Ossie Davis


Actor
Ossie Davis

About

Also Known As
Raiford Chatman Davis
Birth Place
Cogdell, Georgia, USA
Born
December 18, 1917
Died
February 04, 2005
Cause of Death
Unknown

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 humani...

Family & Companions

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

Bibliography

"With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together"
Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, William Morrow (1998)
"Purlie Victorious"
Ossie Davis
"Langston"
Ossie Davis
"Escape to Freedom: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass"
Ossie Davis

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.

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 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.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Countdown at Kusini (1976)
Director
Gordon's War (1973)
Director
Kongi's Harvest (1973)
Director
Black Girl (1972)
Director
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

She Hate Me (2004)
Baadasssss! (2004)
Granddad
Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)
Jack
Deacons For Defense (2003)
Reverend Gregory
Here's To Life (2000)
Finding Buck McHenry (2000)
Mr Mack Henry
Dinosaur (2000)
Voice
The Secret Path (1999)
The Soul Collector (1999)
Mordecai
4 Little Girls (1997)
Himself
12 Angry Men (1997)
Juror No 2
Miss Evers' Boys (1997)
Mr Evers
I'm Not Rappaport (1996)
Get on the Bus (1996)
Ray Alexander: A Menu For Murder (1995)
The Android Affair (1995)
The Client (1994)
Ray Alexander: A Taste For Justice (1994)
Grumpy Old Men (1993)
Chuck
Haiti: Killing the Dream (1993)
Narration
Malcolm X (1992)
Gladiator (1992)
Jungle Fever (1991)
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
High Rise (1990)
Oz
Winner Takes All (1990)
Night Train (1990)
Plates (1990)
Grand Theft Hotel (1990)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
The Dancer's Touch (1989)
Oz Jackson
Die Laughing (1989)
Making "Do the Right Thing" (1989)
Himself
Blues For Buder (1989)
Oz Jackson
Auntie Sue (1989)
Royal Gambit (1989)
Oz
Route One/U.S.A. (1989)
Himself
Blind Chess (1989)
Oz
The King of Jazz (1989)
School Daze (1988)
Avenging Angel (1985)
Harry & Son (1984)
Don't Look Back: Story of Lero (1981)
All God's Children (1980)
Blaine Whitfield
The House Of God (1979)
Hot Stuff (1979)
Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid (1977)
Dr Fredericks
Countdown at Kusini (1976)
Ernest Motapo
Let's Do It Again (1975)
Elder Johnson
Malcolm X (1972)
Eulogy
The Sheriff (1971)
Slaves (1969)
Luke
Sam Whiskey (1969)
Jedidiah Hooker
The Scalphunters (1968)
Joseph Winfield Lee
A Man Called Adam (1966)
Nelson Davis
The Hill (1965)
Jacko King
Shock Treatment (1964)
Capshaw
Gone Are the Days! (1963)
Purlie Victorious
The Cardinal (1963)
Father Gillis
Fourteen Hours (1951)
Cab driver
No Way Out (1950)
John

Writer (Feature Film)

For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (1983)
Writer
Countdown at Kusini (1976)
Screenwriter
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)
Screenwriter
Gone Are the Days! (1963)
Screenwriter

Music (Feature Film)

Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)
Composer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

4 Little Girls (1997)
Other
Making "Do the Right Thing" (1989)
Other
Route One/U.S.A. (1989)
Other

Director (Special)

Crown Dick (1987)
Director
My Man Bovanne (1987)
Director
A Letter to Booker T. (1987)
Director

Cast (Special)

