Of course, Popeye is a fictional character. How could he die in battle? Who died on this day in 1944 was Willard G. Bowsky. Willie Bowsky was born in 1907 to a Jewish father and Italian mother and grew up in the New York metropolitan area. He was a talented artist who found work in the Fleischer Studios, run by Max and Dave Fleischer. He drew Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons, soon directing a team of animators. The Bowsky cartoons stand out from the ones done by the Seymour Kneitel team. The manic synergy between the action and the music characterizes his work.
Unlike the Warner Studios (Looney Tunes) or Disney, based in Hollywood, the Fleischer Studios operated in New York. There is a characteristically “urban” quality to the cartoons with street scenes and traffic commonplace. The Fleischer output was sold exclusively to Adolph Zukor’s Paramount Studios. They developed a patented technology that had the characters move on a three dimensional background that gave the cartoons a unique “depth”.
In the late Thirties, the Fleischer Studios relocated to Miami, Florida. The studio quickly fell on financial hard times, exacerbated by the expense of the move. Dave Fleischer, director of the cartoons and brother of Max Fleischer, President of the Studios had a falling out. The source of the friction was Dave’s affair with his secretary, which rankled the straight-laced Max. The studio went bankrupt in 1942, was absorbed into the Paramount organization and became known as Famous Studios. Shortly after this acquisition by Paramount, Willard Bowsky joined the Army. He was 35 years old. Most talented animators who enlisted in the Army readily found work producing cartoons for the war effort. Training films and propaganda to boost morale constituted most of their output.
Bowsky did not choose that route. He volunteered for combat duty, and was assigned to a reconnaissance unit attached to the 14th Armored Division. On this day in 1944, his unit encountered German forces near Barr, Bas-Rhin, France. Willard G Bowsky was killed in the ensuing fire fight. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He is interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial.
Bowsky’s story stands out because he could have taken an easier way, but didn’t. Something to think about.