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Marshall, Frank


Producer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, 13 September 1946. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, as political science major. Family: Married the producer Kathleen Kennedy. Career: Protégé of Peter Bogdanovich, working on his production crew and serving as an assistant on Targets, 1968, location manager on The Last Picture Show, 1971, and What's Up, Doc?, 1972; line producer on Orson Welles's The Other Side of the Wind (unreleased); 1981—began collaboration with Steven Spielberg as a producer for Raiders of the Lost Ark; 1982—with Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, formed production company, Amblin Entertainment. Awards: ShoWest Award, Producer of the Year, 1982. Address: Kennedy-Marshall Co., 1351 4th Street, 4th Floor, Santa Monica, California 90401–1337, U.S.A.

Films as Producer:


Paper Moon (Bogdanovich) (asst)


Daisy Miller (Bogdanovich) (asst)


At Long Last Love (Bogdanovich) (asst)


Nickelodeon (Bogdanovich) (asst)


The Last Waltz (Scorsese—doc) (line pr); The Driver (W. Hill)


The Warriors (W. Hill) (exec)


Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg) (+ ro as pilot)


Poltergeist (Hooper) (co)


Twilight Zone—The Movie (Landis, Spielberg, and Dante) (exec)


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg) (co-exec); Gremlins (Dante) (co-exec)


Fandango (K. Reynolds) (co-exec); The Goonies (R. Donner) (co-exec); Back to the Future (Zemeckis) (co-exec); Young Sherlock Holmes (Levinson) (co-exec); The Color Purple (Spielberg) (co)


An American Tail (Bluth—animation) (co-exec); The Money Pit (Benjamin) (co)


Innerspace (Dante) (co-exec); *batteries not included (M. Robbins) (co-exec); Empire of the Sun (Spielberg) (co)


Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Zemeckis) (co); The Land before Time (Bluth—animation) (co-exec)


Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade (Spielberg) (co-exec); Dad (Goldberg) (co-exec); Back to the Future Part II (Zemeckis) (co-exec); Always (Spielberg) (co)


Back to the Future Part III (Zemeckis) (co-exec); Gremlins II (Dante) (co-exec); Joe Versus the Volcano (Shanley) (co-exec)


Cape Fear (Scorsese) (co-exec); Hook (Spielberg) (co); An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (Nibbelink and Wells—animation) (co-exec)


Noises Off (Bogdanovich)


Swing Kids (Carter) (co-exec); A Far Off Place (Salomon) (co-exec); We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (D. & R. Zondag, Nibbelink, and Wells—animation) (co-exec)


Milk Money (Benjamin) (co)


The Indian in the Cupboard (Oz) (co)


Olympic Glory (Merrill) (co-prod); The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan); Snow Falling on Cedars (Hicks) (+ 2nd unit director); A Map of the World (Elliott); Sports Pages (series)

Films as Director:


Arachnophobia (+ co-exec pr); Tummy Trouble (live-action only, short); Rollercoaster Rabbit (live-action only, short)




Congo (+ co-exec pr)


On MARSHALL: articles—

Wells, J., "Producer Frank Marshall on Poltergeist," in Film Journal, 24 May 1982.

Chase, Donald, "Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy: Executive Producers Back to the Future," in Millimeter, December 1985.

McDonagh, Maitland, "Paramount Gears Up for Final Indiana Jones," in Film Journal, May 1989.

Avins, Mimi, "Director Frank Marshall Sets Up a Superspider's Revenge in Arachnophobia," in Premiere (New York), July 1990.

Spotnitz, F., "Frank Marshall, the Amblin Producer Finds His Stride in the Director's Chair," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1991.

Avins, Mimi, "Shot by Shot: Alive," in Premiere (New York), 1 March 1993.

Clark, John, "Hollywood and Vines: Congo Serves Up Old-Fashioned Jungle Adventure with New Fangled Special Effects," in Premiere (New York), July 1995.

Fischer, Dennis, "Congo," in Cinefantastique (New York), 1 August 1995.

Ojumu, Akin, "When They Talk, Spielberg Listens," in The Observer (London), 23 April 2000.

