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Ossie Davis

As a playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and actor during a career spanning over 50 years, Davis has been a staple of black theater with his wife, actor Ruby Dee. 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).

Born in Cogdell, Georgia, Davis began his career as a writer and actor with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem in 1939. He most recently appeared in the Showtime movies DEACONS FOR THE DEFENSE and Anne Rice's FEAST OF ALL SAINTS.

In 1946, Mr. Davis made his Broadway debut in Jeb and went on to perform in many Broadway productions, including Anna Lucasta, The Wisteria Trees, Green Pastures, Jamaica, Ballad for Bimshire, The Zulu and the Zayada and the stage version of I'm not Rappaport. In 1961, Mr. Davis wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed Purlie Victorious. He was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1994.

After making his film debut in NO WAY OUT in 1950 with Sidney Poitier, Mr. Davis appeared in such films as THE CARDINAL, THE HILL and THE SCALPHUNTERS. In 1970, Mr. Davis directed his first feature film, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM. He went on to direct four others: GORDON'S WAR, KONGI'S HARVEST, BLACK GIRL and COUNTDOWN AT KUSINI, which he also co-produced with his wife, Ruby Dee. Additional film roles included the animated feature DINOSAUR, DR. DOLITTLE with Eddie Murphy, GET ON THE BUS for Spike Lee, and I'M NOT RAPPAPORT with Walter Matthau.

Mr. Davis' first appearance on the small screen was in the title role of the 1955 television production of The Emperor Jones. He received an Emmy Award nominations for his work in Teacher, Teacher King and most recently, Miss Evers' Boys. He has been a regular or recurring player in With Ossie & Ruby, B.L. Stryker, Evening Shade, and The Client. Additional notable television credits include 12 Angry Men, Promised Land, Night Gallery, The Sheriff, The Ernest Green Story, Roots: The Next Generation, Alex Haley's Queen, The Stand, The Defenders, and Bonanza." Currently, Mr. Davis co-hosts the African Heritage Movie Network's Movie of the Month. His television writing credits include episodes of EastSide/ West Side and the teleplay of For Us the Living, for which he received the Neil Simon Jury Award.

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have produced several television specials, including Today Is Ours, Martin Luther King: The Dream & The Drum, and two segments of A Walk Through the 20th Century with Bill Moyers. They also co-produced the television series With Ossie & Ruby, which aired for three seasons. In 1980, Mr. Davis and Ms. Dee founded their own production company, Emmalyn II Productions Company, Inc.

Mr. Davis has received many honors and citations, including the N.Y. Urban League Frederick Douglass Award, the NAACP Image Award, and the National Medal of Arts.

He is the author of three children's books: Escape to Freedom (honored by the American Library Association and the Jane Adams Children's Book Award); Langston and Just Like Martin. He and Ruby Dee recently marked their 50th wedding anniversary with the publication of their joint autobiography, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

Ossie Davis Facts

Birth NameRaiford Chatman Davis
OccupationActor, Director, Screenwriter
BirthdayDecember 18, 1917
BirthplaceCogdell, Georgia, USA
Date of deathFebruary 2, 2005 (Miami Beach, Florida, USA, age 87)
Awards2001 Screen Actors Guild Awards: Life Achievement Award

Selected Filmography

Grumpy Old Men
The Client
Land Ahoy
Do the Right Thing
Joe Versus The Volcano
Dr. Dolittle
Malcolm X
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