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”.
Bowers’ costume design credit
Salt Lake Herald 8/7/1902
Bowers cast as an artist. The World 6/13/1903
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.
Jersey Journal 7/3/1907
Jersey Journal 7/5/1907
Jersey Journal 7/9/1907
Jersey Journal 7/11/1907
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!”
Jersey Journal 5/28/1910
When he left the Jersey Journal has not been determined. As mentioned earlier, his panel, Life’s Little Phonies, was published in 1916, if not earlier. His next venture was animating the Mutt and Jeff comic strip characters. He and Raoul Barre went into business together as the Barre-Bowers Studios.
Dramatic Mirror 5/19/1917
New York Herald 8/5/1917
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:
My next association with Charles Bowers took place in 1924. By that time he was in sort-of production with his plastic puppets in Astoria, Long Island. He said that he was again opening an animated cartoon studio. The location would be in Long Island City, on Long Island [Queens], not too far from Astoria. He put me on staff as an animator and told me to report for work at a given date which was within a week of two…the address…Jackson Avenue near Queens Plaza. I reported on time. The studio was a large loft in a three story frame building….
…This Astoria Studio remained Bowers’ home base. His visits to the Jackson Avenue studio were infrequent. The stories would be picked up by one of the animators whenever the boss phoned that a story was ready. On the occasions when Bowers did visit us he acted the part of Big Papa. He would treat his animators to a fine lunch at a stuffy but expensive German restaurant several blocks from the studio. Another place he would takes us to at noontime would be to The Chamber of Commerce restaurant in a building facing the open air platforms of the Queens Plaza subway station….At those luncheons Mr. Bowers behaved just as he did in Mount Vernon at lunch, he told us tales of his prowess. They were tall tales, but worth listening to. Beside, the free lunches made up for any strain on our credulity.
As time went on [animators] Harrison, Gould and Gillet stayed apart from George Rufle and me. They often talked in whispers. Then, about four or five months after the Jackson Avenue studio went into operation, Burt Gillet called everybody together. Harrison and Gould flanked Gillet. He made an announcement. This is no longer the Charles Bowers Studio. It is now The Associated Animators Studio. Mr. Charles Bowers is no longer part of this animation operation. Then Burt told that the new bosses were himself, Harrison and Gould….
After Gillet made his announcement, he added that the three of them were going to Astoria to inform Mr. Bowers that he was OUT! Our three new bosses left and were gone for the rest of the morning. Then about one-thirty in the afternoon Mr. Bowers walked into the studio with two moving men. They removed everything in the studio…[except] the camera and camera stand…[which] belonged to…Gillet.
The Daily Star, July 28, 1925, reported an incident involving Bowers.
Jimmy Donohue, 3110 Washington avenue, Astoria, got into the movies yesterday and got right out again.
The final fadeout of the picture will come before Magistrate Harry Miller in Long Island City tomorrow when Jimmy will be arraigned for sentence on a charge of disorderly conduct.
Jimmy imbibed a little too freely yesterday and went to the Old Dominion moving picture studio at 190 First avenue, Astoria, near Webster avenue. At the studio he met Charles R. Bowers, an actor, 663 Lexington avenue, Manhattan.
Here he is said to have threatened Bowers, as the latter was going on a set. The camera was clicking merrily and Bowers pushed Jimmy away. The picture was ruined when Jimmy followed Bowers on the set and fought with him, it was said.
Yesterday Bowers told the Magistrate he called Patrolman Otis Parmenter of the Hunter’s Point precinct. Parmenter arrested Jimmy and charged him with intoxication and disorderly conduct.
Bowers said he had befriended Jimmy a year ago when he was down and out.
“I haven’t taken a drink in a year,” said Jimmy.
“Well, you seem to have made up for the year you lost,” remarked the Magistrate as he held him without bail until tomorrow.
The Daily Star, August 4, 1926, published the following legal notice:
In accordance with the provisions of law, there being due and unpaid charges for which the undersigned, Lloyds Film Storage Corporation, is entitled to a lien as warehousemen on the goods hereinafter described, and due notice having been given to all parties known to claim an interest therein, and the time specified in such notice for the payment of such charges having expired, there will be sold at public auction by J.H. Mayers, auctioneer, at 161 Harris Avenue, Borough of Queens, City of New York, on the 20th day of August, 1926, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon of that day, the following property:
…10. Five (5) reels of motion picture film held for the account of Chas. R. Bowers and or Bowers, Inc….
In 1928, Photoplay magazine carried ads for Educational Pictures, which profiled its stars, including Bowers in the aforementioned February issue. His filmography is here. Some of his surviving films are discussed at The DVD Journal.
Daily Star 3/31/1928
Daily Star 1/26/1929
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….”
Bowers signed his U.S. World War II draft card in 1942. His address was “Terhune Drive (Green Gables) Pompton Lakes Passaic N.J.” Once again, he misrepresented his age as 53. His occupation was cartoonist and described as five feet seven inches, 130 pounds with blue eyes and gray hair. The Herald-Tribune obituary said, “…In 1941, when he became seriously ill, he was not able to keep up with the commitments of his contracts, and he could not find an artist or writer to do them for him. He taught his wife, Mrs. Winifred Leyton Bowers, to do some of the work—she learned to draw so well that her work is now on exhibit at the Pompton Lakes library—but the contracts lapsed.”
Bowers passed away November 24, 1946, in Paterson, New Jersey. Some sources said he died on the 26th. The first paragraph of Herald-Tribune obituary, published Wednesday, said: “Charles R. Bowers, fifty-seven, a pioneer in the field of animated cartoons and at one time a wealthy producer of motion pictures comedies, died Sunday at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Paterson, N.J., after an illness of five years. His home was in Pompton Lakes.” A November 1946 calendar shows that the 24th is a Sunday and the 27th a Wednesday. The Billboard, December 7, 1946, obituary is here. The Herald-Tribune obituary named Bowers’ wife as his only survivor, but his youngest sister, Agnes Isabelle Byers (1880–1961), was alive at the time according to her family tree at Ancestry.com. His oldest sister, Mary, died in 1920. The fate of his siblings, Susan, Paul and Lois, is not known.