* * *

Frank Marshall is one of the most respected filmmakers working in the film industry today. Though perhaps best known for his hugely successful collaborations with producer Kathleen Kennedy and director Steven Spielberg, Marshall started out as a protégé of Peter Bogdanovich and gained valuable experience through collaborations with such legends as Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas.

All of these directors were unabashed film buffs who imbued Marshall with a certain sentimentality for things past and a desire to entertain audiences the same way that they had been entertained by the great films of yesteryear. These traits show clearly in his own initial directorial efforts, particularly Arachnophobia and Congo, which hearken back to such great sci-fi classics as Tarantula (1955) and King Kong (1933) and feature strong story lines at a rudimentary level and depend on technical craftsmanship and strong special effects to captivate the audience.

Marshall's career appears to reflect three significant turning points in an evolution from apprentice to producer and ultimately to producer/director. As a political science student at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the late 1960s, he had a chance introduction to the film historian Peter Bogdanovich who was about to make his directorial-debut film Targets, financed by Roger Corman. The minuscule budget meant Marshall was involved in all aspects of making the film. He later said this experience was the best introduction to the film industry.

Working with the always cash-poor Bogdanovich gave Marshall insights into the difficulties inherent in the film business and allowed him to develop a sense of what he saw as his primary function as a producer. To Marshall, the producer is the person who serves as a direct line to the director and his needs, and it is the producer's job to fulfill those needs. In this view, the finished film should reflect the creative vision of the director and not the producer.

The Bogdanovich-Marshall pairing included some of the director's most successful films including The Last Picture Show, PaperMoon, and What's Up Doc?, but it was the producer's work on the less successful Daisy Miller that led to another turning point in Marshall's professional development. Steven Spielberg was in Europe promoting his film Duel and dropped by the studio to have lunch with Bogdanovich when Marshall came in to ask his director about a problem on the set. Marshall later learned that Spielberg was impressed with the way that he handled himself and was the type of person Spielberg wanted working with him. He wanted a producer who could "take care of things on the set." Five years later, when George Lucas asked Spielberg who he wanted as producer for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg's response was: "See if that guy Frank Marshall is available." Marshall was and a long association with one of the most successful directors in the history of film was begun.

The producer and director, joined by Marshall's future wife Kathleen Kennedy, formed Amblin Entertainment Company in 1982. According to Marshall, the main criteria behind the films "greenlighted" into production for Amblin was story content. The most important factor to him was that the film tell a good story—one that he would like to see himself. Just as he would come to emphasize in his directorial efforts, he looked for films that reminded him of the matinee films of his youth. Such films as Back to the Future, Poltergeist, E.T.—The Extra-Terrestrial, and Hook have timeless themes and are demographically perfect for capturing the widest possible audience—the 13-to-25 age group. Nevertheless, a number of Marshall's productions, including The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, and Always, while less successful financially than other Amblin films, reflected strong story lines aimed at adult audiences. Marshall and Spielberg were not afraid to deal with less-commercial material if solid story content was there.

Although Amblin has become identified in the popular mind as being virtually synonymous with Steven Spielberg, Marshall and his co-producer Kennedy exercised considerable influence on the director's choice of projects and exercised control over the broad range of corporate output. Within the company, if Spielberg was directing, Marshall and Kennedy were always the producers. If other directors were doing Amblin projects, the two would either co-produce or executive produce depending on the work load within the company. This versatility allowed Amblin to produce a phenomenal output in its relatively short existence.

The association with Spielberg provided a third turning point in Marshall's evolution as a producer and director. First, working on "A" projects with some of the most talented people in the business gave the producer an opportunity to hone his skills at the highest level. His strength lies in the day-to-day details of production. As Spielberg has noted, Marshall is an "on the set" producer who employs a hands-on approach and likes to keep his crews as small as possible. He also prefers to work with the same group of people again and again because he considers communication behind the camera to be the most important aspect of making things run smoothly. His people are now so familiar with his style that they can anticipate many of his techniques to support his director.

