Owen Davis Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to more than three hundred plays, Owen Davis wrote a radio series entitled The Gibson Family (1934), which lasted for thirty-nine weeks. He was also a screenwriter in Hollywood, where his work included Icebound (1924), How Baxter Butted In (1925), Frozen Justice (1929), and Hearts in Exile (1929).

In 1930, dissatisfied with Hollywood and its exploitation of the writer, Davis returned to writing for the stage. In 1931, he published a volume of autobiography, I’d Like to Do It Again; he updated his life story in 1950 with My First Fifty Years in the Theatre.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Goff, Lewin. “The Owen Davis-Al Woods Melodrama Factory.” Educational Theatre Journal 11 (October, 1959): 200-207. One of the first major scholarly articles on Davis. Goff examines the unique, exclusive contract between Davis and controversial theatrical producer Al Woods, whereby the writer turned out fifty-eight plays over a five-year period.

Middleton, George. Owen Davis, January 29, 1874-October 14, 1956. New York: Dramatist Guild of the Authors League of America, 1957. A brief remembrance of the writer and his work.

Moses, Montrose J. The American Dramatist. 1925. Reprint. New York: B. Blom, 1964. Moses describes the development of Davis in the context of the many forms of American melodrama. He includes many quotations from an interview with the author.

Rahill, Frank. “When Heaven Protected the Working Girl.” Theatre Arts 38 (October, 1954): 78-92. This piece reviews Davis’s work in the Ten-Twent’-Thirt’ drama, with specific examples of how popularly priced plays were created. It focuses on some of the social and political events that became the subjects of many of the melodramas.

Witham, Barry B. “Owen Davis: America’s Forgotten Playwright.” Players 46 (October/November, 1970): 30-35. Witham’s article is a complete synopsis of Davis’s dramaturgy from the melodramas to the award-winning later plays. It also reviews Davis’s accomplishments outside the theater, such as his pioneering work on behalf of the Dramatist’s Guild and the Authors’ League of America.