NEW YORK — Director Arthur Penn, a myth maker and myth breaker who, in such classics as Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man, refashioned movie and American history and sealed a generation's affinity for outsiders, died Tuesday night, a day after his 88th birthday. Daughter Molly Penn said her father died at home in Manhattan of congestive heart failure.
After making his name on Broadway as the director of the Tony Award-winning plays The Miracle Worker and All the Way Home, Penn rose as a film director in the 1960s, his work inspired by the decade's political and social upheaval.
Bonnie and Clyde, with its mix of humor and mayhem, encouraged moviegoers to sympathize with the lawbreaking couple from the 1930s, while Little Big Man told the tale of the conquest of the American West with the Indians as the good guys.
"A society would be wise to pay attention to the people who do not belong if it wants to find out … where it's failing," Penn once said.
Penn was in his 40s when he made 1967's Bonnie and Clyde, and the story was as liberal in its politics as it was with the facts — a celebration of individual freedom and an expose of the banks that had ruined farmers' lives.
The film is regarded by many as the dawn of a golden age in Hollywood, when the old studio system faded and directors such as Penn, Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese enjoyed creative control.
Arthur Hiller Penn was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, 1922, the son of Harry and Sonia Penn. His older brother was photographer Irving Penn, who died last year. As a boy, Arthur had little success learning the watchmaker's trade from his father, who died without having seen any of his son's films.
"He went to his grave despairing I would never find my way in the world," the director said, "and the movies rescued me."