Second, while keeping up with his production duties in the late 1980s, Marshall took advantage of his association with Spielberg to learn the craft of directing. As a second-unit director on the famous director's recent films, he prepared himself for a 1990 directorial debut on Arachnophobia. Although the light horror film may not have been the aspiring director's first choice, it was a green-lighted project, ready to go, and he jumped at it. The project was unique in that it allowed Marshall to utilize both his producer and directorial skills. Having been a producer, Marshall understood the importance of combining the creative with the business aspects of making a film. Indeed, from a producer's point of view, a film about killer spiders terrorizing the Midwest was a tough sell. The original draft of the screenplay was stark horror with no letup. At least in Spielberg's Jaws (1973), audiences knew that the danger only lurked in the water. On land, you were safe. Here, there was no shelter; spiders could be lurking anywhere, even in your popcorn.

As a director who knew that his audience was composed of people with conflicting views of spiders, Marshall was able to leaven the terror through the device of a comic exterminator played by John Goodman who broke the tension in some of the story's climactic scenes. This provided a "word of mouth" that would intrigue both horror fans and John Goodman fans. This combination of producer and directorial psychologies has contributed to the success of Marshall's subsequent directorial efforts Alive and Congo.

The year 1999 was busy for Marshall, with four projects coming to completion and release. The Bruce Willis vehicle The Sixth Sense turned out to be the most successful of these, continuing Marshall's involvement with projects reminiscent of cinema past: the child Cole Sear's troubling declaration that "I see dead people" might easily have come from The Exorcist, for example. Other films of that year, such as Snow Falling on Cedars and A Map of the World, deal with the more adult themes of love and loss. Olympic Glory is a well-meaning but overly sentimental documentary, filmed in the large IMAX format, about the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Olympic Glory nevertheless deserves a look if only to experience the ski-jump projected on the IMAX screen.

Marshall, having the choice of either directing or producing films, has the responsibility of having to make the decisions on all of the creative aspects of, a film he is directing while in the producer role, he likes being the support system for the film and keeping the momentum going on the set. For example, early in his producing career, to keep spirits up on one particularly difficult shoot, Marshall put on a magic show starring himself as Dr. Fantasy. This magic show has now become a tradition on all Marshall productions. This is indicative of the producer/director's philosophy of filmmaking. For him, making films is like putting on one big expensive magic show and he plans to keep on pulling films out of his hat for a long time to come.

—Sandra Garcia-Myers, updated by Chris Routledge

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Marshall, Frank 1946–

MARSHALL, Frank 1946


Full name, Frank Wilson Marshall; born September 13, 1946, in Los Angeles, CA (some sources say Newport Beach, CA); raised in Newport Beach, CA; son of Jack Marshall (a musician, composer, arranger, and producer); married Kathleen Kennedy (a producer), 1987; Education: Graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Addresses: Agent United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Office Kennedy/Marshall Company, 619 Arizona Ave., 2nd floor, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Career: Producer, director, actor, writer, and production executive. Kennedy/Marshall Company, founder (with Kathleen Kennedy). United States Olympic Committee, member of board of directors.

Awards, Honors: Academy Award nomination, best picture, 1981, for Raiders of the Lost Ark; ShoWest Award, ShoWest Convention, producer of the year, 1982; Academy Award nomination, best picture (with Quincy Jones, Kathleen Kennedy, and Steven Spielberg), 1985, for The Color Purple; David Award, best producerforeign film (with Robert Watts), 1989, for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; Wise Owl Award, best television and theatrical film fiction (with Gary David Goldberg, Kennedy, and Joseph Stein), Retirement Research Foundation, 1990, for Dad; Academy Award nomination (with Kennedy and Barry Mendel), British Academy of Film and Television Arts Film Award nomination, best film (with Kennedy and Mendel), and Best Foreign Film Award nomination (with Kennedy and Mendel), Australian Film Institute, 2000, all for The Sixth Sense; Academy Award nomination, best motion picture, Golden Globe Award nomination, best dramatic picture, and Motion Picture Producer of the Year Award nomination, Producers Guild of America Golden Laurel Awards, all (with Kennedy and Gary Ross) 2004, for Seabiscuit.


Film Work:

Assistant to the director, Targets (also known as Before I Die ), Paramount, 1968.

