Marshall, Frank 1946–

views updated May 17 2018

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.

Marshall, Frank

views updated Jun 11 2018


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

Davis, Frank Marshall

views updated May 18 2018

Frank Marshall Davis

Journalist, editor, poet, educator

'he Julius Rosenwald Foundation recognized the literary achievements of Frank Marshall Davis in its first award given in poetry in 1937; however, Davis made his living as a journalist and editor of major African American and labor newspapers in Chicago, Gary, Indiana, and Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1930s and 1940s. At a very young age, he acquired a love of jazz, which led to his formidable collection of jazz records, role as jazz critic for print media, and his success at creating and teaching perhaps the first course on jazz music in the United States.

This son of the Midwest was born near the Oklahoma border in Arkansas City, Kansas, on December 31, 1905. His middle name links him to his maternal grandfather, Henry Marshall of Wichita, Kansas. Davis knew his father, Sam Davis, an itinerant barber and musician, by name only, since his father disappeared after his parents divorced when Marshall was not quite one year old. When he was two, his mother, who worked as a domestic, accompanied the white family to California. For reasons not discerned, she returned to Kansas two years later where Davis had a chance to hear stories told by his great grandmother, Amanda Porter. Listening to Porter's stories of slavery, the Civil War, and his personal experiences with racism changed the way in which he saw the world. As Davis relates in his memoirs, Living the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, "I sat open-mouthed as she related stories she had witnessed, among them the drama of a fellow slave who took an axe, laid his right hand on a chopping block, and deliberately hacked off three fingers so he would have little market value when he learned his owner planned to sell him away from his wife and children." Davis lived with his great grandmother until he went away to college.

Davis's mother eventually married James Monroe Boganey from Oklahoma who totally accepted Davis as his son, filling the young boy's need for a father. Boganey also supported Davis's love of music, which coincidentally connected him to his absent father.


Born in Arkansas City, Kansas on December 31
Attends Friends College; writes his first poem
Matriculates at Kansas State
Moves to Chicago; first job as journalist at the Whip
Edits the Atlanta World, Atlanta, Georgia
Black Cat Press publishes Black Man's Verse; becomes executive editor for the Negro Associated Press
Black Cat Press publishes I Am the American Negro; receives Julius Rosenwald Fellowship
Publishes Through Sepia Eyes
Publishes 47th Street Poems; moves to Hawaii
Publishes Awakening and Other Poems
Autobiography Livin' the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet published
Black Moods: Collected Poems published

Davis called Kansas near the Oklahoma border an ambiguous racial environment. There he learned lessons in racism firsthand. Some incidences imitated those of regular occurrences in the South. In school, he was one of a very few black children. Some of the schoolmates would have lynched him as he walked home from school had he not been rescued from death by a white man. This anonymous man walked Davis over a mile to his home to further assure his safety. Growing up black, Davis recalled numerous scenes that made him feel inferior, but none as traumatic as the near-lynching scene.

Davis became an avid reader and a lover of the blues. W. C. Handy's music joyously played in his head for weeks after he heard the musician and his band, the Orchestra of Memphis, while visiting his grandfather in Wichita. From a mail-order catalogue, he received guitar lessons. At fifteen, Ma Rainey's performance so enthralled him that he scraped up money to hear her performance more than once in the week in the town in 1921. Davis spent his pennies and amassed a collection of over one hundred blues records. It is no wonder that as one of his first jobs, he became a distributor for Black Swan Record Company. Later, he added jazz to his collection.

The two career paths that defined Davis did not result from a specific plan. By default, he chose journalism as a major at Friends' University, a small school of fewer than five hundred predominantly white students. The school did not offer a major in jazz music. Ada Rice, his English teacher, surprised Davis with her admiration of a poem he submitted instead of an essay for a class assignment. Eventually, he submitted twelve poems for publication to the Ur Rhune Chapter of the American College Quill Club, a national creative writing society. Davis's collection of poems was one of the five selected. After such success, Davis could no longer ignore his poetic talent, although it took many more years for him to publish his first book of poetry. When he turned to making a living, he realized his future might lay in writing for a newspaper.

At twenty-one, Davis left college to work as a journalist. He felt confident because of his writing ability and his college training in journalism. In 1927, he hopped a train to Chicago. His only living relative, an aunt, recommended him to her former husband, Clarence W. Reynolds, who introduced Davis to Lucius Harper of the Chicago Defender, the paper with the widest circulation in the United States. Chicago was a center for jazz. The greatest African American musicians played in Chicago, and Davis heard them in the city's numerous jazz joints. Reynolds introduced Davis to the purported inventor of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton. He heard an impromptu concert by Fats Waller in a movie theater and heard Louis Armstrong at Chicago's Savoy.

Chicago was the best place for Davis to develop his imaginative writings and to form poetic associations. One was the Inter-Collegiate Club, whose members were college students and alumni. A poem that Davis wrote for the group allowed him to meet literary celebrities such as Gertrude Stein, whom Davis admired very much. In spite of its artistic richness, Davis discovered that Chicago lacked the sophistication, celebrity, and structure seen in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. In his memoir, Davis writes that he resolved "to do for the Windy City in verse what others had done in Harlem."

Davis accepted a job at the National News and Feature Service, an upstart operation, which promised to syndicate a magazine section to African American newspapers. However, the pay was very low. In his memoirs he states: "I intended to make it as a newspaperman or starve to death trying. There were moments when it seemed the alternative was winning out."

