American Experience's BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID to Premiere 2/11 on PBS
Long before they were Immortalized on screen by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid captivated Americans from coast to coast. In the 1890s, their thrilling exploits - robbing western banks and trains and then seemingly vanishing into thin air - became front-page news and the basis of rumor and myth. But who were Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh? What really happened after they formed the Wild Bunch gang? And how did they manage to pull off some of the most spectacular holdups in western HISTORY while eluding the Pinkertons, the nation's largest and most feared private detective force? Separating fact from fiction, the latest installment of the popular American Experience series The Wild West explores the last pair of outlaws to flee on horseback into the setting sun of a vanishing West. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, produced and directed by John Maggio, premieres on American Experience on Tuesday, February 11, 2014, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), preceded by an encore presentation of Billy the Kid, also directed by Maggio, at 8:00 p.m. ET on PBS.
In an era in which cold-blooded killers like Jesse James and the Younger Brothers terrorized the West, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and their Wild Bunch gang were a new breed of outlaw. Smart and methodical, Cassidy had elevated bank and train robbery to an art form. Born Robert Leroy Parker in 1866, Butch was raised in a devout but poor Mormon family. At age 13, he took a job at a nearby ranch and met a small-time cattle rustler named Mike Cassidy who schooled young Parker on the finer points of larceny. By the time he was 18, Parker was itching to strike out on his own.
Telluride, Colorado was the place for a young man searching for riches and adventure, famed for its saloons, gambling halls and houses of ill repute. Parker soon found work in the mines but quickly tired of the grueling, fruitless labor. Robbing the local bank seemed a much better BET and on June 24th, 1889, he and two new cohorts successfully pulled off the heist. Knowing his crime would break his mother's heart, Parker changed his name to Butch Cassidy.
Across the country, in the grimy mill town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, a young boy named Harry Longabaugh could only dream of a life of adventure on the open range. At age 14, he got his chance when he landed a job on his cousin's ranch inCortez, Colorado. He quickly became an admired cowboy but, after a terrible winter that wiped out most of the herds, he turned to crime and was eventually arrested for horse stealing. When Harry emerged from his yearlong stint in jail, he had a new nickname - the Sundance Kid. He retreated to the steep canyons and unforgiving terrain known as the Outlaw Trail that ran from Montana down to New Mexico, and soon met Butch. Says historian Thom Hatch: "They had a lot in common. They both loved horses. They loved to drink. They loved to gamble, and they could talk larceny all day long."