William Bowman (director)

William J. Bowman (sometimes cited William J. Bauman; February 27, 1884 – January 1, 1960) was an American stage and film actor, writer, and director noted for his work in the early 1900s on silent productions for studios in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and in Los Angeles during the first decade of filmmaking in and around Hollywood. His direction of a series of films with matinee idol Francis X. Bushman in 1915 and his direction of the serials The Invisible Hand in 1920 and The Avenging Arrow in 1921 form only a small part of Bowman's extensive filmography.

William Bowman
Bowman in Motion Picture News, 1916
William J. Bowman

(1884-02-27)February 27, 1884
DiedJanuary 1, 1960(1960-01-01) (aged 75)
OccupationActor, film director, writer
Years active1896-1921
Spouse(s)Evelyn M. Bowman
(m. 1925-?)

William J. Bowman's surname in some silent-era film reviews and news items, as well in some modern references on American film history, is occasionally misidentified or also cited as William J. "Bauman."[1][2] It is significant that in the extensive "Studio Directory" published by the trade magazine Motion Picture News in January and October 1916 no "William J. Baumen" is mentioned among more than 2,000 "authorized" biographies of actors, actresses, directors, writers, technicians, executives, and "Other Members of the Film Industry."[3] Only William J. Bowman, as a director, is profiled.[4] The lack of any reference to a William J. Bauman in the editions of that directory, the absence of even a basic profile on him in earlier or later film-industry publications, and the attribution of credits to both men for the same films—such as The Starbucks, The Beautiful Unknown, and The Terror of the Fold—indicate that Bowman and Bauman were actually the same person.[5][6][7]

Early life

William Bowman was born in Bakersville, North Carolina, in 1884. As "a boy" he moved with his parents to California, where he later attended Lordsburg College, then located in Pomona.[8] Bowman in college studied architecture and spent a short time working as a draftsman until his career interests turned to acting and the management of stage productions.[1][8]


In its January 29, 1916, issue, Motion Picture News provides a full-page biography of Bowman in its semiannual studio directory. The magazine notes the following about his early professional stage experience:

One of [Bowman's] early engagements was with Robert Mantell in 1896, where he appeared in "The Face in the Moonlight" and "The Corsican Brothers." With Jeanette Waldorf he toured the Orient, playing in Shakespeare. Upon his return to the States he played in the famous Frawley stock company at the Grand Opera House in San Francisco.[8][9]

Following his work with Frawley, around 1904, Bowman began working in vaudeville and created a number of acts that became "headliners" in major theaters on the vaudeville circuit. Some of those acts or "playets" included The Family Entrance, The Little Mother, and Quarantine.[8] He also created another popular role for the vaudeville stage, portraying the devil in The Devil, The Servant and The Man on the Orpheum and Keith circuits.[8] Bowman then returned to the legitimate stage and spent several seasons in Chicago serving as a leading man in productions presented by The Imperial and Bush Temple stock companies.[8]



After gaining considerable acting experience on stage, Bowman was invited by Edwin Thanhouser to join his new motion-picture company, which he had established in 1909 in New Rochelle, New York. Bowman moved to New Rochelle in the latter months of 1910 and took residence at 276 Huguenot Street.[1] He first appeared in the Thanhouser Company's short The Old Curiosity Shop, released in January 1912. That was followed by roles in Silas Marner, Under Two Flags, as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and performances in Now Watch the Professor, For the Mikado, and other productions.[1][8]

Bowman worked with Thanhouser for two years. He then moved to Chicago to direct and act in films for the American Film Manufacturing Company.[1] One his notable directoral projects for that studio was a three-reel adaptation of journalist Opie Read's 1902 book The Starbucks.[8] Soon, though, after the New York Motion Picture Company began moving its operations to California in 1912, Bowman relocated to the West Coast to direct films for "NYMPC", his first three productions for that studio being The Iconoclast, The Lure of the Violin, and Retrogression in 1913.[8][10] Bowman remained with NYMPC for six months and then began working on projects for the western division of Vitagraph. His first production for that studio was Master of the Mines followed by Ghosts, Inasmuch, The Face of Fear, and The King’s Men. He both starred in and directed those films.[8] According to Motion Picture News, it was in this period that Bowman also traveled on location to Oklahoma to direct three Vitagraph Westerns at the legendary Miller Brothers 101 Ranch.[8] He then returned to the East Coast to direct three films of various lengths for Universal Pictures at Victor Studios' facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The most elaborate work of those productions, released in December 1914, was a four-reeler titled The Beautiful Unknown.[8] Bowman then began to produce his own longer "photoplays", one being the six-reeler The Tale of the North.[8]

