Previously Known For: As Eddie “Donkey Lips” Gelfen on Salute Your Shorts
|Currently Known For: Owner of Generation 12 and Elite Acting Studios Production Companies|
“We run. We jump. We swim and play. We row and go on trips but the things that last forever… are our dear friendships. Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts and when we think about you (it makes me wanna fart!), it’s ‘I hope we never part…’” Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Michael Ray Bower came into this world on February 12, 1975. With endless energy, an outgoing personality and a knack for making people laugh, Bower was a natural “ham” on stage and was discovered in elementary school after a performance where he led the school’s glee club. “Quincy Jones’ producer and Michael Jackson’s camp saw our news or something. They came and watched the play, then we were invited to perform our play in front of President Ronald Reagan,” Bower recalled. “I got so much press that when I came home I had offers from many talent agencies.”
Making his official acting debut at 11 years old in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker in 1988, Bower’s career was on fire as he appeared on the silver screen in She’s Out of Control, Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School and The Willies. He enjoyed even more success on television with guest appearances in series like Webster, Tales from the Crypt, Empty Nest, Superior Court, Hull High, The Wonder Years and Doogie Howser, M.D. In 1991, he caught the biggest break of his entire career when he was cast as Eddie “Donkey Lips” Gelfen on Salute Your Shorts, a short-lived American comedy series based on the 1986 book, Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp by Steve Slavkin and Thomas Hill.
“Being on the show was great,” Bower said of his experience, despite not knowing how exactly the nickname “Donkey Lips” came about. “Looking back on it as an adult now, it’s one of the greatest memories of my life. Basically, I had a family and I had an opportunity and an experience that millions of people will never have. I’m thrilled that I was part of the show and that it still resonates with people at an older age. Believe me, it makes me feel proud every single day. Sometimes, there are fan boys who know every line from every episode and it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, how about we talk about it for five minutes and that’s it.’ But yeah, no, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m proud to this day. Just when it becomes obsessive for people it just—but I kind of can say the same thing about my Oakland Raiders, so you know what, I get it. I get it.”
Enjoying a huge boost in his career from Salute Your Shorts and even earning a Young Artist Award for his performance, Bowen wrapped up the series in 1992 and spent the rest of the decade making appearances in series like Running the Halls, Weird Science, and California Dreams. In 1996, he was invited to appear on an episode of Friends, which is a huge shock for the now 42-year-old Bower who is mature enough to understand the incredible opportunity.
“Looking back on it—wow, I was on Friends,” he says. “I’ll be quite honest with you. When I auditioned for the show, they were barely finished with their first season, and going into production of their second season. I auditioned and got the part. I knew of Jennifer Aniston, I knew the show was a hit, but I didn’t really watch it. So, I didn’t get into it. But, after 10 seasons in a row, I finally sat down and watched all the episodes on DVD and realized what the big phenomenon was! I went, ‘Oh my God, I was on Friends!’”
After Friends, Bower welcomed the new millennium with film projects like Dude, Where’s My Car?, Social Misfits, Evolution, Sex and the Teenage Mind in addition to making cameos in X-Files, Dark Angel, Monk, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Bones. He also discovered his niche as a voice actor and, since 2006, has lent his voice to a variety of characters in video games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony, Halo 3:ODST, Red Dead Redemption and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Adding in commercials for products like Mountain Dew’s AMP Energy Drinks, Bower appeared in Pepsi’s 2008 Super Bowl commercial and then ventured into business himself by opening two productions companies—Elite Acting Studios and Generation 12. “It sounds weird, but I created Elite Acting Studios from my house… I wanted to teach acting, teach what I know about not giving up,” the former child star says. “About living daily with no money and being called a has-been or being a child star trying to make it in the adult world… I help clients with acting and help them learn how to live out of the .99 cent store. Whatever it is, to keep going in this industry because you might not make it today, but there is going to be that one day where that opportunity will meet your talent and you’ll be fine.”
As for his work with Generation 12, Bower says he hopes to one day direct but he’s not in any hurry to take on big projects. “I get small productions… It has to be a very passionate person or like a college graduate or a short film or something like that for me to do it,” he says. “I’ve read a couple scripts, for small things and they kind of took my eye. And one good thing about these small productions with people who are trying to do it for real in college or film school—I get to play characters that I never did because they think I’m famous and they think I’m going to help them. But, at the same time, I get to play the lead character and not the joke. I get to play a serial killer or a father or the leading man, and that really doesn’t happen in real acting in terms of agents and casting directors. I mean, not at this moment.”
Apart from helping aspiring filmmakers and actors see their own dreams come true, Bower has the late Michael Jackson to think for launching his career after a brief glee club performance in the late 1980s that led him to the set of Moonwalker. And, while Bower hasn’t exactly become an A-list star, he’s still honing his talents in the hopes of a comeback story. “I have a small production company and comedy troop and I am trying to make funny movies or full length features as well as continuing to be a great and talented actor,” he says, “I’m ready for a huge comeback story.” …and we are too!