Unchained Memories: Readings From the Slave Narratives (2003)
NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (2001)
Intimate Portrait: Rosa Parks (2001)
Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore (2001)
Narrator
The Fillmore (2001)
Narration
Civil Rights Heroes (2001)
A Principled Man: Reverend Leon Sullivan (2001)
Narration
Cleveland Orchestra in Performance (2000)
Return to Harlem (2000)
Host
Walk a Mile in My Shoes: The 90-Year Journey of the NAACP (2000)
Return to Harlem (2000)
Narration
Amsterdam News: Stories of Black New York (2000)
Burt Reynolds: The E! True Hollywood Story (2000)
Interviewee
Rehab (2000)
Narrator
I'll Make Me a World: A Century of African-American Arts (1999)
30th NAACP Image Awards (1999)
Presenter
America's Millennium (1999)
TSO: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (1999)
Narration
NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (1999)
Scandalize My Name, Stories From the Blacklist (1999)
TSO: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (1999)
Host
Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999)
Narrator
SAG Awards Show (1999)
NYTV: By the People Who Made It (1998)
The Rise of Christianity: The First Thousand Years (1998)
Narrator
NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (1998)
Burt Reynolds (1998)
NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (1997)
Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Narrator
NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (1996)
Mississippi, America (1996)
Narration
Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice (1996)
Celebrate the Dream: 50 Years of Ebony (1996)
African-African American Summit: Coming Home (1995)
Arlington National Cemetery: A Mirror of America (1995)
Narrator
Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World (1994)
Narrator
The 48th Annual Tony Awards (1994)
Presenter
NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (1994)
Malcolm X: Make It Plain (1994)
Goin' Back to T-Town (1993)
Narration
Lincoln (1992)
Voice
The 24th Annual NAACP Image Awards (1992)
Performer
Haiti: Killing the Dream (1992)
Narrator
THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT (1992)
Michael Landon: Memories With Laughter and Love (1991)
We'll Take Manhattan (1990)
CBS All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade (1990)
Host (New York)
The Red Shoes (1990)
Narration
The 22nd Annual NAACP Image Awards (1990)
Performer
A Neighborhood Redeemed (1990)
Narration
John Hammond: From Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen (1990)
Narrator
Alice in Wonder (1987)
Bruce Castleberry; Jay; Reggie Bates
Fussell's Landing (1987)
Amos Fussell
A Letter to Booker T. (1987)
Host ("Ossie & Ruby"), Robert Terrell
The Blessings of Liberty (1987)
Treemonisha (1986)
Narrator
Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum (1986)
And Every Man Is Free: A Tribute to Langston Hughes (1984)

Writer (Special)

Alice in Wonder (1987)
Writer
Fussell's Landing (1987)
Writer

Producer (Special)

The 85-Year-Old Swinger (1987)
Producer
Mama (1987)
Producer
Refrigerator (1987)
Producer
Crazy Hattie Enters the Ice Age (1987)
Producer
My Man Bovanne (1987)
Producer
A Letter to Booker T. (1987)
Producer
Crown Dick (1987)
Executive Producer
Alice in Wonder (1987)
Producer
Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum (1986)
Executive Producer

Special Thanks (Special)

Alice in Wonder (1987)
Writer
Fussell's Landing (1987)
Writer

Misc. Crew (Special)

Zora Is My Name! (1990)
Assistant
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989)
Assistant

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Feast of All Saints (2001)
A Vow to Cherish (1999)
Stephen King's The Stand (1994)
The Ernest Green Story (1993)
Queen (1993)
Freedom Road (1979)
Narrator
Roots: The Next Generations (1979)
King (1978)

Life Events

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

1965

Delivered the eulogy at the funeral of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X

1970

Feature directing debut, "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (also scripted)

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

Played Da Mayor in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing"

1989

Cast as a regular on "B.L. Stryker", part of "The ABC Mystery Movie", starring Burt Reynolds

1990

Had a small role in "Joe Versus the Volcano" as Joe's driver, played by Tom Hanks

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

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

Emmy nomincated guest starring role as Kit (Pam Grier) and Bette's (Jennifer Beals) father on the Showtime drama series "The L word"

2004

Fifth collaboration with Spike Lee for the comedy "She Hate Me"

