Davis, Owen (1874 - 1956)

Genre: Drama/Theatre/Film

Born in Portland (some sources say Bangor), Owen Davis lived in Bangor until he was 15 years old, when his family moved to Kentucky. He attended the University of Tennessee for a year and then transferred to Harvard where he majored in geology. He left Harvard before completing his degree and worked as a geologist and mining engineer.

In 1895 Davis went to New York City to work in the theater. His first successful play was produced in 1899. This was the beginning of one of the most prolific American theater careers. He is reported to have written between 200 and 300 plays; the exact number is difficult to determine as he used a variety of pseudonyms such as Arthur Lamb, Martin Hurly, Walter Lawrence, George Walker, and John Oliver. In addition, most of his plays were not published in book form and are therefore difficult to locate. Even the Library of Congress lists only thirty-seven entries for Davis' dramas, screen adaptations, and books. His early plays were called melodramas and were named after the price of the seats. As the majority of the people in the audience were immigrants with limited English skills, Davis stressed visual effects rather than dialogue.

Between 1901 and 1934, there was at least one Owen Davis play produced in New York each season. Despite popular success and financial rewards from such plays, Davis began to write more realistic dramas after 1910. Icebound, which explores the quarrelsome relationships of the icebound Veazie, Maine, Jordan family, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Davis was subsequently elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters(now called the American Academy of Arts and Letters).

Davis wrote film and radio scripts as well as plays in the 1930s. He also dramatized Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1926), Buck's The Good Earth (1932), and Wharton's Ethan Frome (1936). During this time he is reported to have had strong connections to the Lakewood Summer Theater, known at the time as Broadway in Maine, in Skowhegan, Maine. In the late 1930s, Davis left Hollywood to return to the New York stage. His last play was produced in 1941.

Davis worked diligently to promote copyright laws for both films and plays. He served as president of both the Authors League of America and the American Dramatists Guild, one of the League's divisions.

Selected Bibliography

  • Through the Breakers
  • Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model (1906)
  • Icebound 1923
  • No Way Out 1941
  • Mr. and Mrs. North, a comedy in three acts
  • Easy come, easy go; a farce in three acts


  • I'd Like to Do It Again (1931)
  • My First Fifty Years in the Theatre: the Plays, the Players, the Theatrical Managers and the Theatre Itself as One Man Saw Them in the Fifty Years between 1897 and 1947 (1950)

Selected Resources