Cookie Bowers

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Occupation: Actor

Cookie Bowers Biography

Cookie Bowers was born in New York's lower East Side His stage name was Bruce Bowers, later Cookie Bowers. He was the youngest of my mother's four siblings. During World War I, he joined the Navy, stationed at a naval base located on an island in New York Harbor. In the Navy, he was in charge of buying supplies for the base and received perks from the suppliers with whom he did business. After the war, he used the contacts he had made and went into the "rag" business. He would buy up remnants of cloth from clothing manufacturers, and other companies that used cloth and sell it in large bales to companies that would convert it to paper. He was one of the first recyclers. He had a wide circle of friends, people with whom he had maintained contact from his childhood days on New York's lower East Side where many of the Jewish immigrants of the late nineteenth century, including his parents, had settled. Many of his friends were stage performers the Lower East Side served as spawning grounds for many of the world's early comedians: Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Fannie Brice, as well as others like Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker. Cookie had a gift for mimicry, and at parties with his friends, he would put on impromptu performances. With their encouragement, he took his act to the Catskill resorts, although he continued with his regular business. In 1929 he drove to southern California, conducting his business en route. In Hollywood, he met an old friend, Charlie Moskowitz who, with his brother Arthur, were executives in the motion picture industry. Talking pictures were just evolving . Although full-length "talkies" were still a rarity, a number of Vitaphone one-reelers with sound were made featuring vaudeville performers. Moskowitz arranged for Cookie, to make a Vitaphone short. While he was in Hollywood, he had bit parts in two or three full length motion pictures helped along by a friend, Erich von Stroheim, an established actor and director who was type-cast as a monocle-wearing Hun, somewhat ironic for the Austrian-born son of a Jewish hat-maker. He returned to the East Coast where he had he had made enough contacts in the entertainment field to obtain bookings on the flourishing vaudeville circuit of the early 1930s. All major cities had several large theaters that featured vaudeville acts between each showing of the main movie. There were two major circuits, Loew's and Keith-Albee which later became RKO. Vaudeville structure consisted of an opening or "dumb act", so-called because there was no dialogue, usually performing dogs or a juggler, and took place while some of the audience was still coming into the theater. The second act was a tap dancer, magician or comedian, and this is where Cookie Bowers, was slotted. The bill was completed by the headliner, a well-known vocalist, musician or movie star. Although Cookie's performance lasted only ten or twelve minutes, he would do three or four shows a day, seven days a week. The circuit generally went from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington to the Midwest: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Chicago. It was a grueling routine but the pay was good. These were depression times when a bread-winner did well to make $35 or $40 a week. Cookie was making two- to five-hundred dollars a week when he worked. Since his act was in demand, he could have had as many bookings as he wanted, but living on the road out of a trunk, eating in greasy restaurants, sleeping in lumpy hotel beds was a lonely and uncomfortable existence, so he would work for a month or two then take two to three weeks off. Cookie's performance was a supporting act in the huge glamor houses like the Palace in New York and the Pantages in Los Angeles, but in some of the smaller cities such as Buffalo, Columbus, Omaha, he was the headliner. While he was billed alongside most of the headliners of the thirties, most were for short runs of a month or two. The "revues" in which he spent the longest time were those of Kate Smith, Buddy Rogers and Fats Waller. Each lasted for the better part of a year. By 1938, vaudeville was starting to decline in popularity. Bigger and better movies were taking over and instead of vaudeville the featured motion picture was preceded by News of The Day and animated cartoon films such as, Krazy Kat, Loony Toons and Popeye. Max Fleischer, one of Cookie's boyhood friends, had a studio on Long Island and his early ventures included "Out of The Inkwell," the animated characters popping out of an inkwell. When talking pictures evolved, voice sounds were synchronized with the mouths of the cartoon characters. Fleischer hired Cookie to do the voices in several animated short subjects including some of the early Betty Boop pictures. With the demand for vaudeville decreasing in this country, Cookie took his act, to Europe. He toured mainly Great Britain, During World War Two, Cookie along with many other entertainers, spent much of his time performing for the military. Cookie Bowers died in New York in 1970 at the age of 80. He was survived by his wife, Gilda after 40 years of marriage. They had no children.

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