James Alexander Cowan
|James Alexander Cowan|
October 27, 1901|
Shakespeare, Ontario, Canada
|Died||September 9, 1978
Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada
|Resting place||Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada|
|Other names||Jimmy Cowan, Jamie Cowan, JAC|
|Alma mater||University of Toronto|
Jean Eloise Wood
Cowan married Grace Fenwick Williams, daughter of Frederick George H. Williams and grand-daughter of Charles Frederick Williams. The wedding took place on January 12, 1924 at Ernest Hemingway's Cedarville Mansions in Toronto. Hemingway also served as Cowan's best man and the host of the wedding. Hemingway is noted to be one of Cowan's close friends at Toronto Star. Hemingway gave Cowan a copy of his first published book entitled Three Stories and Ten Poems. The gift by Hemingway was a first edition from a printing of 300. It includes a personal inscription and signature by Ernest Hemingway. Cowan's copy of the book is sufficiently valuable to be currently priced at a hundred twenty-five thousand US dollars.
Cowan juggled many jobs before ending as a writer and a public relations consultant. During the World War I, he paid his way by stevedoring, and guarding a World War I arms plant. He also was an advance man for a vaudeville troup called The Dumbells who toured Canada and the United States.
James A. Cowan was one of the founding members of The Goblin magazine in 1921. He also was its first Editor-in-Chief. The magazine became the highest selling magazine in Canada during its publication. With its success, other writers came and contributed to the magazine including Stephen Leacock, Gregory Clark, Nunnaly Johnson, Bruce Hutchison, and Leslie McFarlane, father of The Hardy Boys. The Goblin eventually ceased publication after its Volume 9 no. 9 issue and was continued by The New Goblin.
Cowan also worked as a feature writer and editor at the Toronto Star in his early 20s. He then wrote feature articles for Maclean's magazine, a newsweekly news magazine, reporting on Canadian issues such as politics, pop culture, and current events. In Maclean's, he wrote commentaries. One notable commentary was about the issue of the Canadian National Cinema. He also contributed to The Canadian Magazine. After Maclean's magazine, he then later wrote satires for Esquire.
As a press relations specialist, he was involved in Brewer's Warehousing, International Nickel, Revenue Properties, Steeprock Iron Mines' and Canada Steamship Lines' press relations in Canada. He also served as an advisor to politicians and political parties in Canada, and to United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1935 to 1939. Cowan served as the Director for Press Relations for Rank Films of Great Britain where he also assisted British actors Alec Guinness, Laurence Olivier, John Mills, Deborah Kerr, Trevor Howard, Jean Simmons, Stewart Granger, Basil Rathbone, Michael Redgrave and Leslie Howard.
Cowan was, as one writer described him, the "acknowledged master mind of the public-relations business" at age 44. At age 60, another article headlined that he was the "Dean of Canada's PR Men." The article noted that, "When Cowan picks up that telephone, it seems he can reach almost any level of business, government, or the communications industry. His clients include some of Canada's most intriguing enterprises and his relationship with many of them stays unknown." The writer referred to him being known as a "grey eminence" in the international business world.
Cowan was one of the founding fathers of the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario in the early 1950s. Canadian theater legend Dora Mavor Moore approached Cowan to advise on the public relations strategy for the project and to assist in creating connections with the theater community in Great Britain. He introduced Moore and Tom Patterson to Leonard Brockington who was then the President of the Rank Organization. That led to the Rank team assisting the Stratford committee in setting a realistic budget. Rank also contributed about 25% of the initial financing of the Stratford Festival. Key to the first season was having a well known performer to headline the season. Rank's London office arranged for Alec Guinness to be released from a picture commitment to enable him to come to Stratford for the first season. As a public relations specialist, James Cowan had the concept to create Stratford not only as an event but as a destination. Cowan also believed that it was critical to have a very strong pre-season ticket sales rather than trying to build the project gradually. His strategy included launching the plays like a movie premier, something he knew well as the North American public relations director for Rank Films and the Odeon Theaters. James Cowan and his friend John Frame provided the first year’s pre-season opening campaign as a donation. Cowan convinced his sister-in-law Mary Jolliffe to be Stratford's first publicist. She had just left her career as a teacher. With Cowan's mentoring and her remarkable talents, Jolliffe served successfully in the position for seven seasons. The first season was so successful that a great number skeptical Stratford citizens who had delayed purchasing tickets were disappointed as the season was sold out. As the great Canadian playwright Merrill Denison later commented on Cowan's role in the Stratford story, "Jimmy Cowan? He helped to organize the whole thing."
He also served as the Canadian Cancer Society's first national campaign chairman and as a member of the national board for 18 years.
Cowan was recognized for his community service and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953.
Cowan served as a personal and corporate advisor to Cyrus Eaton of Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. He was associated to the Liberal Party of Canada. He was elected the first president of the Canadian Film Institute in 1952 until 1966. He was also one of the founding board members of CTV Television Network in Canada and one of the people behind Expo '67.
Cowan loved nature. His love of nature included a number of conservation projects including his work helping to secure Canadian support of the Quetico-Superior Foundation to preserve the boundary waters area that created the largest international wilderness preserve in the world.
He also had a great interest in promoting adult education and literacy. He worked with the Canadian Association for Adult Education led by J. R. Kidd of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on many different projects.
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