Cliff Bowes: Swimmer, Stunt Man, Comedian

Picture of Bowes from “Accidentally Preserved”

Today is the birthday of silent comedy star Cliff Bowes (1894-1929). Like many film performers, Bowes got his start not on the stage but in the world of athletics. A champion swimmer and diver, he initially became a stunt man at Mack Sennett’s Keystone starting in 1915. Within months he was playing small parts in comedies, remaining with Sennett through 1918, when he left to become a pilot for the Navy during WWI.

After his service he starred in comedy shorts for a number of studios: Fox Sunshine, Warner Brothers, Universal, and especially Educational Pictures where he appeared both in Mermaid Comedies (1923-1925) and Cameo Comedies (1923-1929). The latter series, helmed by Jack White, was and is what he is best known for. Co-starring Virginia Vance, they usually feature Bowes as a klutzy young husband or boyfriend who gets into scrapes that Vance has to bail him out of.

Fortunately, thanks to Ben Model’s recent Accidentally Preserved project, we get to see one of them! In the 1924 short Cheer Up, Bowes vies with a rival for Virginia’s hand. The rival’s pranks upon their wedding house reminds me a little (but only a little of) of Buster Keaton’s much more elaborate One Week:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


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