Bowen in 1971
May 25, 1932|
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
|Died||February 16, 1996
Marathon, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Myocardial infarction|
|Alma mater||Brown University|
|Years active||1963 – 1991|
Roger Bowen (May 25, 1932 – February 16, 1996) was an American comedic actor and novelist, known for his portrayal of Lt. Col. Henry Blake in the 1970 film M*A*S*H. He often portrayed stuffy defenders of the upper class and had regular roles on a number of television series. His successful acting career aside, Bowen always considered himself a writer who only moonlighted as an actor. He wrote eleven novels (including Just Like a Movie) as well as sketches for Broadway and television. He was also one of the co-founders of Chicago's famed comedy and acting troupe The Second City.
Life and career
A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Bowen majored in English at Brown University, then attended graduate school at the University of Chicago. While writing theater reviews for The Chicago Maroon, he was asked to pen material for an improvisational troupe that included Alan Arkin and Mike Nichols. The troupe, Compass Players, evolved into The Second City. Bowen spent most of the 1960s playing "preppie" types on a number of TV & radio commercials. His first film role was 1968's Petulia, but his big movie break came in 1970, when he created the role of lackadaisical Blake in Robert Altman's cult film M*A*S*H. (Bowen had in fact served in the U.S. Army in Korea in real life, albeit after the Korean conflict had ended. After serving in Japan as a Special Agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps (441st CIC Detachment - Bepu Field Office) from 1957-58, Bowen was sent to the 308th CIC Detachment in Seoul, South Korea in 1958.)
While it was another veteran of TV commercials, McLean Stevenson, who would play Lieutenant Colonel Blake's role on the long-running M*A*S*H television series, Bowen already had solid exposure in the early 1970s. After MASH, Bowen gained a fan following as Hamilton Majors Jr., the pleasantly snooty and supportive Ivy League boss of Herschel Bernardi on the TV sitcom Arnie (1970–72).
After Arnie, Bowen joined the cast of The Brian Keith Show, then returned to commercials and movie cameo roles. In 1976, Bowen appeared in the TV parody film Tunnel Vision, doing a Henry Kissinger impersonation that he often did at parties around Hollywood. (The film featured a galaxy of comic stars including Chevy Chase, John Candy, Howard Hesseman and Joe Flaherty, but Bowen was given top billing as the others were still relative unknowns at the time.) Bowen also showed up briefly in such films as Heaven Can Wait (1978), The Main Event (1979) and Zapped! (1982).
In the early 1980s, Bowen enjoyed another round of weekly TV work with recurring roles on House Calls (starring former M*A*S*H sitcom alum Wayne Rogers), At Ease, and Maggie Briggs. He made his final film appearance in the 1991 comedy What About Bob? starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. He was a tournament chess player who participated in events in the Los Angeles area in the 1970s.
Bowen died of a heart attack, at the age of 63, while on vacation in Marathon, Florida.
In a strange coincidence, Bowen's death came one day after the death of McLean Stevenson. Because of this, Bowen's family did not report his death to the media until a week afterward, so that it would not be dismissed as a garbled version of Stevenson's obituary.
- Bowen, Roger (1979). Inga. Normandie Publishing. ISBN 978-0960298617.
- Bowen, Roger (1995). The Silent Fifties. Normandie Publishing. ISBN 978-0960298624.
- Bowen, Roger (1996). Just Like a Movie. Normandie Publishing. ISBN 978-0960298631.