2006

With wife Ruby Dee, created the spoken word album, "With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together" (released after his death in 2005)

Videos

Movie Clip

Claudine (1974) - I've Actually Avoided Success Westchester County garbage man Roop (James Earl Jones) has evacuated household worker Diahann Carroll (title character) from her bustling Manhattan apartment and six kids for their first date, his own place in Harlem not 100% ready for a guest, early in Claudine, 1974.
Claudine (1974) - Every Tear My Mother Sheds The second visit of James Earl Jones as stable suburban garbage-man “Roop” Marshall to the Upper Manhattan home of single-mom Diahann Carroll (title character), getting a little more engaged with her kids, Yvette Curtis as second-eldest Patrice, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as protective Charles, in Claudine, 1974.
Let's Do It Again (1975) - Kingdom Of Shaka Shot at Atlanta’s historic Big Bethel A.M.E. church, Lee Chamberlin and Denise Nicholas are spouses of Clyde and Billy (director Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby) and Ossie Davis the head of the fraternal group which, we learn, is the cause for which they need to raise money, in Let’s Do It Again, 1975.
Hill, The (1965) - A-1 Fit For Punishment At a British military stockade In WWII North Africa, Sgt. Williams (Ian Hendry) works out the prisoners (Sean Connery, Ossie Davis, Jack Watson, Roy Kinnear and Alfred Lynch as Stevens), and Harris (Ian Bannen) fails to persuade commandant Wilson (Harry Andrews) to ease up, in The Hill, 1965.
Hill, The (1965) - Let's Have Your Names Sergeant Major Wilson (Harry Andrews) interviews five new prisoners (Ossie Davis, Roy Kinnear, Jack Watson, Alfred Lynch, Sean Connery), delivered from their own courts-martial, at a British WWII military stockade in North Africa, early in Sidney Lumet's The Hill, 1965.
Hill, The (1965) - Damned Funny Hill Sgt. Williams (Ian Hendry), new on staff at the British military stockade in North Africa, puts the newly convicted soldiers (Roy Kinnear, Ossie Davis, Alfred Lynch, Jack Watson and, particularly Sean Connery, as Roberts), through their first climb, in Sidney Lumet's The Hill, 1965.
Man Called Adam, A (1966) - If You Had A Chick Or Something Troubled trumpeter Adam (Sammy Davis Jr.) at his New York pad after blowing off a Midwest gig, surprised to find Louis Armstrong and daughter Cicely Tyson waiting, forgetting he told pal Ossie Davis he could lend out the place, plus Lola Falana's first movie scene, early in A Man Called Adam, 1966.
Do The Right Thing (1989) - Can't Stand The Heat Brooklyn summer heat to Can't Stand It by Steel Pulse, characters including Tina (Rosie Perez), Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and angry Charlie (Frank Vincent) trying to cope, in writer-director Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, 1989.
Do The Right Thing (1989) - Cleanest Sidewalk In Brooklyn Writer-director Spike Lee (as "Mookie") with Mother-Sister (Ruby Dee), and at work with Sal (Danny Aiello) and sons Pino and Vito (John Turturro, Richard Edson) and "Da Mayor," (Ossie Davis) early in Do The Right Thing, 1989.

Trailer

Family

Kince Charles Davis
Father
Railroad engineer.
Laura Davis
Mother
Nora Davis
Daughter
Educator. Born c. 1950.
Guy Davis
Son
Musician. Born c. 1952.
Hasna Davis
Daughter
School principal. Born c. 1957.

Companions

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

Bibliography

"With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together"
Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, William Morrow (1998)
"Purlie Victorious"
Ossie Davis
"Langston"
Ossie Davis
"Escape to Freedom: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass"
Ossie Davis
"Curtain Call"
Ossie Davis
"Mr. Aldredge"
Ossie Davis
"Sir"
Ossie Davis
"Just Like Martin"
Ossie Davis

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.