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The sad story of John Bowers


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I watched "The Ace of Hearts" (1921) the other night for the first time in a long time. I knew Lon Chaney died in 1930 and that Leatrice Joy had retired from the screen at the advent of sound and had lived to a very old age. But I had never seen any other film with John Bowers in it and wondered what happened to him.  It turns out he had a very successful silent career and played the lead in most of his films in the 1920s, though not necessarily at major studios. Nitrateville.com actually had a thread about him and so I read through the information that they had. Most of the commenters seemed rather stumped at what exactly happened to him. He only had three sound roles, all minor ones. And the story is that he ran into director Henry Hathaway in 1936 when he was shooting exteriors for a film and asked for a part saying he must get work. Hathaway, though described as a friend of the guy,  told him to call the studio. That seems like a rather crummy thing to say to a friend who is down on his luck. Bowers then told Hathaway that  this was the last time he would ask for work from anybody and that this was the last time Hathaway would see him alive. The next day Bowers rented a boat, sailed out to sea, and apparently drowned himself. He was 50. 

Now Bowers' suicide apparently happened while A Star Is Born (1937) was in preproduction, and the theory is that the life and death of Norman Maine was somewhat modeled after Bowers. 

Also, the folks at nitrateville were wondering, if the advent of sound killed Bowers' career, why did he not go into some other line of work? There are lots of sad stories about silent actors, but many started working behind the camera or just went into a different line of business entirely and thrived.  And the speculation was that he simply had no connections because there seemed to be nobody from the silent era who ever spoke of him or knew much about him. Or perhaps he was just a quiet guy or a loner. It does seem that he might have lived up every penny that he had when he was making good money.

There is also the mystery of why he had no roles during the entirety of 1928, the last full year of silent film. If it was just his voice or acting style that was the problem in sound, he should have been able to find work through 1928 since only a few sound films were made that year.  I looked up his filmography and he had several leading roles all through 1927. 

He was described as a serviceable leading man, but without much charisma. I guess the best comparison might be Robert Young, who might be largely unremembered if not for his roles on TV. 

Sorry to bore you with this post, but I just find it interesting that somebody could be a pretty well known star in the silent era and literally no details of their life and the turns in their career remain.  It also seems like most of the silent films that he was in did not survive.  How sad to be erased from film history save a possible link to a film that makes you the object lesson in how to destroy your own life and career. 

Not born on July 4 like John Sims of The Crowd, but born on Christmas day, which should be almost as lucky. 

https://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?t=14410

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Thank you so much for the informative post. This is the reason I come to the message board to read posts on Classic Hollywood (stars), not to disparage TCM and continue griping about 80’s and 90’s films on the channel. I am aware of the John Bowers story, however a lot of people over the years have weaved John Gilbert’s name into the John Bowers story. They probably unknowingly are mixing up stories of both men.  Good stuff!

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IMDb  has listed 95 screen credits for John Bowers,  Unfortunately, I've only seen 2 of them---Lorna Doone ( 1922) and The Ace of Hearts.  I would have seen more if I could have found them. I think I'll try again to find some of his other films

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2 hours ago, don96 said:

IMDb  has listed 95 screen credits for John Bowers,  Unfortunately, I've only seen 2 of them---Lorna Doone ( 1922) and The Ace of Hearts.  I would have seen more if I could have found them. I think I'll try again to find some of his other films

Godless Men  (1920) is available on YouTube. I've seen it, it's not bad.

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I think eventually all will be forgotten. Look at your own family, after three generations, no one knows who anyone is in those old photos.

Images of Jimmy Dean, Marilyn & Audrey are trendy, but ask any teen wearing a t with their image on it, and they haven't a clue who they actually were.  How many conversations about once big classic stars meet with a blank stare? Loretta Young, William Holden, Myrna Loy, William Powell....forgotten by most save us real classic film fans.

I hate those "sad ending" videos of famous stars I see suggested on YT-only a grab for salacious attention and almost didn't open this thread. But  not being a big fan of silents, was not aware of John Bowers truly sad story. I do like the idea A Star Is Born may have been inspired by his life/death.

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1 hour ago, TikiSoo said:

I think eventually all will be forgotten. Look at your own family, after three generations, no one knows who anyone is in those old photos.

Images of Jimmy Dean, Marilyn & Audrey are trendy, but ask any teen wearing a t with their image on it, and they haven't a clue who they actually were.  How many conversations about once big classic stars meet with a blank stare? Loretta Young, William Holden, Myrna Loy, William Powell....forgotten by most save us real classic film fans.

I hate those "sad ending" videos of famous stars I see suggested on YT-only a grab for salacious attention and almost didn't open this thread. But  not being a big fan of silents, was not aware of John Bowers truly sad story. I do like the idea A Star Is Born may have been inspired by his life/death.

I've seen the "life and sad end of" youtube guy. I think I opened one and the person did not have a "sad ending" at all. So now I just ignore him because he is pure clickbait.  When I think of a sad ending I think about people who committed suicide, or died of alcoholism alone and broke.  

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