Davis, Ossie 1917-2005
Davis, Ossie 1917-2005
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born December 18, 1917, in Cogdell, GA; died February 4, 2005, in Miami Beach, FL. Actor, activist, and author. Davis was an award-winning actor of stage and screen, as well as a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter whose work as both a performer and author did much to honestly portray the plight of blacks in America, as well as generate a positive image of blacks in the theater. Active throughout his life in civil rights, Davis developed friendships with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., W. E. B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson, and his long and happy marriage to fellow actress Ruby Dee was also legendary. A child of pre-civil-rights-era Georgia whose parents suffered financially during the Great Depression, Davis was intimately acquainted with white prejudice. Even though his father had been a railroad planner and supervisor, he faced racial hatred from local whites, and even had his life threatened. The young Davis found solace from this hostile environment in several sources: his church, literature—especially Shakespeare—and the theater. A bright student, he won a scholarship to Howard University, where one of his professors encouraged him to take up a theatrical career. Davis had originally intended to be a writer, but decided that he would try the stage, and he left for New York City before completing his college degree. Once there, he joined Harlem's Rose McClendon Players, but his fledgling acting career was interrupted by World War II. Joining the U.S. Army in 1942, he became a surgical technician and spent the duration of the war at a Liberian hospital. Returning home to Georgia, he soon went back to New York City to act in the play Jeb, and it was here that he met actress Dee. Three years later, they were married. While he enjoyed acting, Davis had not given up on his writing. He had written and directed the play Goldbrickers of 1944 while still in Liberia, and in 1952 his one-act play Alice in Wonder was produced at the Elks Community Theater in New York. His first big success as a playwright came with Purlie Victorious, which was produced on Broadway in 1961. The play was later adapted as the film Gone Are the Days (1963), and eventually re-released under the original stage title. By the 1950s, Davis was also gaining a respectable reputation as an actor. Having appeared in films such as No Way Out (1950), he starred in No Time for Sergeants (1957), A Raisin in the Sun (1959), and his own Purlie Victorious (1961). In the 1970s, Davis began directing films, including the blaxploitaion movie Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Countdown at Kusini (1976), the latter based on his own screenplay. He also worked in television, directing the miniseries Roots: The Next Generations (1979), and a number of other films for the small screen. His acting remained a significant part of his career, too. Beginning with 1989's Do the Right Thing, for which he won an NAACP Image Award and the Hall of Fame Award for outstanding artistic achievement, he appeared in a number of Spike Lee-directed films. From 1990 to 1994 Davis's was a familiar face on television as a supporting actor in the comedy series Evening Shade, and he continued to act in movies such as Grumpy Old Men (1994), I'm Not Rappaport (1996), Doctor Doolittle (1998), and She Hate Me (2004). He was working on a movie called Retirement at the time of his death. As a playwright, Davis was also the author of Escape to Freedom: A Play about Young Frederick Douglass (1976), which won the Coretta Scott King Book Award and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. In 1992 he published his first novel, a young-adult book about Martin Luther King, Jr., titled Just like Martin. Davis was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1994, and he and his wife received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2005, section 1, pp. 1-2.
New York Times, February 5, 2005, p. A14.
Times (London, England), February 23, 2005, p. 62.
Washington Post, February 5, 2005, pp. A1, A10.