Roger Wendell 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. Bowen 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 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 landed the role of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake in Robert Altman’s cult film M*A*S*H. Bowen had in fact served in the U.S. Army in Korea, albeit after the Korean War 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.)
After MASH, Bowen returned to television and 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). He then joined the cast of The Brian Keith Show, then returned to TV commercials and smaller movie roles. In 1976, Bowen appeared in the TV parody film Tunnel Vision, doing a convincing Henry Kissinger impersonation that he was often asked to perform at parties around Hollywood. (The film featured a galaxy of comic stars including Chevy Chase, John Candy, Howard Hesseman and Joe Flaherty, but Bowen received top billing as the others were still relatively unknown at the time.) Bowen also played minor roles 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 alumnus Wayne Rogers), At Ease, and Maggie Briggs. He made his final film appearance as a psychiatrist in the 1991 comedy hit What About Bob? starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, ultimately retiring from acting. Bowen was a tournament chess player who participated in several events in the Southern California area in the 1970s.
Bowen died of a heart attack at the age of 63 while on vacation in Marathon, Florida. His death came one day after that of McLean Stevenson, who played Colonel Blake for the first three seasons of the M*A*S*H television series. Stevenson also died from a heart attack. Because of this strange coincidence, Bowen’s family did not make the news of his death public until a week afterward in an attempt to minimize any confusion over the two actors and their obituaries.
|1967||Funnyman||Lester, Social Scientist|
|1970||M*A*S*H||Lt. Col. Henry Blake|
|1973||Steelyard Blues||Fire Commissioner Francis|
|1973||Wicked, Wicked||Simmons, Hotel Manager|
|1976||Tunnel Vision||Henry Kissinger|
|1978||Heaven Can Wait||Newspaperman|
|1979||The Main Event||Owner Sinthia Cosmetics|
|1980||First Family||Senator William ‘Wild Bill’ Hubley|
|1982||At Ease||Col. Clapp||TV Series|
|1987||Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home||Dr. Cabot|
|1991||What About Bob?||Phil|
|1993||Even Cowgirls Get the Blues||Naturalist filming whooping cranes from aircraft||Uncredited, (final film role)|