The Rifleman
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Rudy Bowman

Rudy Bowman as a Townsman in PanicHonest Abe

Rudy Bowman was known for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) ― She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) ― Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).
He had well over twenty-five years in acting and fifty-five credits to his name.

Born: December 15, 1890, Kansas
Died: October 29, 1972, Los Angeles County, California


Here's a story on Bowman.....

Grooved aluminum tracks had been laid across the desert for the camera's rubber tires and huge sheets of shimmering foil were reflecting the bright sunlight on a patch of sand at the base of a towering butte.

"Places, everybody."

The quiet voice of the assistant director sounded harsh in the stillness of Monument Valley in Utah. Actors John Wayne, John Agar and Ben Johnson, in cavalry uniforms, stepped aside to let a long-haired, middle-aged extra player pass. They watched him lie down in front of the camera; then they moved into the scene with him [segment might be missing here.]

A man stepped in front of the lens and held up a film marker. It read, "Argosy Pictures", “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.* Scene 137. Director John Ford. Technicolor." Instead of looking at the boss cameraman, he turned to gaze at the extra player lying on the ground behind him. By now everyone else was looking at Rudy Bowman, too. He must have felt the eyes on him, because he turned his head and began studying the buzzard[?], reflectively. This was his moment, the chance he had been waiting for. Would he be able to put his lines across? He swallowed hard and faced the camera. Wayne, standing above him, winked. Bowman smiled and drew a long breath. Director Ford looked at his laced fingers. "Roll em," he said, almost inaudibly. Bowman set his chin and a light came into his eyes. Every man there knew his story.

Back in the early 1900's the town-folk of Newton, Kansas, had taken for granted that handsome young Rudy Bowman would grow up to be a professional singer or actor. When he took part in Christmas plays and community sings the boy's regular features, wavy blond hair and rich soprano voice made him a local sensation. Rudy believed in himself, too. He used to boast that he always got what he wanted if he waited long enough. The bicycle, pony and rifle he longed for had come one way or another. When he was 24 the girl he wanted became his wife and the job he wanted materialized. Apparently his philosophy worked. Then — shortly before noon on November 3, 1918, Private Rudolph Bowman, with seven other men from 89th Division Headquarters, was crawling on his belly toward some German artillery near the Meuse River. Suddenly the earth exploded in front of them. All except Bowman were killed instantly. Bleeding at the throat, he tried to cry out for help, but he could not make a sound. Shrapnel had blasted out his vocal cords. Breathing also was difficult. A section of his trachea had been severed to form a valve that fluttered shut when he took a deep breath. Only by holding his breathing to slow, shallow drafts could he get any air at all. Close to smothering, he thought several times that death might be a blessing. But each time he was about to give up something told him to "wait." Rescued two hours later, he had to wait all night at a first-aid station for transfer to a hospital. Although he had been 89 days at the front without relief, he dared not sleep for fear of suffocating. The next day at a hospital in Barois, doctors prepared to operate. Nurses had an ether cone ready. Frantically Bowman motioned for pencil and paper. Weak from pain and loss of blood, he managed to scrawl: "Controlling breathing. If you use ether I'll choke." The doctor quickly made an incision in Bowman's throat and inserted a breathing tube. Thirteen months and 11 hospitals later the only sound Bowman could make was that of clearing his throat. Nurses and doctors looked at him with pity — on a routine vocational questionnaire he had written that he wanted to become an actor. One day Bowman experimented with his throat-clearing sounds. He discovered he could vary them by tightening his throat and violently forcing air up from his diaphragm. Soon he could turn these abdominal grunts into single, rasping words. Nurses accustomed to the weird noises he made learned to understand some of them. A surgeon reasoned that Bowman was talking with the ventricular folds in his throat. He cut away some of the scar tissue in order to improve the quality of the tones. Seeing hope for him, the Veterans' Administration sent Bowman to the St. Louis Institute for the deaf. Daily for eight months he exercised his diaphragm and throat muscles until he would fall limp from exhaustion. One day in September 1920, Bowman walked nervously to the center of the stage of the St. Louis Armory. He was there to demonstrate his "voice." It was a freak exhibition, pathetic at best, conducted by the Institute and the VA. In squeaky, inhuman sounds, Bowman not only "talked"; he also "sang" "The Holy City." In the audience a child cried. After the song, Bowman explained, "It's my little daughter, Bonita. I'm happy she could hear me well enough to be annoyed." A recording of the song was sent to the Congressional Library in Washington. The Veterans' Administration described Bowman's feat as one of the rare instances on record of anyone talking without vocal cords. The "miracle" led to examination after examination by doctors. The early '20's found Bowman in Hollywood. The screen was silent and the … [a section missing here]

Friendly technicians advised Bowman to give up any idea of a speaking part. They said his voice, while remarkable considering his handicap, sounded too much like a grunt. Bowman refused to quit. He would continue to practice with his voice — and wait. Daily he kept up the terrific muscular strain of trying to talk. An hour's talking would leave him hoarse for days. Meanwhile, he was getting more jobs than the average extra because of his stately appearance. His light-brown hair, worn long at the back, and his gray mustache and muttonchop sideburns made him a boon to directors. But he couldn't stop hoping that some day he would be given a chance to speak a few lines, no matter how insignificant. He wanted it more than he'd ever wanted anything. Then he met Director John Ford. A wounded veteran himself, and head of the Motion Picture Chapter of the Order of the Purple Heart, Ford has made a practice of using Purple Heart wearers whenever possible. Like almost everyone in the picture industry, he knew Bowman by sight and had heard his story. As they talked, Bowman laughingly confessed his longing to speak before the camera. Something clicked in Ford's mind. He was about to start a new picture. In it a dying soldier spoke three lines. "Rudy," he said, "I think you can do it. Just wait." That was why on November 3, 1948 — 30 years after shrapnel "destroyed" his power of speech — 58- year-old Rudy Bowman lay on the desert sand in front of a motion- picture camera, playing a bit part in a sound picture.

[first part missing] …by muscles and emotion, came Rudy Bowman's first words for the camera. They were rasping and high-pitched, but they were spoken as by an old trouper. "Don't bother about me ... Captain," said the "dying soldier". "I trust ... you'll forgive my presumption ... but I'd like to commend the boy ... for the way he handled this action ... " Here Bowman's voice broke. Tears glistened on his cheeks and splashed on the hot sand. Wonderful "acting," but not in the script. He swallowed hard, tightened his stomach muscles again and continued "... in the best tradition .... of the cavalry."

The voice had been perfect for a dying man. So had the break. Fred Kennedy, a hard-riding stuntman, growled: "You so-and-so, you are the first man ever to make me cry."

Bowman got up and walked away to hide his own tears. He had waited a long time."

*Thank Phillip Arnold for giving this cowboy his credit due and this great story!

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