Obituary: Clement Fowler (1924-2009)

August 22, 2009

Actor Clement Fowler died on August 16 at the age of 84.  The death notice in the New York Times refers to Fowler as a “working actor.”  That’s a frank expression, one I often see applied to actors who manage (barely) to earn a full-time living from their craft, but never receive much recognition from the public. 

To be even more frank, Fowler possessed the face of a character actor – long, narrow, with a small chin and suspicious little eyes – and in his recorded performances he created a gallery of hustlers, gangsters, and weirdos.  Below, in the tacky suit that seems a rather desperate cry for attention from the costume department, Fowler plays a bookie on Route 66.

Fowler Route 66

George Maharis, the blacklisted actor David Clarke, Clement Fowler, and Martin Milner in Route 66 (“The Opponent,” 1961)

Born in Detroit in 1924, Fowler was performing in New York by 1950.  His resume of Broadway and off-Broadway roles ran to arm’s length, and included a Rosencrantz to Richard Burton’s Hamlet (a role he reprised in the filmed version of that production) and George in a Hartford staging of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Like Chris Gampel, an actor I wrote about last year who had a similar career, Fowler committed himself to the theatre and to New York; his film and television appearances are a patchy index of shows filmed on location in the east.  Also like Gampel, he began in live television and ended on Law & Order.

Among the dramatic anthologies, Fowler played on Studio One and Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger and Suspense, Omnibus and The Hallmark Hall of Fame.  Fowler’s parts were often small, and surely there are many more from the live era which will remain unrecorded.  Soaps (The Doctors; Loving; The Guiding Light, which survives him by just a month) fill in more of the gaps.  The spate of gritty shows – Decoy, The Defenders, Mr. Broadway – that emerged from the Big Apple in the late fifties and early sixties also gave Fowler, with his rough features, a chance at some larger than usual roles.  On Big Story, he played “The Phantom of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” and on Naked City he was “The Bumper,” the contract killer who bumped off John McIntyre’s Lieutenant Muldoon in a fiery car chase.  It was one of the earliest occasions in which a television series killed off a regular character, and as such I suppose it is Fowler’s historical claim to fame.

Fowler worked for Scorsese in The Age of Innocence, and played Steve Guttenberg’s father in Diner.  There are uncredited movie roles, too, apparently in Robert Mulligan’s The Pursuit of Happiness and the early television film The Borgia Stick.  He was sometimes billed as Clem Fowler, and at present the standard internet sources split his credits between both names.

 Fowler Naked City

Clement Fowler and Luther Adler in Naked City (“A Memory of Crying,” 1961)

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4 Responses to “Obituary: Clement Fowler (1924-2009)”

  1. Brian Kellow Says:

    Mr. Fowler was a kind, lovely man. He was my neighbor in Manhattan. I didn’t know he was an actor until one evening, when I was watching DINER on late night TV, and spotted him as Steve Guttenberg’s father. I guess he was too modest to talk about his many impressive credits, on stage, TV and film. He is much missed at 405 East 54 Street.

    Brian Kellow

  2. lisa mitchell Says:

    Your memory of Mr. Fowler really touched me, I am teary eyed. Such humility and modesty in a man is as admirable as his accomplishments. Thank you for sharing a loving memory.

  3. Catherine Sutherland Says:

    Mr. Fowler was my neighbor and “elevator friend” such as one has in Manhattan. He and his wife were the most lovely, well mannered people. They were clearly extremely close and went everywhere together. When Mrs. Fowler passed away I knew Mr. Fowler would not wait long to join her. I miss them both as they represented a kind of civility no longer found in our city.

  4. Barnaby Spring Says:

    I was fortunate to know and work with Clement Fowler in a university production of Incident at Vichy. The play was produced by the theater arts program of The Mason Gross School of Art. Harold Scott directed it. Mr. Fowler played the Count and I played the actor, Monceau. I appreciated Mr. Fowler’s dedication to his craft, his kindness and his political consciousness.


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