This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Billy Jack Long is a professional musician and author from Southern California. Any paid advertising you see on this page was not put her by Bill. Ignore it and it should go away.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Major Edward Bowes (1874-1946)

Edward Bowes was born June 14, 1874, in San Francisco, California. He started out life as a real estate agent and he earned a lot of money as a real estate agent in his native San Francisco. The Great 1906 Earthquake caused him to reevaluate where he was and what he was doing. He still had his financial assets. So Mr. Bowes moved to New York City, where he got involved in the entertainment business. Having a musical background (he studied music for many years and was an accomplished pianist, conductor, arranger, and composer), he worked as a conductor and composer for Broadway musical revues and, later, Broadway plays. He was married to Broadway actress Margaret Illington (born Maude Light in 1879) from 1910 until her death in 1934. Mr. Bowes was the owner/manager of the Capitol Theatre in New York City.

During World War I, Mr. Bowes served as an officer in the Reserve Army Corps. Because of his management skills, he was given the rank, Major. He kept this rank with him for the rest of his life. He was a very formal man and never liked to be addressed by first name. Having the rank title actually made some people think that Major was his given name and that actually helped break down some of the barriers his formality had brought him over the years. In actuality, Major Bowes was a kindhearted man who would give you the shirt off his back if he weren't so rich (since he was rich, he'd just go to Barney's and buy you the best shirt they had.)

In 1934, Major Bowes started a radio program on station WHN in New York City called Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour. He had actually sponsored several similar shows in different parts of the country, usually isolated from big cities. The idea was to find new talent to make new stars. It was similar to today's American Idol on TV. One big difference, though, was that Major Bowes completely controlled the voting. People actually did call in on the telephone and make votes on the entertainer they thought was the best. When the sponsor was Chrysler automobiles, the listeners telephoned their local Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, or DeSoto dealership. It actually sold a lot of cars! There was no rule back in those days about those who were involved with the advertising being contestants.

One major difference between American Idol and the Amateur Hour was that the Idol show has only singers. The Amateur Hour had singers, magicians, instrumentalists, bands, dancers (right, dancers on the radio!), storytellers, comedians, and animal callers. It calls to mind the bird callers that appear from time to time on the Tonight Show, a tradition which Johnny Carson started which stays on with Jay Leno.

Some of the people Major Bowes discovered include Frank Sinatra, Paul Winchell, Jack Carter, Beverly Sills, Lily Pons, Robert Merrill, and Teresa Brewer.

One of the things that caused the Major to start up this radio show was the death of his beloved wife after 24 years of marriage. They had no children and his life was empty. He was a very resourceful man.

The Major died on his 72nd birthday at his home in Rumson, New Jersey, after a lengthy illness. One week after his death, Ted Mack (1904-76, born William Edward Maguinness) took over the reins. The show lasted on radio until 1952. It lasted on television from 1948 to 1970.

3 comments:

Tony Barrand said...

Bill...I got to you site following links for Major Bowes. I'm a folklorist who has done work with Anna Marley who, with her brother Jimmy, was on the Major Bowes show in 1936 and by herself in 1937. I visited her from 1988 roughly every two weeks until she died in 2000. In that time, I learned 12 of her dance routines, including the three kinds of steps she danced for the Major on marble-topped pedestal: hornpipe, straight buck (or reel) and Buck and Wing. Jimmy and Anna "won" the broadcast Sunday contest and, within one week, joined the Troupe known as "Major Bowes All Stars" in St. Paul, Minnesota and stayed with the tour for 6 months going out to the west coast and all through Texas. I have photographs and diaries from their time on the tour. If you're interested in any of it, I'd be glad to share materials.
Dr. Tony Barrand --

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