Although Davis spent time writing articles in anticipation of the magazine's eventual publication, it apparently never materialized. Another upstart newspaper, the Evening Bulletin, hired Davis as its night city editor and columnist with plans of carrying the National Bulletin. His duties expanded into detective and entertainment news writer and with increased work he had more income. He was offered a salary of $35 a week. Until funds completely dried up at the newspaper, Davis enjoyed success as a detective writer, but soon tired of the genre.

In 1928, he started working at the Whip. As an assistant editor, Davis learned plenty about police detail, the strength of the mob, and the court system of Chicago during the bootlegging days of Prohibition. When funds ran out at this paper, Davis found a job at the American, Gary, Indiana's newest newspaper started in 1927. In 1929 he returned to Kansas State. A celebrity on campus, with plenty of work to pay his school bills and succeeding academically, Davis nevertheless did not remain in school long enough to finish his degree. After a short time, he returned to American.

Southern Discomfort

From 1931 to 1934, Davis spent his time in Atlanta, Georgia, coaxed there by the founder of the Atlanta World, W. A. Scott. Scott founded the paper in 1928 and by 1931 owned papers in Birmingham, Alabama and in Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee. Davis's financial situation and the financial solvency of Atlanta World convinced him that he could survive just as other blacks did living in the South. Scott offered him a good salary of $25 a week with a promise of $35.

When Davis arrived at the office of the Atlanta World, he found the reporters inexperienced. As editor, he spent countless hours rewriting articles and recruiting staff from Chicago. Within a year Scott requested that Davis publish a daily. The idea both intimidated and exhilarated Davis for he would become the first editor of an African American daily. By contacting the Associated Negro Press, worldwide sources, and cartoonist and other features, Davis produced within a month a paper which satisfied Scott. Subscriptions increased especially since Davis pointed out to black Atlantans the need to support a newspaper that dignified their existence unlike the white news establishment that referred to them as "darkies" with a large coverage of black crime.

In Atlanta, Davis was introduced to black college football and the battle of the bands of the black schools in the Atlanta University complex. This music substituted for the live jazz and blues performances of Chicago. As for his poetry, his creative writing stopped for two years and then revived when Frances Manning of Chicago took an interest in his poem, "Congo," and inspired him to write. They exchanged poems and critiques of them and shared a common interest in jazz music and a bohemian life style.

Davis's Atlanta work came to a close after Scott was murdered. According to Davis, Cornelius Scott, who assumed responsibility for the paper, lacked vision and the spunk of his brother. Then too, Davis felt the negative effects of living in the South. Chicago was still Davis's favorite city and Manning was there, inspiring him to publish a first book of poetry.

From 1935 to 1948, Davis life took an unprecedented fertile turn. He published four books of poetry. His poetry called attention to U.S. racism. Davis received critical acclaim for Black Man's Verse, published in the summer of 1935, and for his other publications: I Am the American Negro (1937), Through Sepia Eyes (1938), and 47th Street Poems (1948). The Detroit race riot and a lynching in Missouri were defining moments in his life and his poetry. "For the first time in my life," he writes in his memoirs, "I would quit being a loner. No matter how consuming my wrath, I could go nowhere by myself. My poetry was primarily a one-man protest." Davis joined and supported the efforts of numerous organizations fighting racism. He helped with rent strikes, became vice-chairman of the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee and lectured at Northwestern University.

In 1935 Davis became executive editor for the Negro Associated Press, where he remained until he left for Hawaii in 1948. During that time, he showed talent in his new creative undertaking—photography with prints selected for national and international exhibitions—and became one of the first teachers of jazz music in the country. Davis returned from Hawaii in 1973 for a poetry reading tour. He died in 1987.

Posthumous Writings

In 1992, five years after Davis's death, the University of Wisconsin Press at Madison published Livin' the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, edited by John Edgar Tidwell. Davis had begun writing his memoirs in the late sixties and early seventies from Hawaii. Davis's life as a journalist, political activist, as a jazz teacher and critic, and his connections and conversations with some of the most important figures of his time in politics, literature, entertainment, and sports, suggest the significance of his memoirs. Included in Livin' the Blues are excerpts of Davis's autobiographical work (under the pen name Bob Green) That Incredible Waikiki Jungle, which was written in the late seventies and chronicles his life in Hawaii. Davis's Black Moods: Collected Poems was published in 2002.

The forgotten journalist, poet, political activist, jazz aficionado, critic, and historian claims his place among African American and American writers. His writings provide a window on twentieth-century arts and politics.



Takara, Kathryn Waddell. "Frank Marshall Davis: A Forgotten Voice in the Chicago Black Renaissance." Western Journal of Black Studies 26 (Winter 2002): 215-30.

Tidwell, John Edgar. "Alternative Constructions to Black Arts Autobiography: Frank Marshall Davis and 1960s Counterculture." College Language Association 41 (December 1997): 147-60.


Miller, James A. "Frank Marshall Davis: Black Moods: Collected Poems." African American Review, Summer-Fall, 2003. http://www.24hourscholar.comp/articles/mi (Accessed 21 July 2005).


Davis's jazz records are in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

                                    Rosa Bobia

Davis, Frank Marshall

views updated May 17 2018

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