Producer, Writer, Source Material
( b. Aug 29, 1916 - d. Jul 29, 2008 ) Male
A busy author for the screen and the stage, Mr. Davis wrote 15 movies and dozens of scripts for television series, and he had a hand in five Broadway shows, including writing a 1945 play, “Kiss Them for Me,” about four sailors back from the war, and the book for “Grand Hotel,” the musical adaptation of Vicki Baum’s novel, which was directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune and which ran for more than 1,000 performances from 1989 to 1992.
“Kismet,” which won the Tony for best musical, and which Mr. Davis wrote with Charles Lederer, was one of Broadway history’s more peculiar entries, a crossbreed of high culture and low. The music, which included the songs “Stranger in Paradise” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” was adapted from the symphonic scores of Alexander Borodin, but the story, a florid fable set in Baghdad at the time of “The Arabian Nights,” was replete with groan-worthy double entendres and staged with grand spectacle and lots of leggy harem girls.
The show opened during a newspaper strike, which was probably a good thing, because the critics did not much care for it, and by the time they reviewed it, it had become popular enough to run for 583 performances; to be made into a movie, also written by Mr. Davis and Mr. Lederer; and to enter the cultural reference pool.
Indeed, in 1978, Mr. Davis, as producer and writer, reprised “Kismet” in a different form, as “Timbuktu!,” moving its setting to Africa and giving it a new score based on African folk tunes and tribal rhythms. Starring Eartha Kitt and Melba Moore, this version ran for 221 performances and was nominated for six Tonys, including one for Mr. Davis, for most innovative production of a revival. It was during this production that he met his wife, an actress who had invested in it.
His first screenplay credit was “The Hucksters,” a boy-gets-los-es-gets-girl story set in the advertising business, based on a novel by Frederic Wakeman and starring Gable and Deborah Kerr. In 1953 he wrote “A Lion Is in the Streets,” starring James Cagney as a Huey Long-like populist politician on the rise in the South.
Then, in 1964, perhaps in reaction to his own personal history, he wrote and produced “Lady in a Cage,” a controversial movie about what Mr. Davis believed was the lawless streak in every citizen. In it Ms. de Havilland plays a wealthy woman who is trapped in an elevator by an electrical failure, and after ringing the alarm, she is discovered by people who terrorize and rob her, including James Caan in his first credited movie role. The film was released in July 1964, just a few months after the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, when dozens of bystanders reportedly heard her cries for help and did nothing, and it inspired the revulsion of many critics, including Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, who viewed it as irresponsible for its depiction of violence without redemption.
source: NYT obit