His thrice-married mother, Elizabeth "Bessie" Pringle Brunson Fauntleroy Bowman Clyde, grew up as Southern aristocracy on Kingstree, the Brunson family plantation outside Charleston, SC. But there was a hex on Bessie's private life. Both her mother and her grandmother would fatally burn - in accidents with a fireplace and an overheated stove, respectively. And her first husband, a dentist and mineral-water entrepreneur from Staunton, Virginia, contracted a debilitating illness. Bessie bore her second husband, Luther Lee Bowman, three sons: Lee, Pringle, and Hunter. After that marriage fell apart, Bessie married a wealthy distant cousin, William Clyde who supported Lee's pursuits of singing and dancing at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music as well as varsity athletics (gymnastics and track) in public school. While Lee was attending high school in his native Cincinnati, his sister, Rowena, met with some success on Broadway, which more than ever inclined young Bowman toward acting. Nevertheless Lee enrolled as a law student at the University of Cincinatti where colleagues remembered his prowess in ice hockey, baseball and track. Both his parents were descended from a long line of lawyers, judges and ministers, so this didn't come as a total surprise.
From time to time his singing voice on the radio earned him extra spending money. Lee could not divorce the idea of an acting career. When Bowman entered Columbia University in 1932, he was bent on lawyering. Fred Astaire movies changed his life. "If he can do it, I can do it". He enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
So began a career as a stage actor and radio singer in the '30s. Following several years of stock, Lee entered a partnership as part owner of a New Hampshire stock company. His performances there resulted in his being signed to play the lead in Berkeley Square in New York. Talent scouts caught him in this, and the next year saw him in Hollywood making his film debut in Internes Can't Take Money (1937) . At age nineteen he had a Paramount contract. Following this he spent seven years playing second leads, often as a playboy thanks to his suave, elegant style and dapper, handsome looks.
Helene Fleming and Lee (pictured right) first met at the West Side Tennis Club in August 1939. Lee's young brother Hunter says, "Helen was a good tennis player and she was not stupid, she set her sights on Lee and got him."
Not been able to get her stepfathers approval Helene in 1941 eloped with Bowman to Tijuana.
The success of "Cover Girl" (picture below left) wasn't left unnoticed and Hollywood teamed Bowman several times with the lovely Susan Hayward. Hit it big time in the mid '40s, In 1948 Susan Hayward got nominated for her role in "Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman" (1947) The film loosely based on the life of Dixie Lee (wife of Bing Crosby) tells the story of a nightclub singer who marries a rising singer and falls into alcoholism when she gives up her own career.
Never a major star, he began concentrating more on
his stage work in the late '40s. As many celebrities
do, he also had several guest roles on radio (and subsequently on TV).On
radio he was heard e.g. In 'Screen
Guild Theatre' (with Paulette Goddard), 'Inner Sanctum',
several episodes of 'Suspense'
(1945) and 'Cavalcade
Of America' (1946-1953). In the 'Old
Gold Comedy Theatre' he starred in episode 4 'Vivacious
Lady'. A young
university professor comes to New York to retrieve his errant cousin -- but
promptly falls in love with a nightclub performer and marries her after a
whirlwind romance. When he goes back home, he can't bring himself to tell
his conservative and ultra-respectable academic family about it. Lee Bowman
and Linda Darnell starred.
He briefly starred in the TV series
The Adventures of Ellery Queen
Ellery Queen. "I find myself working forty
hours a week on just the twenty-four-minute Ellery Queen show
itself. Additional guesting on such shows as Theatre Guild of The Air,
Studio One, Curtain Call, Cavalcade of America serves to add hours to my
work week, and break up my weekends with the family. On top of that, I'm
active in several other business ventures ... ."
In 1961 he played Private Investigator Jeff Thompson in Miami Undercover. This private Eye was hired by the Miami Hotel Owners' Association to keep the city crime free. Former boxer Rocky Graziano played assistant Rocky with Thompson posing as a sophisticated man about town. The First-Run Syndication series ran for 38 episodes. After this Bowman retired from the screen except for a role in Youngblood Hawke in 1964 and the role of Ted Langer in The Fugitive episode: "Detour on a Road Going Nowhere" (1964). Beautiful Elizabeth Allen offers Kimble a one-night stand but Kimble refuses. Later on a bus fellow traveler Langer (Bowman) finds Elizabeth more than a little enticing. Elizabeth tells Kimble watch this and crosses her legs letting her skirt rise. Kimble looks away but Langer practically breaks his neck trying to get a good look. Elizabeth then demurely uncrosses her legs and pulls her skirt down and smugly smiles at Kimble. Langer's wife (40's movie star Phyllis Thaxter) has seen what happened and it is clear Langer will have some explaining to do. Elizabeth tells Kimble that he may be like Langer in a ten years, dreaming of the "legs that got away."
After his role in "The Fugitive" he went on to become the radio and TV consultant for the Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committee in Washington (Mr. Bowman was hired by the Nixon administration) and later for Bethlehem Steel, coaching politicians and businessmen in speaking and on-camera techniques.
From 1974 until his death, he was Chairman of the Kingstree Group, an international consulting firm, which offers communication advice to business and political leaders all over the world. Kingstree's global headquarters is now located in London, England. Bowman was responsible for developing the 'conversational' approach to spoken communication, which is recognized today as the only successful model for business and political presentations and media interviews.
Lee died, 3 days before officially becoming a senior citizen, in Brentwood, Los Angeles of a heart attack on December 25. 1979
Last updated Oct 19, 2017
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