Location manager, The Last Picture Show, Columbia, 1971.

Production assistant, What's Up, Doc?, Warner Bros., 1972.

Line producer, The Other Side of the Wind, 1972.

Associate producer, Paper Moon, Paramount, 1973.

Location manager, The Thief Who Came to Dinner, 1973.

Associate producer, Daisy Miller, Paramount, 1974.

Associate producer, At Long Last Love, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1975.

Producer, Nickelodeon, Columbia, 1976.

Line producer, The Last Waltz, United Artists, 1978.

Associate producer, The Driver, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1978.

Executive producer, The Warriors, Paramount, 1979.

Producer (with Steven Spielberg) and (uncredited) second unit director, Raiders of the Lost Ark (also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark ), Paramount, 1981.

Producer (with Spielberg), Poltergeist, MetroGoldwynMayer, 1982.

Production supervisor, E.T.: The ExtraTerrestrial (also known as E.T. and E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial: The 20th Anniversary ), Universal, 1982.

Executive producer, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Warner Bros., 1983.

Executive producer and second unit director, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Paramount, 1984.

Executive producer, Gremlins, Warner Bros., 1984.

Producer (with Quincy Jones, Kathleen Kennedy, and Spielberg) and second unit director (in Kenya), The Color Purple (also known as Moon Song ), Warner Bros., 1985.

Executive producer, The Goonies, Warner Bros., 1985.

Executive producer and second unit director, Back to the Future, Universal, 1985.

Executive producer, Young Sherlock Holmes (also known as Pyramid of Fear ), Paramount, 1985.

Executive producer, Fandango, Warner Bros., 1985.

Producer (with others), The Money Pit, Universal, 1986.

Producer, An American Tail, Universal, 1986.

Producer (with others) and second unit director, Empire of the Sun, Warner Bros., 1987.

Coexecutive producer, Innerspace, Warner Bros., 1987.

Executive producer (with others),*batteries not included, Universal, 1987.

Producer and second unit director, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Buena Vista, 1988.

Executive producer (with Spielberg), The Land before Time, Universal, 1988.

Executive producer (with Spielberg) and second unit director, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Paramount, 1989.

Director (with Rob Minkoff; live action sequence) and executive producer, Tummy Trouble (animated short film), Buena Vista, 1989.

Producer (with Spielberg) and second unit director (in Montana), Always, United Artists/Universal, 1989.

Executive producer, Dad, Universal, 1989.

Executive producer, Back to the Future, Part II (also known as Paradox ), Universal, 1989.

Director and executive producer, Arachnophobia, Buena Vista, 1990.

Executive producer and director of live action segments, Roller Coaster Rabbit (animated short film; also known as Rollercoaster Rabbit ), Buena Vista, 1990.

Executive producer, Joe versus the Volcano, Warner Bros., 1990.

Executive producer, Gremlins 2: The New Batch (also known as Gremlins 2 ), Warner Bros., 1990.

Executive producer, Back to the Future, Part III (also known as Three ), Universal, 1990.

Director and producer, Hook, Buena Vista, 1991.

Executive producer, Cape Fear, Universal, 1991.

Executive producer, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Universal, 1991.

Producer and second unit director, Noises Off..., Buena Vista, 1992.

Executive producer and production executive, Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation (animated; also known as How I Spent My Vacation ), Warner Bros. Home Video, 1992.

Production executive, Amazing Stories: Book One, MCA/Universal Home Video, 1992.

Production executive, Amazing Stories: Book Two, MCA/Universal Home Video, 1992.

Production executive, Amazing Stories: Book Three, MCA/Universal Home Video, 1992.

Production executive, Amazing Stories: Book Four, MCA/Universal Home Video, 1992.

Production executive, Amazing Stories: Book Five, MCA/Universal Home Video, 1992.

Director and producer, Alive (also known as Alive: The Miracle of the Andes ), Paramount/Buena Vista, 1993.

Executive producer, We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (animated), Universal, 1993.

Executive producer, Trail MixUp (animated short film), Buena Vista, 1993.

Executive producer, Swing Kids, Buena Vista, 1993.