While still producing independently in New York, Bowman met Fred J. Balshofer of Quality Picture Corporation, a studio affiliated with Metro Pictures.[8] Bowman accepted Balshofer's offer to return to California to direct several of that company's important productions in 1915. The entertainment trade paper Variety in its May issue that year announces his new job. "William J. Bauman", it reports, "and Lawrence B. McGill have been added to the directing staff of Metro."[2] Three of the films that Bowman then completed for Quality/Metro between the late spring and early fall of 1915 include The Second in Command, The Silent Voice, and Pennington's Choice, all starring Francis X. Bushman.[11] In its review of The Second in Command in July, Variety compliments the direction of the film's battle scenes of the Boer War, describing them as "well worked out".[12] The popular entertainment paper did, though, find the overall production "most tiring to watch" and blamed part of that wearying effect on "the number of times the director moves both the camera and people at the same time, keeping the picture flickery."[12]

Before the end of 1915, Quality Pictures decided to close its California operations and reconsolidate its businesses in New York. Wanting to remain in Los Angeles, Bowman ended his association with Quality but still finished his last production for the studio, co-directing Rosemary with Balshofer.[13] He then started working as a director for David Horsley, a producer and the founder of Centaur Film Company. Variety announces that move to work with Horsley in its December 3 edition; yet, once again, the New York-based trade paper refers to Bowman as "William J. Bauman" in its Hollywood news item, adding that he "is at present directing his first picture. It is in two reels and entitled 'The Terror of the Fold'".[14]


Bowman in 1916 went on to direct more Centaur films for Horsley after Terror of the Fold , two of those being much longer five-reelers, The Bait and The Heart of Tara, released during the first quarter of that year.[8][14][15] Bowman not only directed The Bait he also wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Theodosia Harris.[16] Following his association with Horsley, Bowman continued directing and on occasion acting. He returned briefly to Universal and Victor Studios in mid-1916 to direct The Golden Boots and From Broadway to a Throne, a film also written by Bowman. In its review of the latter in July that year, Motion Picture News gives the production a tepid or "even" review, finding its fight scenes interesting but the story weak on comedy, noting "The only trouble is, Mr. Bowman has not put enough [humor] in the picture’s five reels."[17]

Bowman's known filmography becomes rather sparse after his work on From Broadway to a Throne. In its film-industry directory published in October 1916, Motion Picture News identifies him as "now [an] independent producer" in his biographical entry in that reference.[4] The trade magazine also provides Bowman's contact information, citing it as the "Elks' Club, Santa Monica, Cal."[4] Another trade publication, Moving Picture World, announced in December 1916 that "Director William J. Bauman and Director Rice" [A. W. Rice] had been hired to work on and complete The Planter, an ambitious seven-reeler that was being filmed on location in Guatemala by the Nevada Motion Picture Corporation.[19][20] According to Moving Picture World, that studio was largely funded as "a hobby" by F. M. Manson, a "Nevada mining millionaire"; and he hired "Bauman" and Rice to travel to Guatemala as replacements for "Director John Ince and Assistant Director Joseph Boyle", who had "left the company".[19][20] Later, in 1919, Bowman apparently resumed acting as well, for that year he is credited with performing as Captain Osborne in Paramount's World War I drama The False Faces.[21][22] After that film, he is credited for directing the Vitagraph feature The Veiled Mystery, two later shorts, and the serials The Invisible Hand in 1920 and The Avenging Arrow for Pathé in 1921.[23][24] Some modern film references state that Bowman's screen career had ended by "the very early 1920s"; but nearly a decade after his work on The Avenging Arrow, he still identified himself in the 1930 federal census as being employed as a “Director [of] Moving Pictures”.[25][26]

Personal life and death

According to federal census records, Bowman by 1930 was living with his wife "Evelyn M" in a home they owned on Beach Street in Oceanside, California, a small town in San Diego County.[25] Evelyn, as recorded in the same census, was a native of Texas and married Bowman five years earlier.[25]

In 1960, William died while still residing in San Diego County.[27] His gravesite is in the Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside.[28]

Partial filmography

Since William Bowman served as an actor (A) in some of his films, as a director (D) in others, and in both capacities (A/D) in still others, the following productions are marked accordingly to distinguish his work in both shorts and features:

  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1911)—A
  • Silas Marner (1911)—A
  • Under Two Flags (1912)—A
  • The Merchant of Venice (1911)—A
  • Now Watch the Professor (1912)—A
  • Two Souls (1912)—A
  • For the Mikado (1912)—A
  • The Starbucks (1913)—D
  • The Iconoclast (1913)—D
  • The Lure of the Violin (1913)—D
  • Retrogression (1913)—D
  • The Master of the Mine (1914)—D
  • Ghosts (1914)—A/D
  • Inasmuch (1914)—A/D
  • The Face of Fear (1914)—A/D
  • The King’s Men (1914)—A/D
  • The Beautiful Unknown (1914)—D
  • The Tale of the North (1915)—A/D
  • The Clubman’s Wager (1915)—A
  • The Second in Command (1915)—D
  • The Silent Voice (1915)—D
  • Pennington's Choice (1915)—D
  • Corner on Cotton (1915)—D
  • Rosemary (1915)—D
  • Terror of the Fold (1915)—D
  • The Heart of Tara (1916)—D
  • The Bait (1916)—D
  • The Golden Boots (1916)—D
  • From Broadway to a Throne (1916)—D
  • The False Faces (1919)—A
  • The Veiled Mystery (1920)—D
  • The Invisible Hand (1920)—D
  • The Avenging Arrow (1921)—D
  • Walter Finds a Father (1921)—D
  • Walter’s Winning Ways (1921)—D

