Charles Raymond Bowers was born in Cresco, Iowa, on June 7, 1889, according to his World War II draft card. In many newspapers, his middle name was Ray. Find a Grave has his birth as June 6, 1887, and Wikipedia has it as June 7, 1877 or 1887. The New York Herald-Tribune and the Associated Press said, in November 1946, that he was 57 years old at the time of his death, which would make his birth year 1889. After examining census records and newspaper articles, I believe his birthdate was June 7, 1877.
Ancestry.com has a family tree for Bowers’ mother, Isabel Belle Lorimer (her maiden name) who was an Iowan native born in August 1850. Her mother was a French Canadian and her father a Missourian. Her name appeared in the 1856 Iowa State Census and 1860 U.S. Federal Census. She married around 1872.
In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Bowers was the third of four children born to C.E. and Bell Lormer [sic]. They lived in Vernon Springs Township, Iowa. His father, a North Carolina native of Irish parents, was a physician and surgeon. Five years later, the 1885 Iowa State Census recorded Bowers as the third of five children. His parents were Charles E. and Mary I., and they lived in Cresco, Iowa; Cresco is part of Vernon Springs Township.
Michael Sporn Animation has scanned pages of the Cartoonist PROfiles article by I. Klein who wrote about his time doing animation for Bowers. The article begins with a transcription of Bowers’ obituary in the New York Herald-Tribune, November 27, 1946: “…Mr. Bowers was born in Cresco, Iowa, and started in the career of amusing his fellow man by appearing in a tightrope act in a circus at the age of six, and in the next twenty years he played in the circus, in stock companies, painted signs, designed posters and painted murals.” The February 1928 Photoplay magazine published an advertisement for Educational Pictures, which was a profile of Bowers written by the magazine’s editor: “…His life has been almost as goofy as his genius. His mother was a French countess, his father an Irish doctor, and Charley was born in Iowa. After that anything was possible. It happened. At five a tramp circus performer taught him to walk rope. At six the circus kidnapped him. He didn’t get home for two years and the shock killed his father….” Mug Shots is a website devoted to several forgotten silent film comedians, including Bowers. The site has a timeline of his career: “c.1889: Born in Cresco, Iowa; c.1895-1898: Worked as a circus performer. Began walking the tightrope at age six.” According to the 1885 state census, Bowers was 7 years old and at home with both parents.
Information regarding his education and art training has not been found. The Herald-Tribune said, “…he played in the circus, in stock companies, painted signs, designed posters and painted murals.” Bowers moved to the east coast and found work as an actor. The earliest reference found, so far, was in The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 13, 1899, which published a “Letter List. Members of the profession are invited to use The Mirror’s post office facilities. No charge for advertising or forwarding letters. This list is made up of on Saturday morning. Letters will be delivered or forwarded on personal or written application. Letters advertised for 30 days and uncalled for will be returned to the post office. Circulars, postal cards and newspapers excluded.” In the list, his name appeared as “Chas. R. Bowers”.
The Dramatic Mirror, September 9, 1899, list of theatrical productions included A Temperance Town, with Bowers in the cast. The tour was scheduled to begin at Bar Harbor, Maine, on September 14. The Sun (New York), October 6, 1899, noted a change: “Edgar Temple appeared for the first time in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ last night. He replaces Charles Bowers.” The January 6, 1900 Dramatic Mirror said, “…A good farce-comedy well played is always welcomed with delight by our theatergoers, and A Temperance Town drew large houses at the Empire 25–30. The play is as entertaining as ever…The supporting co. was in every way satisfactory, the principals being…Charles R. Bowers…” On November 24, 1900, the Dramatic Mirror noted “Joseph’s Haworth’s tour in Robert in Sicily will open next week. In the cast will be…Charles R. Bowers…” Bowers’ name appeared in the Letters List of several issues of the Dramatic Mirror during 1901 and into 1902.
Bowers has not been found in the 1900 federal census. Maybe his theatrical career floundered and he looked for other opportunities. The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, Volume 2 (1999) has an entry on Bowers (but with Thomas as his first name) which said: “…In 1905 Bowers secured a job as a cartoonist on the Chicago Tribune, later going over to the Chicago Star.” I have not found samples of cartoons from that year, but a few of his 1916 cartoons, in the Chicago Tribune, are here. Bowers’ antics were covered in “Bright Lights of Bohemia,” published in The Sun, October 29, 1906. Eventually, he found work on the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, New Jersey, and, at this time, his earliest known cartoons are from July 1907.
