|born: 04 October (1886 or 1888)
Brooklyn, New York,
United States of America
|died: 05 December 1941
Los Angeles, California,
United States of America
|Popular American actor and comedian who was a regular at the Hal Roach Studios in the 1930s.
At the time of Harry’s death, he was recorded as living at the Rancho Los Amigos Sanitarium, Hondo, California. “Hondo” is now in south-central Los Angeles. In the 1930s, Rancho Los Amigos served as a psychiatric facility as well as a sanitarium for respiratory diseases. The record shows he was widowed, his wife Laura having predeceased him. His father’s name is listed as “Patrick Bowen,” born in New York, and his mother’s is “Catherine Fury,” born in Sheffield, England. Harry was therefore of mixed Irish and English parentage.
Harry’s WWI draft card was issued June 5, 1917, indicating he responded in the first round of draft notices. His age is listed as 30, born October 4, 1886. In 1917 he was living at 170 Meadow St., New Haven, Connecticut. His occupation is “Actor,” employed by the “Rowland & Clifford Co. Chicago Ill.” He was single and claimed exemption from the draft on the grounds of “sole support of mother.” Physical features: “medium” height, “slender” build, “light blue” eyes, “dark brown” hair.
The draft registration suggests Harry’s date of birth may have been two years earlier than other sources record. The age listed, 30, tallies with a birth year of 1886, as he would’ve been that age in June 1917. Since this is the earliest record of Bowen’s birth date (all others postdate this one and record 1888), and since Bowen’s age is incorrectly reported on other documents as neither 1886 or 1888, I am inclined to go with the earlier date of birth.
In 1930 the Bowens – Harry, Laura, and Harry Jr. – were living at 1508 North McCadden Place, Los Angeles. This was just north of Sunset Boulevard. The Bowens rented this home for $50 a month. Harry is listed as “Actor – Motion Pictures.” Harry’s age is 37, wife Laura is 27, and son Harry Jr. is “2 3/12”, meaning he was born in January, 1928 (the census form is dated April 7, 1930). Harry and Laura had been 34 and 24, respectively, at the time of their marriage, so they were married around 1927, and given Harry Jr.’s date of birth, very likely prior to April of that year. (There’s an obvious discrepancy here with Harry’s birth date of either 1888 or 1886; in April 1930 Harry would’ve been either 41 or 43, not 37, so it’s not known if he intentionally cut several years off his age, or if his wife, who was the informant, didn’t know his age exactly and assumed he was ten years her senior when in fact he was closer to 15 or 17 years older than she was).
By 1940, the family had broken up. There is no listing for Harry in the 1940 census. Wife Laura must have passed away some time between 1933 and 1940. The 1940 census lists Harry Jr. as a “ward” of Richard Talamante and his wife Thelma, who lived at 500 East Fountain Blvd., Los Angeles. This address is only about a half mile from the Bowens’ 1930 address. Harry Jr. was then 12, and he had twin brothers, Patrick and Jack, born in either 1932 or 1933, as both were 7 years old in April 1940, who were also listed as wards of the Talamantes.
On August 14, 1941, Harry was admitted to Rancho Los Amigos. His death certificate records his entry date as having occurred 3 months and 21 days prior to his death on December 5. The certificate also states Harry had been living in California approximately 19 years, or since 1922. His occupation is “Actor – Motion Pictures.”
The causes of death listed on the certificate make especially sad reading. The attending physician, Dr. A.G. Woodward, concluded Harry passed away of “Acute Cardiac Decompensation with Pulmonary Edema,” with “Generalized Arteriosclerosis” and “Malnutrition and Avitaminosis” as contributing causes. While the first conditions would be indicative of some kind of cardiopulmonary illness, the contributing factors suggest Harry was starving. He died at 8:20 P.M. after a recorded 3 hours. Basically, his heart stopped functioning and staff was unable to keep it going.
There exists a pair of birth records for a "James Bowen," born 4 October 1887 in Brooklyn, New York, to Patrick Bowen of New Haven, Conn. and Katherine Fury of England. The date, place, and parental info match, despite the differing first name (unless perhaps James is a twin, and Harry's birth record is missing for some reason). 1887 is also given for Harry Jerome Bowen's entry in the "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007" at Ancestry. Thus, it would appear that Harry was born right in the middle of that 1886-1888 guess: in 1887. Harry Jerome Bowen appears in the U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index, with a 10/4/86 birthdate and an address of "98 Frost Rd Fair Lawn Manor Waterbury Ct." The index card gives his ranking as "Corp Calv Co QMC," service number 3,724,424, but lists no enlistment nor discharge dates.
Harry's wife Laura was born Laura Machado on 10 August 1898 in Los Angeles, California. Laura and Harry married on 18 January 1927 in San Francisco. Per the Los Angeles Times (19 Jan 1927): "Harry Jerome Bowen, film comedian of Hollywood, literally fell into marriage, he explained today as Judge Predergest performed the ceremony. Bowen was doing a comedy fall, he said, and wound up at the feet of a woman spectator who was so solicitous for his welfare that love-making just came natural. Mrs. Bowen is the daughter of A. Marchada [sic] of Culver City." Laura Bowen died at Los Angeles County General Hospital on 8 April 1937, at age 38. Cause of death, as reported on her death certificate, was "Shock and hemorrhage following surgical removal of the lower and middle lober [sic] of the right lung for atelectasis." (Per the Mayo Clinic: "Atelectasis (at-uh-LEK-tuh-sis) is a complete or partial collapse of the entire lung or area (lobe) of the lung. . . . Atelectasis is one of the most common breathing (respiratory) complications after surgery. . . . Atelectasis can make breathing difficult, particularly if you already have lung disease.")
Beginning in early February 1938, the following article ran in papers: "For good luck, or something, Tay Garnett [a one-time director and writer for Roach in the 1920s] always plays a bit in any picture he's directing. In "The Joy of Loving" [sic] he took the role of a city editor while Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. sat on the sidelines and made nasty cracks about his acting. According to the contract between the studios and the Screen Actors' Guild, a guild member must be hired to stand by and receive the wages for every outsider who acts before the camera. So Garnett sent his car to the sanitarium where Harry Bowen, veteran stunt man, has been confined for several months by injuries received while doubling for stars. Bowen was brought to the studio, where he sat on the sidelines and watched Garnett play the scene. Then the stunt man was driven back to the sanitarium, richer by $25 and the assurance that Hollywood hasn't forgotten him." An interesting article, in that it explains the downturn in Harry's (known) filmography towards the end of his life, as well as the claim that he worked in films as a stuntman (whereas he usually seemed more like a regular character actor). I do wonder if the stunt injuries he received were in some way contributory to the health complications which led to his eventual demise just a few years later...
|Real name: Harry Jerome Bowen||Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.|