Owen Davis

Owen Gould Davis (January 29, 1874 – October 14, 1956) was an American dramatist. In 1919, he became the first elected president of the Dramatists Guild of America. He received the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his 1923 play Icebound,[1] and penned hundreds of plays and scripts for radio and film. Before the First World War, he also wrote racy sketches of New York high jinks and low life for the Police Gazette under the name of Ike Swift. Many of these were set in the Tenderloin, Manhattan. Davis also wrote under several other pseudonyms, including Martin Hurley, Arthur J. Lamb, Walter Lawrence, John Oliver, and Robert Wayne.[2]

Owen Davis
Owen Davis in 1950
BornOwen Gould Davis
(1874-01-29)January 29, 1874
Portland, Maine, U.S.
DiedOctober 14, 1956(1956-10-14) (aged 82)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Pen nameJohn Oliver
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter
Alma materHarvard University
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Drama (1923)
SpouseElizabeth Breyer
ChildrenOwen Davis Jr.
Donald Davis

Personal life

Davis was born in Portland, Maine,[3] and lived in Bangor until he was 15. His parents were iron manufacturer Owen Warren Davis and Abigail Augusta Gould.[4]

He was the father of actor Owen Davis Jr., and playwright Donald Davis. His brother William Hammatt Davis was chairman of the National War Labor Board in Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. Davis died in New York City.

As a boy, Owen Davis wrote plays for his eight brothers and sisters, who performed them for the town.

He attended the University of Tennessee in 1888-1889 and then transferred to Harvard University in 1890, spending three years there. At Harvard, he was active with the Society of Arts drama organization. For a time, he coached a New York preparatory school's football team.[5]

He married Elizabeth Drury Breyer, an actress, in 1901 or 1902, and they had two sons.[4]


For the first two decades of his writing career, Davis produced melodramas that followed a formula. His entry in the Encyclopedia of American Drama, edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Mary C. Hartig, noted, "The plays all contain life-threatening, visually exciting predicaments out of which the good emerge at the ultimate expense of the villains who put them there."[6]


In 1897, Through the Breakers, Davis's first play, opened in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It ran for three years.[3] His first Broadway play was Reaping the Whirlwind, which opened on September 17, 1900. The Internet Broadway Database lists 75 additional productions that were written by him, either under his own name or as John Oliver, or in which he was involved in some way.[7]


Davis was on the staff of Paramount Pictures as a screenwriter from 1927 to 1930. His work during that time included They Had to See Paris (1929) and So This Is London (1930), both of which starred Will Rogers.[3]


Davis wrote scripts for the old-time radio program The Gibson Family, which presented each episode in the form of a Broadway musical. [8]


Davis wrote two autobiographies, I'd Like to Do It Again, which was published in 1931,[9] and My First Fifty Years in the Theatre, which focused on the years 1897-1947.[3]


On October 13, 1956, Davis died in New York City at age 82. He had recently been released from a hospital after a three-year stay. He was survived by his wife, one of their sons, a brother, and a sister.[10]



  1. "1923 Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes. Archived from the original on June 19, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  2. Bryer, Jackson R.; Hartig, Mary C., eds. (2010). The Facts on File Companion to American Drama (2nd ed.). New York: Facts on File. pp. 119–120. ISBN 978-0-8160-7748-9.
  3. Roberts, Jerry (2003). The Great American Playwrights on the Screen: A Critical Guide to Film, Video, and DVD. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 129. ISBN 9781557835123. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  4. McNamara, Brooks. "Davis, Owen Gould". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on January 20, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  5. Fischer, Heinz Dietrich; Fischer, Erika J. (2002). Complete Biographical Encyclopedia of Pulitzer Prize Winners, 1917-2000: Journalists, Writers and Composers on Their Ways to the Coveted Awards. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 53–54. ISBN 9783598301865. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  6. Bryer, Jackson R.; Hartig, Mary C. (2015). Encyclopedia of American Drama. Infobase Learning. ISBN 9781438140766. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  7. "Owen Davis". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on January 20, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  8. Ellett, Ryan (2017). Radio Drama and Comedy Writers, 1928-1962. McFarland. p. 59. ISBN 9781476665931. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  9. Bryer, Jackson R.; Hartig, Mary C. (2010). The Facts on File Companion to American Drama. Infobase Publishing. p. 120. ISBN 9781438129662. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  10. "Owen Davis, Playwright, Dies in N.Y." Chicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. October 15, 1956. p. 77. Retrieved January 19, 2018 via Newspapers.com.

Further reading

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