He was in demand as a speaker and entertainer with over two dozen reports of his chalk talks in the Jersey Journal, from 1907 to 1913. In the 1910 census, Bowers, his wife, Josephine, and mother lived in Manhattan, New York City at 180 Claremont Avenue. He was a newspaper cartoonist. According to the census, the couple had been married nine years and were the same age, 28, but he was really 32. (The 1910 census was enumerated in April.) Born in Pennsylvania, Josephine’s parents were from France. One of his sports cartoons was credited for the local baseball team’s victories. The May 31, 1910 Jersey Journal said:
Charley Bowers and his Saturday cartoon, “A Sad Home Coming,” is to blame. The cartoon, with the “dead” Jersey, “looking natural” in his coffin, and the weeping fans, got the Jerseys’ “goat” and what they did to the Orioles Sunday and the Indians yesterday was simply “fine business.”
…Jack Ryan showed them [the team] Charley Bowers cartoon.
The treatment acted like magic. “Huh! Dead ones are we?” muttered the tail-enders. “Bowers has another guess coming!”
Around this time, Bowers directed and wrote a handful of live-action shorts: Domestic Difficulties, Promoters, The Prospectors, A.W.O.L., and The Extra-Quick Lunch. In an issue of Cartoonist PROfiles, Isadore Klein wrote about working for Bowers, starting in the summer of 1918. His previous employer was Hearst’s International animation studio. He traveled from Newark, New Jersey to Fordham in the Bronx, New York City. During the interview, he told Bowers he was familiar with his editorial cartoons for the Newark Evening News. “After hemming-and-hawing, Mr. Bowers said he believed there was room on his staff for me…not as a full animator, but he would have me do an occasional scene between some other studio work. He told me my salary and that I could start as of then.” Klein went on to explain how Bowers was pushed out of his job.
…The studio was buzzing with excitement and surmises. What could it all mean? We found out soon enough. Dick Friel had double-crossed his boss, Charles Bowers, by informing on him to Bud Fisher. The behind-Bowers’-back information was that Charles Bowers had been padding the payroll. In other words, Bowers’ list of employees’ salaries as given to Fisher’s office was higher than what the studio staff was receiving. The charge was that Bowers pocketed the difference…The motive on Friel’s part was to dislodge Bowers from his top job and for himself to take over. He was successful….Friel was now head of the studio….Well, Charles Bowers was not as easily buried as it at first appeared.”
In 1920, Bowers and Josephine lived in Manhattan, New York City at 551 West 156 Street. He was a cartoonist who aged just three years since the last census. His wife did him one better at two years. His mother lived with her oldest daughter in Montana. According to the family tree, his mother passed away around 1925.
Around February 1920, Klein had quit the studio and began work in the art department of a trade magazine. “…About two weeks later, while at work I received a phone call at the office. The call was from Charles Bowers….He asked me to come up and work for him. I answered that I had decided to change profession from animator to commercial artist. He then offered me a tempting salary, as an animator. I weakened and agreed to see him in Mount Vernon (N.Y.) where he lived….” Klein accepted the job offer, and later said, “…This operation at Mt. Vernon, N.Y. continued for about a year, when suddenly Mr. Bowers announced that we were moving back to New York City, not downtown, but to Fordham, about one mile north of the Fordham studio….Bowers spent most of his time in his small laboratory rooms. He not only did his plastic puppet thing there but also wrote our cartoon stories….” Bowers also illustrated four volumes of The Bowers Movie Book, which were published by Harcourt, Brace & Co. in 1923: book one, Mother Goose; book two, Aesop’s Fables; book three, The Circus; and book four, Once Upon a Time.
The Daily Star (Queens Borough, New York), July 9, 1924, reported the new industrial plants in Long Island City, Queens. One of them was “…Old Dominion Motion Picture Products Corporation, manufacturers of motion picture cameras, who will erect a building on First avenue, Long Island City….” Three days later the Daily Star reported the following: “At the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Queensboro Chamber of Commerce, twenty-one new members were elected. The list of new members with their addresses and business connections follows: …Charles R. Bowers, Old Dominion Motion Picture Company, Long Island City….” In Cartoonist PROfiles, Klein wrote:
The Herald-Tribune obituary said he was survived by his wife, Winifred. The fate of his first wife is not known. The 1930 census recorded Bowers and Winifred in Norwalk, Connecticut on RFD Weed Avenue. His occupation was inventor of commercial inventions. He misrepresented his age as 40 years old. His wife was 27.
I. Klein wrote: “…he did persist with his animated plastic puppets. In 1940 when I returned from Hollywood with my wife and two daughters, we all attended the first New York World’s Fair several times. On one visit we encountered a Charles Bowers Production in one of the exhibition halls. it was a motion picture of animated plastic puppets combined with live action. The theme was wax. It showed the multiple uses and application of wax. It was a very well-executed job….”