Owen Davis
Owen Davis in 1950
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

Owen Gould Davis (January 29, 1874 – October 14, 1956) was an American dramatist known for writing more than 200 plays and having most produced. In 1919, he became the first elected president of the Dramatists Guild of America. He received the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Icebound,[1] His plays and scripts included works for radio and film.

Before the First World War, he 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]

Personal life

Davis was born into a large family in Portland, Maine.[3] They moved to Bangor, where he lived until he was 15. As a boy, Davis wrote plays for his eight siblings, who performed them for the town. His parents were Owen Warren Davis, an iron manufacturer, and his wife Abigail Augusta Gould.[4]

His brother William Hammatt Davis later served as chairman of the National War Labor Board in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration.

Davis attended the University of Tennessee in 1888–1889 and transferred to Harvard University in 1890, completing his degree there in three years. 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. Both entered the theater world; Owen Davis Jr. became an actor, and Donald Davis a playwright.[4]

Davis lived in New York City for much of his life, and died there.


For the first two decades of his writing career, Davis produced melodramas that followed a formula. His entry in the Encyclopedia of American Drama notes, "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. He wrote or was otherwise involved in 75 additional Broadway productions, either under his own name or as John Oliver.[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 humorist Will Rogers.[3]


Davis wrote scripts for the 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 been suffering from a long illness and had recently been released from a hospital after three years. He was survived by his wife, their second son Donald, one of his brothers, William Hammatt Davis, and a sister, Perley Davis.[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. ^ a b c d Roberts, Jerry (2003). The Great American Playwrights on the Screen: A Critical Guide to Film, Video, and DVD. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-55783-512-3. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  4. ^ a b McNamara, Brooks (2000). "Davis, Owen Gould". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1600427. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7. 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 978-3-598-30186-5. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  6. ^ Bryer, Jackson R.; Hartig, Mary C. (2015). Encyclopedia of American Drama. Infobase Learning. ISBN 978-1-4381-4076-6. 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 978-1-4766-6593-1. 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 978-1-4381-2966-2. 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. Open access icon

Further reading