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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 11 July 1882Denver, Colorado, USA
Date of Death 27 January 1955Santa Monica, California, USA
Nicknames Bob
Uncle Bob

Mini Bio (1)

Robert F. McGowan started life in Denver, Colorado, intent on becoming the next Thomas A. Edison, but when inventing failed to bring fortune and/or fame, he became a fireman. He worked for the Denver Fire Department until he suffered a serious on-the-job injury at age 30 that nearly cost him a leg. During the first decade of the century in Denver, Bob had watched nickelodeons and saw the first tentative feature productions, and became fascinated with movies. Now unable to return to work but armed with a small disability pension and the audacity to think he could one-up anything he'd ever paid a nickel to see, he decided to try his hand in Hollywood, arriving there in 1913.

Unfortunately for Bob, he lacked nearly all of the principal ingredients necessary for overnight success: experience and/or connections. He eventually found employment as a lowly assistant to a property man and worked on his comedy scenarios after hours, finally selling a few treatments to Universal. Scenarios logically led to directing and McGowan struck up a lifelong friendship with director-producer (and later, actor) Charley Chase (nee Parrott), who became instrumental in his career. Chase and McGowan had collaborated on a single kid-based comedy short, and in 1922 Chase suggested to producer/studio owner Hal Roach that McGowan would be perfect to helm the "Our Gang" series Roach had in the works. Roach was embroiled in a professional love-hate relationship with rising comedy superstar Harold Lloyd--a long (they'd first met in 1913), ultimately wildly successful association then nearing its end--and McGowan's entry into the studio proved fortuitous for both men. "Our Gang" filled the fame and huge income voids Roach's boutique studio stood to lose with the departure of Lloyd. Together Roach and McGowan laid the series groundwork that struck an immediate nerve with a worldwide audience. In McGowan Roach found the friend/employee relationship he sought at his studio. Bob was probably the closest friend Roach ever had. With the increasing demands of running a successful independent studio making Roach''s directing the series an impossibility, Bob McGowan was the ideal choice to take the reins of the studio's key asset.

McGowan became nearly as synonymous with "Our Gang" as Hal Roach. The pair developed a unique energy, consistently producing what are arguably some of the best comedy shorts of the 1920s and early '30s. "Uncle Bob" possessed a unique warmth and an uncanny ability to relate to the fluid cast of kids, many of whom hadn't yet learned to read--a factor that would become far more problematic after the advent of sound. Bob was the series' principal director until Wild Poses (1933), when the duties were turned over to the capable, if more setbound and leaden direction of Gus Meins (a tragic Hollywood figure).

By 1933 McGowan was worn out from a decade of the pressures of dealing with stage parents and the ceaseless grind of trying to outdo himself. He returned to direct one more stellar "Our Gang" two-reeler, Divot Diggers (1936), before taking a working retirement, pulling some lighter assignments (mostly at Paramount and Monogram, returning to Roach briefly in 1946) at age 51.

Bob came from a close-knit family. He idolized his older brother, who essentially raised him and helped him through his recovery. His brother named his son after Bob (Robert A. McGowan), who followed him to Hollywood in the early 1920s. His nephew adopted the professional name of "Anthony Mack" and acted as a substitute director for his uncle during the '20s and early 30s, and held less obvious positions on the Roach lot during the interim. Unfortunately for the Our Gang series, Anthony Mack was a vastly less talented director who managed to become an even worse screenwriter (reverting to his given name after Bob retired) when the series was sold to MGM in 1937. It was Bob's nephew who was largely responsible (to be fair, some of the blame belongs to his co-writer Hal Law) for the increasingly deplorable MGM "Our Gang" shorts, at least as far as the scripts were concerned. Ironically both uncle and nephew died within months of each other in 1955.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jack Backstreet (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Trivia (3)

Children: Helen and Roberta
Uncle of Robert A. McGowan (aka Anthony Mack).
Interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, Section M Lot 120 Grave 3.

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