Executive producer (with Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen), A Far Off Place, Buena Vista, 1993.

Producer and second unit director, Milk Money, Paramount, 1994.

Director and executive producer, Congo, Paramount, 1995.

Producer (with Kennedy and Jane Startz), The Indian in the Cupboard, Paramount, 1995.

Executive producer, The Best of Roger Rabbit (also known as Disney and Steven Spielberg Present The Best of Roger Rabbit ), 1996.

Producer, The Thief of Always, Universal, 1998.

Producer (with others), Olympic Glory, MEGAsystems Production, 1999.

Producer, The Sixth Sense, Buena Vista, 1999.

Producer and second unit director, Snow Falling on Cedars, Universal, 1999.

Producer, A Map of the World (also known as Unschuldig verfolgt ), USA Films, 1999.

Executive producer, The Bourne Identity (also known as Die Bourne Identitat ), Universal, 2002.

Producer, Signs (also known as M. Night Shyamalan's Signs ), Buena Vista, 2002.

Producer and second unit director, Seabiscuit, Universal, 2003.

Producer, The Young Black Stallion, Buena Vista, 2003.

Executive producer, Mr. 3000, Buena Vista, 2004.

Producer, The Bourne Supremacy, Universal, 2004.

Film Appearances:

Ticket boy, Targets (also known as Before I Die ), Paramount, 1968.

Tommy Logan, The Last Picture Show, Columbia, 1971.

Dinsdale's assistant, Nickelodeon, Columbia, 1976.

Pilot, Raiders of the Lost Ark (also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark ), Paramount, 1981.

(Uncredited) Tourist at airport, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Paramount, 1984.

Himself, Making "Signs " (documentary), Buena Vista Home Video, 2003.

Himself, Cultivating a Classic: The Making of "The Color Purple " (documentary short), 2003.

Himself, Conversations with the Ancestors: "The Color Purple " from Book to Screen (documentary short), 2003.

Television Work; Series:

Executive producer and production executive, Amazing Stories (also known as Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories ), NBC, 19851987.

Creator (with others), The Bretts, Central Independent Television, 1987, then broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, PBS, 1987.

Creator, executive producer, and script supervisor, The Bretts II, Central Independent Television, 1989, then broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, PBS, 1989.

Production executive, Back to the Future (animated), CBS, 19911993.

Production executive, Fievel's American Tales (animated), CBS, 19921993.

Executive producer, Johnny Bago, CBS, 1993.

Production executive, Family Dog (animated), CBS, 1993.

Television Work; Movies:

Executive producer, The Sports Pages, Showtime, 2001.

Television Work; Miniseries:

Director of segments "Mare Tranquilitatis" and "We Interrupt This Program," From the Earth to the Moon, HBO, 1998.

Television Work; Specials:

Director and producer, The Making of "Poltergeist, " 1982.

Director and producer, The Making of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, " 1984.

Executive producer (with Sid Ganis), Heroes and SidekicksIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, CBS, 1984.

Executive producer, China Odyssey: Empire of the Sun (documentary), CBS, 1987.

Executive producer, Roger Rabbit and the Secrets of Toontown, 1988.

Executive producer, Great Adventurers and Their Quests: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, CBS, 1989.

Executive producer, The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy, 1990.

Executive producer, A Wish for Wings That Work (animated), 1991.

Executive producer, It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special (animated), 1992.

Executive producer, Alive: The Miracle of the Andes (also known as Alive: Twenty Days Later ), CBS, 1993.

Television Director; Episodic:

Directed "Johnny's Manly Act," Johnny Bago, CBS.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Himself, The Making of "Raiders of the Lost Ark " (documentary), 1981.

(Uncredited) Himself, The Making of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom " (documentary), 1984.

Director, Thrills, Chills & Spiders: The Making of Arachnophobia (documentary), 1990.

Himself/interviewee, Spotlight on Location: Snow Falling on Cedars (documentary), 2000.


Television Specials:

The Making of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom " (documentary), 1984.

Television Episodes:

The Bretts II, Central Independent Television, 1989, then broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, PBS, 1989.



International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 4: Writers and Production Artists, St. James Press, 1996.

