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Also Known As: Raiford Chatman Davis Died: February 4, 2005
Born: December 18, 1917 Cause of Death: unknown
Birth Place: Cogdell, Georgia, USA Profession: actor, screenwriter, director, playwright, stage manager, producer, author, garment center handcart pusher, janitor, stock clerk

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Tall, dignified veteran character player of the American stage and screen with a career spanning nearly half a century. With his wife and frequent collaborator, actor Ruby Dee, Davis was a staple of black theater. Both are longstanding political activists who were highly visible during the height of the civil rights movement and continue to speak out at rallies for progressive and humanitarian causes. Davis delivered the moving eulogy at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X (which he repeated for the extended coda to Spike Lee's 1992 biopic). As a playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and actor, Davis has often been associated with works that celebrate and inculcate the lessons of black history in the US. He thrived as an inspirational and iconic presence in contemporary African-American culture. The young Davis set out on foot from Waycross, GA, to Washington, DC, to attend Howard University. He left before graduation and moved to New York, where he joined Harlem's Rose McClendon Players and studied acting under Lloyd Richards. After a stint in the Army during WWII, Davis made his Broadway debut in 1946, playing the title role of "Jeb". This also marked his first collaboration...

Tall, dignified veteran character player of the American stage and screen with a career spanning nearly half a century. With his wife and frequent collaborator, actor Ruby Dee, Davis was a staple of black theater. Both are longstanding political activists who were highly visible during the height of the civil rights movement and continue to speak out at rallies for progressive and humanitarian causes. Davis delivered the moving eulogy at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X (which he repeated for the extended coda to Spike Lee's 1992 biopic). As a playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and actor, Davis has often been associated with works that celebrate and inculcate the lessons of black history in the US. He thrived as an inspirational and iconic presence in contemporary African-American culture.

The young Davis set out on foot from Waycross, GA, to Washington, DC, to attend Howard University. He left before graduation and moved to New York, where he joined Harlem's Rose McClendon Players and studied acting under Lloyd Richards. After a stint in the Army during WWII, Davis made his Broadway debut in 1946, playing the title role of "Jeb". This also marked his first collaboration with Ruby Dee, who was also in the cast. The pair went on to tour together in a production of "Anna Lucasta" and married in 1948. Davis amassed numerous roles on Broadway including the lead in "A Raisin in the Sun" (succeeding Sidney Poitier). In 1961, he wrote and starred in the Broadway hit, "Purlie Victorious", an irreverent send-up of racism in the Old South, which he then adapted for the screen as "Gone Are the Days" (1963). He also wrote the book for "Purlie", the well-received 1970 Broadway musical version.

Davis debuted in features (along with Poitier) with "No Way Out" (1950), a powerful tale of racial hatred directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Subsequent film credits included "The Cardinal" (1963), "The Hill" (1965), and "The Scalphunters" (1968). Davis made a memorable feature debut as a writer-director in 1970 with a jaunty adaptation of Chester Himes's colorful novel, "Cotton Comes to Harlem", and subsequently directed "Kongi's Harvest" (1971), "Black Girl" (1972), "Gordon's War" (1973) and "Countdown at Kusini" (1976). He has since become a fixture in the films of Spike Lee, playing the enthusiuastic football coach in "School Daze" (1988), the wise neighborhood drunk in "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and the righteously intolerant minister father of Wesley Snipes in "Jungle Fever" (1991), a eulogist in "Malcolm X" (1992), "Get On the Bus" (1996) and "She Hate Me" (2004).

