Where Ya Goin’? It’s Harry Bowen

Harry Bowen (1888-1941) appeared in nearly 200 films as a bit player and stunt double, most of them comedy shorts of both the silent and talkie era with the likes of Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, Dane and Arthur, the Three Stooges, etc

Born in Brooklyn, Bowen started out on the stage as attested by references one finds to him performing with the Rowland and Clifford musical comedy company in Chicago, as the principal comedian with Mollie Williams burlesque company, and, intriguingly as part of an apparent team with African American comedian Blondie Robinson, circa 1912. Blackface** appears to have been in his repertoire, as does tap dancing, for he performs some in the 1932 comedy short The Singing Plumber.

Bowen began appearing regularly in films in 1925. An early comedy short buffs might know him from is Mighty Lak a Moose (1927) with Charley Chase (he’s the harp player). A role in his first feature, Finnegan’s Ball (1927) with Mack Swain, Cullen Landis, and Blanche Mehaffey might have given him the idea that his career was on the upswing, for he was married that year. But his career never budged from its relatively modest status ’til the end, although he did appear in some famous features as well as shorts, and you have certainly often seen in his tiny parts. He’s the man who hires the Stooges in Three Little Pigskins (1934), a carnival spieler in The Mighty Barnum (1934), a photographer in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), taxi driver Mike O’Connor in The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), a sign hanger in Alice Adams (1935), a guy in a shooting gallery in Annie Oakley (1935), a cabbie in Strike Me Pink (1936), a bartender in The Milky Way (1936), a drunk in The Bohemian Girl (1936), a stagehand in Swing Time (1936), and Johnson the locksmith in Shall We Dance (1937). His last verified role was as a cabbie (he was frequently a cabbie) in Joe Penner’s The Day the Bookies Wept (1939).

Speaking of weeping, the end of Bowen was particularly sad. It seems that his wife died of a lung ailment in 1938 and Bowen declined rapidly without her. His children were sent to live with foster families. He himself went to a sanitarium where his heart stopped three months later, with complicating factors seemingly related to malnutrition. The source of many of these facts were found here, though in undigested form.

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent and slapstick comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.