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Davis, Frank Marshall

Frank Marshall Davis


Poet, journalist

A central figure in African-American literary history, Frank Marshall Davis was a poet whose work drew on and put a personal stamp on many of the trends in black poetry of the 1930s and 1940s. He was influenced by jazz and tried to evoke its rhythms in words. He drew detailed portraits of urban African-American life. And like Langston Hughes and many of his other contemporaries, he was a social activist who used literature to illustrate injustice in no uncertain terms.

Davis was also a pioneering figure in the field of African-American journalism. Insufficient recognition of the role Chicago writers played in African-American cultural life contributed to a long-lasting underestimation of Davis's work, as did his move to Hawaii in midlife, under threat from a growing wave of anticommunist repression. Davis was rediscovered enthusiastically, however, by politically oriented black writers of the later twentieth century.

Victim of Attempted Lynching

Frank Marshall Davis was born on December 31, 1905, in Arkansas City, Kansas. The violence of small-town Midwestern life was unrelenting; Davis was told by teachers and townspeople that blacks were inferior, and when he was five a group of white boys tried to lynch him. He took heart, though, when he first heard a new music that was spreading across the South. "The blues? We were formally introduced when I was eight; even then I had the feeling we weren't strangers," Davis wrote in his autobiographical Livin' the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet. "So when the blues grabbed me and held on, it was like meeting a long-lost brother."

Davis graduated from Arkansas City High School and moved to Wichita, Kansas, around 1924, taking journalism classes at Friends College and at Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State Universityof Agricultural and Applied Science). As a freshman there, he faced the option of writing either an essay or a poem for an English class and took what he thought was the easy way out. The professor liked his poem, and Davis ran off to the library to write more. Hooked on writing, Davis moved to Chicago in January of 1927 and soon had some stories published in National Magazine. Some of his work is published under his pen name Frank Boganeythe last name of his mother's second husband. In April of 1927 Davis began his journalism career as an editor and columnist with the Chicago Evening Bulletin.

Working for the Chicago Whip, the Gary (Indiana) American, the Associated Negro Press, and (from 1931 to 1934) the Atlanta World, Davis became a jack-of-all-trades. "I served not only as straight news reporter but as rewrite man, editor, editorial writer, political commentator, theatrical and jazz columnist, sports writer, and occasionally news photographer," Davis wrote in his autobiography. As managing editor of the Atlanta World he transformed the paper from a weekly to a thrice-weekly and finally to a daily publication. All the while, he was writing poetry, and in 1934 he moved back to Chicago from Atlanta. The year 1935 saw the publication of Davis's first book, Black Man's Verse, by Black Cat Press. Davis followed up that volume with I Am the American Negro two years later.

Worked for Associated Negro Press

Those books made Davis's reputation and cemented his relationships with Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and other leading black writers whom he met while participating in the federal Works Progress Administration Writers' Project and other organizations. In 1937 Davis received a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, and through World War II he continued to earn a living as a journalist and editor with the Associated Negro Press. His poetry involved itself with various subjects and sources; two series of poems set in a graveyard and describing its occupants (one in each of his first two books) seemed influenced by a parallel section of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. He depicted urban scenes and wrote occasional lyric poems of great beauty. "Peddling/From door to door/Night sells/Black bags of peppermint stars/Heaping cones of vanilla moon," he wrote in one poem.

Most often, though, Davis was identified with militant poems. His works dealt with lynching, poverty, and the other grinding conditions under which African Americans live, and he indicted the hypocrisy of white America repeatedly. Several poems, including "'On-ward Christian Soldiers,'" took direct aim at white violence on a global scale; "Day by day // Black folk learn // Rather than with // A heathen spear // 'Tis holier to die // By a Christian gun." These works made a strong impression, but some critics shied away from them; Hughes (as quoted by Davis biographer John Edgar Tidwell) offered the even-handed but cautionary assessment that "when [Davis's] poems are poetry, they are powerful."