References and notes

  1. Bowers, Q. David (1995). "Bowman, William J.", Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History, Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc., Portland, Oregon. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
  2. An example of the confused spelling of Bowman's surname, as discussed later on this page, is given in a May 14, 1915 news item in the trade paper Variety, which announces "William J. Bauman" joining Metro's staff of directors. "Film Flashes", Variety (New York, N.Y.), May 14, 1915, p. 18, col. 1. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  3. "Studio Directory of Motion Picture News, 1916", Motion Picture News (MPN), New York N.Y., January 29, 1916, p. 1 facing p. 617; "Studio Directory", MPN, October 21, 1916, p. 17-18 in directory. Internet Archive. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  4. "Studio Directory", "BOWMAN, William J." MPN, October 21, 1916, pp. 104-105. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  5. According to the 1910 and 1920 federal census, no William J. Bauman is listed working in the film industry in either California, New York, New Jersey, or Illinois at those times. In California in 1920 only two residents named "William J. Bauman" of appropriate ages are recorded to be living in the state in that year's census. One worked as a driver for a bakery in San Francisco; the other, as a retail merchant in Long Beach. Consequently, the absence of finding an actor or director named William J. Bauman in federal records or a specific biography under that name in film-industry publications of the era (as found for Bowman) support the contention that William J. Bowman and William J. Bauman were actually the same person whose film credits simply varied in their attributions.
  6. There is one other "Bauman" listed in the 1916 Motion Picture News studio directory, an entry for "John M. Bauman". He is profiled as a native of Connecticut, who worked in the given period as a mechanical engineer and cameraman for the Thanhouser Company in New Rochelle, New York.
  7. "Studio Directory", "BAUMAN, John M." MPN, October 21, 1916, pp. 137. Internet Archive. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  8. "William J. Bowman, Director, Horsley Pictures", a biography of Bowman, MPN, January 29, 1916, p. 37. Internet Archive. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  9. The MPN citation of Bowman working with the celebrated Shakespearean stage actor Robert Mantell in 1896 is suspect, for Bowman would have been only 12 years old at that time. Still, Mantell did travel extensively performing in plays in cities and small towns throughout the United States between 1894 and 1899, so it is possible young Bowman was enlisted to participate in one of Mantell's performances while the veteran actor was in California. Refer to Clarence Joseph Bullie's work Robert Mantell’s Romance (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1918), pp. 167-169.
  10. The New York Motion Picture Company changed its name to the New York Picture Corporation in 1912, so the company after that year is also cited in references as "NYPC".
  11. "Francis X. Bushman", filmography, catalog of the American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles, California. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  12. "The Second in Command", review, Variety (New York, N.Y.), July 30, 1915, p. 20, col. 2. Internet Archive. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  13. "Rosemary", review, Variety, December 10, 1915, p. 21, col. 2. Internet Archive. Retrieved October 14, 2018.
  14. "Film Flashes", news item about "William J. Bauman" joining the "Horsley forces" as a new director, Variety, December 3, 1915, p. 20, col. 4. Internet Archive. Retrieved October 14, 2018.
  15. "The Heart of Tara (1916)", originally released March 4, 1916; film details. AFI. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  16. Jessen, J. C. (1916). "In and Out of West Coast Studios", Motion Picture News MPN, January 29, 1916, p. 539. col. 1. Internet Archive. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  17. Milne, Peter (1916). "From Broadway to a Throne", review, MPN, July 22, 1916, p. 454. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  18. McElravy, Robert (1916). "'From Broadway to a Throne'", image from review, The Moving Picture World (New York, N.Y.), July 22, 1916, page 651. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  19. "Los Angeles Film Brevities", Moving Picture World, December 23, 1916, p. 1789, col. 1. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  20. Reel, Rob (1917). "The Planter, seven parts, The Season’s Premier Special", Moving Picture World, November 17, 1917, pp. 680-681. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  21. "The False Faces (1919)", AFI. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  22. The gap in Bowman's known filmography during 1917 and 1918 are not due to any military service on his part during World War I. Later in the United States Census of 1930, he classifies himself as a non-veteran.
  23. "The Avenging Arrow (1921)", Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  24. "William Bowman", filmography, Internet Movie Database (IMDb), a subsidiary of Amazon, Seattle, Washington. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  25. "Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930", Oceanside Precinct, San Diego County, California, April 2, 1930; digital copy of original enumeration page. FamilySearch, census records, archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  26. Wollstein, Hans J. (2018). "William J. Bowman Biography", Fandango, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia, New York, N.Y. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  27. "California Death Index, 1940-1997", database of the Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento, California. FamilySearch archives. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  28. "William J. Bowman", Find A Grave Index, record ID 176016850, FamilySearch. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
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