Love's True Story Transcends Script

By Robert Jennings . Memphis Commercial Appeal 3/30/1997


A love story begins in 1938 when an ambitious young movie actress from Memphis asked an associate producer in Hollywood for a job.  It ended the other day the only way a real love story ever can.

Nunnally Johnson died at age 79 in a Los Angeles hospital, concluding just more than 37 years of marriage with former actress Dorris Bowdon and an even longer career as film writer-producer-director and author.

Dorris Bowdon is about as close to being a native Memphian as you can get and not be one. She was born in Coldwater, Miss., but moved to Memphis as a child. She went to Peabody and Bruce schools and graduated from Tech High, C1ass of '33. She attended Southwestern and the University of Wisconsin before settling in as a speech major at Louisiana State. A movie talent scout saw her in a college play there and dispatched her to Hollywood as a 20th Century-Fox "starlet."

Storybook Romance, 1940 Chapter:  Nunnally Johnson, Dorris Bowdon


She made her movie debut in a 1939 trifle named "Down on the Farm," in the long-forgotten Jones Family series. No wonder she asked Nunnally Johnson for a role in "Jesse James," a major 20th-Century Fox production he wrote and on which he was associate producer to Darryl F. Zanuck.

Johnson turned down her request for a "Jesse-James" role, but asked her for a date. Almost two years later they were married in the Nyack, N.Y. home of Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes. MacArthur was bestman.  Little Mary MaCArthur was flower girl.  Memphis was fascinated:  hometown girl marries big-time movie man.  Johnson had been gone from his native Columbia, Ga. long enough for the wedding to make small splash there.  Besides, it was his third marriage and her first.

 Dorris Bowdon was chiefIy wife and mother after that.  They had two daughters and a son.  The firstborn was christened in the Bowden family church, Galloway Memorial Methodist.  Doris did not quit the screen for a while. Her most notable role was as Rosasharn in "The Grapes of Wrath," the 1940 version of John Steinbeck's novel.  Johnson wrote the screenplay.  She also was prominent in "The Moon Is Down" (1943), produced by Johnson from his script based on another Steinbeck novel.  John­son's prestige escalated. In one or another of his capacities - writer, director, producer - his credits included "The·Mudlark," "Desert Fox," "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," "Three Faces of Eve," "The Dirty Dozen" and more.

<   Dorris Bowdon's 1933 Tech Yearbook photo