Owen Davis’s career spanned almost sixty years, and during that period, he wrote more than three hundred plays, most of which were performed professionally. Inasmuch as his work was produced in New York for thirty-seven consecutive seasons, and twenty of his plays were produced in Hollywood as movies, he was, from 1900 to 1950, America’s most prolific playwright. Drama critic George Jean Nathan called Davis “the Lope de Vega of the American Theatre.”
Davis began his career as a writer of Ten-Twent’-Thirt’ melodramas, and by 1910, he achieved recognition as the dominant writer in this dramatic form. Motivated to be a serious writer, Davis wrote The Family Cupboard, which enabled him to move from the visually dominated melodramas to comedy. Always seeking to grow as an artist, Davis shifted from situation comedy to psychological melodrama; perhaps his finest work in this form was the 1923 play Icebound, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and for which he was inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Later, he would serve on the Pulitzer Prize selection committee.
In addition to his work as a dramatist, Davis sought to free the writer from managerial abuse and plagiarism. Therefore, he became actively involved in founding the Dramatists’ Guild , serving as its president in 1922. As president, he addressed himself to such issues as film rights, actors’ homes, loans, and other issues germane to the theater profession. Davis had a gift for organization and administration and was continually drafted into leadership positions.