Davis has been a frequent presence on TV since his 1951 debut in a televised production of "Green Pastures". He and Dee have also hosted a radio and TV series. Davis produced the latter, "Ossie and Ruby" (PBS, 1987), a dramatic anthology series on which he often served as a director, writer, and actor. Davis has appeared in numerous TV-movies and several high-minded miniseries including "Roots: The Next Generations" (ABC, 1979) and "King" (NBC, 1978), delivering an acclaimed performance as Martin Luther King Sr. in the latter. More recently, after co-starring with his friend Burt Reynolds in ABC's series of "B.L. Stryker" TV movies, Davis lent his considerable air of dignity and wry, bemused stability to the small-town hijinks of Reynolds' popular sitcom "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94) as Ponder Blue. He performed similar duties playing a heroic judge during the post-apocalyptic goings-on of "Stephen King's The Stand" (ABC, 1994). In 1996, Davis joined the ensemble cast of the CBS family drama "Promised Land" through 1998. He appeared in the short-lived crime drama series "The Protector" (1997) and the Anne Rice mini-series "The Feast of All Saints" (2001), and made guest appearances on several dramatic series, including "JAG," "Touched By an Angel," "Third Watch" and "City of Angels" (for which he won an Image Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series).

Davis's recent film credits are not limited to "Spike Lee Joints". The septuagenarian supporting player was far more dapper than the two top-billed "Grumpy Old Men" (1993) and he again presided as a jurist in "The Client" (1994), a role he recreated in the TV spinoff. Davis was praised for his turn opposite Walter Matthau in the screen adaptation of Herb Gardner's play "I'm Not Rappaport" (1996) and he appeared in the ensembles of two well-regarded telepics based on classic theatrical productions, "Miss Evers' Boys" (1997)--for which he recieved an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special--and "12 Angry Men" (1997). The actor also appeared briefly as Eddie Murphy's father Archer Doolittle in the comedy remake "Dr. Doolittle" (1998).

