Luther Davis (1916-2008) was an awarding winning writer, playwright and screenwriter. He won a Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award in 1954 for the musical Kismet. He was the playwright for Lady in a Cage, and Grand Hotel and many other productions.
Scope and Contents:
This collection contains scripts, screenplays, and teleplays written by Luther Davis for the stage, screen, and television with related documents. Also included are writings for publications, business papers, and personal papers and photographs.
Series 1, Articles and Fiction, 1936-1946, 2003. This series consists of articles and stories written for magazines, published and unpublished. This series is divided into two subseries:
Subseries 1, Articles and Non-Fiction, 1936-1946 and 2003. Articles published in magazines or other publications and unpublished manuscripts.
Subseries 2, Fiction, 1936-1940s and undated. Stories published in magazines and unpublished manuscripts.
Series 2, Works for Film, 1946-2003. This series consists of treatments, scripts and screenplays for films, produced and unproduced. This series is divided into two subseries:
Subseries 1, Screenplays, Produced, 1946-1972. Drafts and scripts for films produced and materials relating to their production such as advertising and reviews. Photographs for several films are also included and copies of novels used as sources.
Subseries 2, Screenplays, Unproduced, 1940s-2003. Drafts and scripts developed but unproduced and research materials for these projects.
Series 3, Works for the Theater, 1944-2007. This series consists of scripts for stage plays and musicals, produced and unproduced. This series is divided into two subseries:
Subseries 1, Theatrical Productions, 1944-2004. Scripts and other materials related to those productions. These include documents relating to adapting, financing, and promotion of the productions, as well as source materials, photographs, and reviews. Some materials relate to productions in foreign countries.
Subseries 2, Theatrical Works, Unproduced, 1937-2007. Scripts and partial scripts, ideas, outlines and research materials for these projects.
Series 4, Works for Television, 1956-1997. This series consists of scripts for television programs, produced and unproduced. This series is divided into two subseries:
Subseries 1, Television Productions, 1960-1971. Scripts and other materials related to these productions.
Subseries 2, Works for Television, Unproduced, 1956-1997. Scripts and partial scripts, ideas, outlines and research materials.
Series 5, Business and Personal Records, 1916-2007. This series consists of two subseries:
Subseries 1, Business Records, 1941-2006. Correspondence, news clippings, awards, general casting research and story research materials.
Subseries 2, Personal Records, 1916-2007. Documents, scrapbook pages, military records, news clippings, photographs, correspondence, miscellaneous personal items.
Series 6, Works by Others, 1939-1979. This series consists of stories and scripts written by others.
Series 7, Audio-Visual Materials, 1976-1991, undated. This series consists of two subseries:
Subseries 1, Audio Materials, 1976-1991, undated. Audio cassettes for Timbuktu! and Grand Hotel stage productions. Radio interviews with Davis and others.
Subseries 2, Video Materials, 1979-1990, undated. Video cassettes for Timbuktu!, 1990 Tony Awards, and film Daughter of the Mind.
The collection is arranged into seven series.
Series 1, Articles and Fiction, 1936-2003, undated
Subseries 1.1, Articles and Non-Fiction, 1936-2003
Subseries 7.2, Video Materials, 1979-1990, undated
Biographical / Historical:
Luther Berryhill Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 29, 1916. He attended Culver Military Academy, graduating in 1934. At Yale University he was a member of the Yale Literary Society and contributed stories and essays to the Yale Literary Magazine. While at Yale, he began writing plays and musicals and his work in these fields would define his long and successful career. Following his graduation he wrote articles on entertainment figures for Colliers and other publications until his enlistment as captain in the Army Air Corps. While serving, he wrote a breezy column for the service publication C.B.I. Roundup and covered aviation subjects for Air Force magazine for the duration of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major before his demobilization in 1945.
Returning to civilian life, Davis embarked upon a career as a writer for the stage, screen, and television that would continue for more than six decades. In the autumn of 1945, Davis's play Kiss Them for Me, adapted from a Frederic Wakeman novel, opened on Broadway and was adapted for film in 1955. In 1947 he wrote the screenplay for The Hucksters (also by Wakeman), starring Clark Gable. He worked as a screenwriter well into the 1980s.
Davis collaborated with Charles Lederer, Robert Wright, and George Forrest on the book and libretto for Kismet, an adaptation of Edward Knoblock's 1911 play. Kismet featured music based on the works of Alexander Borodin and won the Tony award for Best Musical in 1954. It was made into a film directed by Vincente Minnelli in 1955. In 1978, Davis produced a further adaptation titled Timbuktu! that was notable for its use of African themes and locales. Its cast included Eartha Kitt and Melba Moore, and it was choreographed by Geoffrey Holder. Timbuktu! was nominated for six Tonys, including one for Davis's script.
In 1956, Davis and partners Wright and Forrest purchased the rights to Vicki Baum's novel Menschhen in Hotel. The novel had been the source for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's (MGM) 1931 film, Grand Hotel. In 1958, Davis adapted the story for At the Grand, a production of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Thirty-one years, and numerous revisions, later it opened on Broadway in 1989 as Grand Hotel, the Musical. Directed by Tommy Tune, it ran until 1992. In 1990, the show was nominated for twelve Tony awards and won six.
As a producer, Davis and partners brought the World War I drama Not About Heroes to Broadway with stars Edward Hermann and Dylan Baker in 1981. He also co-produced Eden Court off-Broadway with Ellen Barkin and Melanie Griffith in 1985.
Davis continued his work in film as writer and producer, most notably with his controversial film Lady in a Cage, a 1964 study of modern violence starring Olivia de Havilland. Other film scripts, such as A Lion is in the Streets (1953) and Across 110th Street (1972), also explored gritty, contemporary themes. These were a marked contrast to the wry comedy of some of his earlier screenplays.
As a writer for television, Davis's work earned him recognition from the Writer's Guild of America and Mystery Writers of America. Most of his television work was produced in the 1960s, including episodes for the series "Run for Your Life" and "Kraft Suspense Theater." He authored several movies for television, including Arsenic and Old Lace in 1968. His other works for television included comedies, dramas, mysteries and thrillers.
In his lengthy career, Luther Davis earned success because of both his talent and his extraordinary determination and energy. His papers include not only his works produced for film, stage, and television but an equal, if not greater number, of works never seen by audiences.
His tireless efforts with these projects, as well as the many that reached fruition, indicate a willingness to persevere that is essential to success; in 2007, when he was ninety-one years old, he wrote a treatment for a stage musical based on Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Luther Davis died in 2008.
Donated to the Archives Center in 2009 by Davis's widow, Joan Bassie Davis.
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at email@example.com or 202-633-3270.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Blanche Stuart Scott Collection, Acc. NASM.XXXX.0062, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.