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
concluding just more than
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."
Romance, 1940 Chapter: Nunnally Johnson, Dorris
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.