Davis broadened his activities into many areas of black culture and society in the 1930s and 1940s. He used his newspaper platform to call for integration of the sports world, and he began to engage himself with community organizing efforts, starting a Chicago labor newspaper (the Star ) toward the end of World War II. In 1945 he taught one of the first jazz history courses in the United States at the Abraham Lincoln School in Chicago. He briefly joined the Communist Party, although he had disparaged the efforts of Communist organizers while living in the South in the 1930s and later downplayed the extent of his involvement.

Moved to Hawaii

Still, Davis's leftist associations were strong enough to attract unwelcome attention from the government after the war, and by the time his third book, 47th Street: Poems, was published in 1948, he was under pressure from the Un-American Activities Committee of the House of Representatives. That book, often considered Davis's best, aimed at a readership that extended beyond African-American circles and offered portraits of a broad range of Chicagoans. On vacation that summer in Hawaii with his second wife, Chicago socialite Helen Canfield Davis, he decided to stay on in Honolulu and remained there for the rest of his life. The interracial marriage lasted 24 years but finally ended in divorce. Davis first became a father at age 44, and the couple raised five children.

Davis said that he was drawn to life in Hawaii because of the islands' multiethnic culture. He wrote some poetry in Hawaii and worked on his autobiography beginning in the early 1960s. He penned a column for a Honolulu labor newspaper. But mostly he dropped off the literary radar, starting a paper-supplies company, Oahu Papers, which mysteriously burned to the ground in March of 1951. In 1959 he started another similar firm, the Paradise Paper Company. Several times he was questioned about his leftist affiliations by congressional investigators, but by the late 1950s the anticommunist hysteria had died down.

At a Glance

Born on December 31, 1905, Arkansas City, KS; died on July 26, 1987, Honolulu, HI; married Helen Canfield (divorced, 1970); children: Lynn, Beth, Jeanne, Jill, Mark. Education: Attended Friends University, 1923; attended Kansas State Agricultural College, 1924-27, 1929.

Career: African-American newspapers, including the Chicago Evening Bulletin, Whip, and Gary American, Chicago area, journalist, 1927-29; Atlanta Daily World (Atlanta, GA), co-founder and managing editor, 1931-34; Associated Negro Press, Chicago, executive editor, 1935-47; poet, 1930s-87. Abraham Lincoln School, Chicago, jazz history teacher, 1945; Oahu Papers (wholesale paper business), owner, 194?-51; Paradise Paper Company (wholesale paper business), owner, 195?-??.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, young African-American writers (especially those affiliated with the Black Arts Movement) began to rediscover Davis's work. He visited Howard University in Washington to give a poetry reading in 1973, marking the first time he had seen the U.S. mainland in 25 years. His work began to show up in anthologies, and in the late 1970s he published two more small volumes of poetry, Jazz Interludes: Seven Musical Poems and Awakening and Other Poems. Davis died in Honolulu on July 26, 1987, just before a group of young scholars became interested in documenting his life and work. Livin' the Blues was published posthumously in 1992. It was assembled from Davis's notes by John Edgar Tidwell, who in 2002 edited a publication of Davis's collected works, Black Moods.

Selected works

Black Man's Verse, Black Cat, 1935.

I Am the American Negro, Black Cat, 1937.

Through Sepia Eyes, Black Cat, 1938.

47th Street: Poems, Decker (Prairie City, IL), 1948.

Livin' the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, ed. John Edgar Tidwell, University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

Black Moods: Collected Poems, ed. John Edgar Tidwell, University of Illinois Press, 2002.



Davis, Frank Marshall, Black Moods: Collected Poems, University of Illinois Press, 2002.

King, Woodie, Jr., ed., The Forerunners: Black Poets in America, Howard University Press, 1975.


African American Review, Summer-Fall 2003, p. 466.

Black Scholar, Summer 1996, p. 17.

Western Journal of Black Studies, Winter 2002, p. 215.


"Black Poet's Works Reflected Fire, Love, Strength," University of Kansas Office of University Relations, (August 2, 2004).

"Frank Marshall Davis," Contemporary Authors Online, (August 2, 2004).

James M. Manheim

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"Davis, Frank Marshall." Contemporary Black Biography. . 19 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Davis, Frank Marshall." Contemporary Black Biography. . (November 19, 2017).

"Davis, Frank Marshall." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from