In 2001 Davis was awarded a Life Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild and his acting output had not slowed a bit: he continued to appear in a multitude of telepics, and especially received praise for his turn in "Finding Buck McHenry" (2000) as a school custodian who coaches an independent Little League team and is revealed to be a long-forgotten ex-Negro League legend. Davis appeared alongside Bruce Campbell in the instant cult classic "Bubba Ho-Tep" (2003) as Jack, a nursing home resident convinced he's John F. Kennedy, who teams with an eged Elvis (Bruce Campbell) to battle an evil ancient Egyptian entity. He was also one of the two central figures in the telepic "Deacons for the Defense" (2003) for which he was nominated for his seventh NAACP Image Award for playing the peaceful minister who co-founded the Deacons for Defense and Justice in 1964. The actor also took a pivitol role in "Baadasssss!" (2004), writer-director-star Mario Van Peebles' depiction of his father Melvin's struggles to film the influential 1971 classic "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." That same year Davis and his wife both received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor, and, a consummate actor until the very end, Davis had four films in various stages of production when he died unexpectedly in early 2005. Davis famously delivered the quote "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" in a long-running series of promotional spots for the United Negro College Fund, and his long and accomplished career serves as proof that he wasted neither his mind nor his talent.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Countdown at Kusini (1976) Director
2.
  Gordon's War (1973) Director
3.
  Kongi's Harvest (1973) Director
4.
  Black Girl (1972) Director
5.
  Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) Director
6.
  Crown Dick (1987) Director
7.
  My Man Bovanne (1987) Director
8.
  Letter to Booker T., A (1987) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 She Hate Me (2004) Judge Buchanan
2.
 Baadasssss! (2003) Granddad
3.
 Bubba Ho-Tep (2003) Jack
4.
 Deacons For Defense (2003) Reverend Gregory
5.
 Dinosaur (2000) Voice Of Yar
6.
 Finding Buck McHenry (2000) Mr Mack Henry
7.
 Here's To Life (2000)
8.
 Secret Path, The (1999) Too Tall
9.
 Soul Collector, The (1999) Mordecai
10.
 4 Little Girls (1997) Himself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Set out on foot from Waycross, GA for Washington, DC to attend Howard University
:
Joined the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem NYC; remained for three years
1941:
Professional acting debut, in "Joy Exceeding Glory" with the Rose McClendon Players
1942:
Served in the US military
1946:
Broadway acting debut as title character in "Jeb"; first collaboration with actress Ruby Dee, whom he married two years later
1946:
Toured with Dee in a production of "Anna Lucasta"
1950:
Film acting debut in "No Way Out"
1951:
TV acting debut, "Green Pastures", on the Showtime Network
1955:
Served as stage manager for the City Center production of "The World of Sholom Aleichem"
1961:
Replaced Sidney Poitier in Broadway production of "A Raisin in the Sun"
1961:
Wrote and starred in Broadway play, "Purlie Victorious"; later adapted into the musical "Purlie" (1970) which was nominated for a Tony award
1963:
Screenwriting debut with "Gone Are the Days," adapted from the play "Purlie Victorious"; also reprised his role in the feature film version
:
Directed and appeared in the musical "Take It From the Top", written by Dee
1965:
Delivered the eulogy at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X
:
Co-hosted "The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour" on radio for 3 years
1970:
Feature directing debut, "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (also scripted)
:
Headed Third World Cinema, a film production company, in the 1970s
:
With Dee, formed Emmalyn Enterprises, a film and TV production company
1978:
Portrayed Martin Luther King, Sr. in the acclaimed NBC biopic miniseries "King"; nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy
1984:
Executive produced and hosted first TV special, "Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum" (also acted)
1986:
Starred in the Tony award-winning Broadway production of "I'm Not Rappaport" for 13 months
1987:
Served as producer on "Ossie and Ruby", a PBS dramatic anthology series
1987:
Directed first TV special, "A Letter to Booker T." (also produced, hosted and acted), an episode of "Ossie and Ruby"
1987:
Wrote first TV special, "Fussell's Landing" (also acted), an episode of "Ossie and Ruby"
1989:
Cast as a regular on "B.L. Stryker", part of "The ABC Mystery Movie", starring Burt Reynolds
1989:
Played Da Mayor in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing"
1990:
Worked with Reynolds again as part of the stellar ensemble for the CBS sitcom, "Evening Shade" playing the role of Ponder Blue; also narrated
1990:
Had a small role in "Joe Versus the Volcano" as Joe's driver, played by Tom Hanks
1991:
Cast as The Good Reverend Doctor Purify in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever"
1992:
Eulogy Performer in Spike Lee's "Malcolm X"
1993:
Starred in Alex Haley's "Queen" a CBS miniseries
1995:
Returned to series TV as regular in "John Grisham's 'The Client'", recreating his film role as a judge
1996:
Played recurring role in the CBS drama series "Promised Land"
1996:
Cast in "Get on the Bus," Spike Lee's film about the Million Man March
1997:
Starred with Alfre Woodard and Laurence Fishburne in "Miss Evers' Boys," the true story of the US Government's 1932 Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiments
1998:
Starred opposite Eddie Murphy in the comedy "Doctor Dolittle"
2004:
Cast in Mario Van Peebles' "Baadasssss!"
2004:
Fifth collaboration with Spike Lee for the comedy "She Hate Me"
2004:
Emmy nomincated guest starring role as Kit (Pam Grier) and Bette's (Jennifer Beals) father on the Showtime drama series "The L word"
2006:
With wife Ruby Dee, created the spoken word album, "With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together" (released after his death in 2005)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Howard University: Washington , Washington D.C. - 1935 - 1938

Notes

Received the Frederick Douglass Award of the New York Urban League.

Served as master of ceremonies for the March on Washington (1963) and for the Solidarity Poor People's Campaign.

Recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004, along with wife Ruby Dee.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Ruby Dee. Actor. Married on December 9, 1948; acting together since the 1940s.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Kince Charles Davis. Railroad engineer.
mother:
Laura Davis.
daughter:
Nora Davis. Educator. Born c. 1950.
son:
Guy Davis. Musician. Born c. 1952.
daughter:
Hasna Davis. School principal. Born c. 1957.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Purlie Victorious"
"Langston"
"Escape to Freedom: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass"
"Curtain Call"
"Mr. Aldredge"
"Sir"
"Just Like Martin"
"With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together" William Morrow
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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