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Roger Bowen; Comedic Actor and Novelist

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roger Bowen, the comedic actor and novelist who portrayed the original Col. Henry Blake in Robert Altman’s film version of “MASH,” has died. He was 63.

Bowen, who had recently lived in New York, died of a heart attack Feb. 16 while vacationing in Florida. He died a day after the heart attack death of McLean Stevenson, who played Blake in the television series spawned by the 1970 movie about the Korean War.

Often portraying the stuffy defender of the upper class, Bowen had regular roles on several television series, including employer Hamilton Majors Jr. on “Arnie” in 1971-72, allergist Dr. Austin Chaffee on “The Brian Keith Show” in 1973-74, Col. Clapp on “At Ease” in 1983 and Donny Bauer in “Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs” in 1984.

Nevertheless, Bowen always considered himself a writer who only moonlighted as an actor.

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“It was writing that got me into acting,” he told The Times in 1973. “I had been writing reviews of Chicago’s improvisational theater for the school paper at the University of Chicago.

“I was asked to write some material the actors could improvise on for a new group--the Compass Players [with] Barbara Harris, Alan Arkin, Mike Nichols, Elaine May. I asked what writers were paid. They said, ‘nothing.’ But the actors got $25 a week. I became an actor.”

The Compass Players evolved into Chicago’s famous Second City, and Bowen was one of its co-founders. He and his wife, Ann, later moved to San Francisco to join that city’s budding improvisational theater, the Committee.

Bowen was the author of 11 novels, including “Inga,” “The Silent 50s” and “Just Like a Movie.” He also wrote sketches for Broadway and television.

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Novelist Herbert Gold evaluated “Inga,” Bowen’s first book, as “funny, sexy, nostalgic, moving.”

Born in Providence, R.I., Bowen graduated from Brown University and served in Army intelligence during the Korean War.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two sons, Michael and Daniel, and a daughter, Katie Koch.


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