck was too badly injured by this point to escape and Blanche refused to leave his side. The pair was arrested and taken to King's Daughters Hospital in Perry, Iowa.
While Buck lay dying in the hospital, Blanche had been taken away for what would be the first of multiple surgeries on her eyes (her eyesight would partially be saved, though her left eye sustained severe damage), and she was not able to be with him when he passed away. It was particularly ironic, considering how she had fought to stay with him throughout their marriage, that she was not at his deathbed or at his funeral - for the latter, she was already at the Platte City jail, awaiting trial.
Though she was sentenced to 10 years, she only served six and was released in 1939. She moved to Dallas and in 1940, married a man named Eddie Frasure. One year later, she completed her parole. Her debt to society was paid, but she would never be completely free of her association with the Barrows. She maintained relationships with Buck and Clyde's sister Marie throughout her life, and whenever she moved to a new city with her new husband, the authorities would check in on her whereabouts, often calling her shortly after each move. Of course, the 1967 film of Bonnie & Clyde brought Blanche back into the public's consciousness, though she was not pleased with that fact nor with Parsons' portrayal of her.
Blanche lived to be nearly 78, passing away on Christmas Eve, 1988. She is buried in Dallas' Grove Hill Memorial Park under the name Blanche B. Frasure.
"Sometimes" - by Blanche Barrow, written in 1933
Across the fields of yesterday
She sometimes comes to me
A little girl just back from play
The girl I used to be.
And yet she smiles so wistfully
Once she had crept within,
I wonder if she hopes to see
The woman I might have been.