Stars of Vaudeville # 548: John Bowers and Margueritte De La Mott
Today is the birthday of silent film star John Bowers (born John Bowersox 1885-1936). The Indiana native started out acting in melodrama stock companies before making it to Broadway in 1912. He began working for pictures in 1914. By the late teens and early twenties he was one of Hollywood’s top stars.
In 1923, he co-starred with Margueritte De La Mott (1902-1950) in the film Desire and the two fell in love. De La Mott had studied dance with Anna Pavlova. Her first film was the 1918 Douglas Fairbanks picture Arizona. She was to be a frequent co-star of Fairbanks until she and Bowers married in 1924, when the latter was to be her default leading man.
This bid for success as talking personalities did not pay off. By 1931, Bowers had made his last film. He became an alcoholic, separated from De La Mott and left Hollywood for two years to care for his dying mother. When he returned to Tinseltown in 1936, no one wanted to hire him. After being rejected for a film role by director Henry Hathaway, he rented a 16 foot sailboat and drowned himself off Catalina Island. It was widely misreported at the time that he had killed himself by walking into the sea. The lore became part of the inspiration for the 1937 and 1954 versions of A Star is Born. A crucial difference between those films and the history of this couple though is that De La Mott hardly fired better than Bowers. She had only two roles in the 1930s, then three bit parts in the early 40s, and that was the end of her career as well. She took jobs as a factory inspector and was a Red Cross before dying of a cerebral blood clot in 1950.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.