Ossie Davis

Actor, Director, Screenwriter
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 ... Read more »
Born: 12/17/1917 in Cogdell, Georgia, USA

Filmography

Actor (151)

Proud 2005 (Movie)

Lorenzo DuFau (Actor)

The L Word 2004 - 2005 (Tv Show)

Actor

A Trumpet of the Walls of Jericho 2004 (Movie)

(Actor)

Apollo at 70: A Hot Night in Harlem 2003 - 2004 (TV Show)

Actor

Baadasssss! 2004 (Movie)

Granddad (Actor)

Beah: A Black Woman Speaks 2004 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

She Hate Me 2004 (Movie)

Judge Buchanan (Actor)

Bubba Ho-Tep 2003 (Movie)

Jack (Actor)

JAG 2003 (Tv Show)

Actor

Philly 2002 (Tv Show)

Actor

Touched By an Angel 1990 - 1994, 1996 - 2000, 2002 (Tv Show)

Actor

7th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Actor

A Principled Man: Reverend Leon Sullivan 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Narrator

Amsterdam News: Stories of Black New York 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Actor

Civil Rights Heroes 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Actor

Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Narrator

National Memorial Day Concert (2001) 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Actor

The Fillmore 2000 - 2001 (TV Show)

Narrator

America's Millennium 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

Burt Reynolds: The E! True Hollywood Story 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

City of Angels 1990 - 1994, 1996 - 2000 (Tv Show)

Actor

Cleveland Orchestra in Performance 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

Dinosaur 2000 (Movie)

of Yar (Voice)

Evening Shade 1990 - 1994, 1996 - 2000 (Tv Show)

Actor

Rehab 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Narrator

Return to Harlem 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

TSO: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

Third Watch 1999 - 2000 (Tv Show)

Actor

Burt Reynolds 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Cosby 1990 - 1994, 1996 - 1999 (Tv Show)

Actor

Here's To Life 1999 (Movie)

(Actor)

NYTV: By the People Who Made It 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

National Memorial Day Concert (1999) 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Promised Land 1990 - 1994, 1996 - 1999 (Tv Show)

Actor

The 30th NAACP Image Awards 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

The Secret Path 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Dr. Dolittle 1998 (Movie)

Archer Dolittle (Actor)

National Memorial Day Concert (1998) 1997 - 1998 (TV Show)

Actor

4 Little Girls 1997 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

Celebrate the Dream: 50 Years of Ebony 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

National Memorial Day Concert (1997) 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Actor

The West 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)

Voice

Arlington National Cemetery: A Mirror of America 1995 - 1996 (TV Show)

Narrator

Get on the Bus 1996 (Movie)

Jeremiah (Actor)

I'm Not Rappaport 1996 (Movie)

Midge (Actor)

John Grisham's The Client 1995 - 1996 (TV Show)

Actor

National Memorial Day Concert (1996) 1995 - 1996 (TV Show)

Actor

African-African American Summit: Coming Home 1994 - 1995 (TV Show)

Actor

Baseball 1994 - 1995 (TV Show)

Voice

National Memorial Day Concert (1995) 1994 - 1995 (TV Show)

Actor

Smithsonian's Great Battles of the Civil War 1994 - 1995 (TV Show)

Voice

National Memorial Day Concert 1994 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)

Actor

Stephen King's The Stand 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)

Actor

The 48th Annual Tony Awards 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)

Actor

The Client 1994 (Movie)

Judge Harry Roosevelt (Actor)

Goin' Back to T-Town 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)

Narrator

Grumpy Old Men 1993 (Movie)

Chuck (Actor)

Haiti: Killing the Dream 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)

Narrator

Lincoln 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)

Voice

Gladiator 1992 (Movie)

Noah (Actor)

Haiti: Killing the Dream 1992 (Movie)

Narration (Narrator)

Malcolm X 1992 (Movie)

Eulogy Performer (Actor)

The 24th Annual NAACP Image Awards 1991 - 1992 (TV Show)

Actor

The National Memorial Day Concert 1992 1991 - 1992 (TV Show)

Actor

A Neighborhood Redeemed 1990 - 1991 (TV Show)

Narrator

CBS All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade 1990 - 1991 (TV Show)

Actor

Jungle Fever 1991 (Movie)

The Good Reverend Doctor Purify (Actor)

Blind Chess 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Die Laughing 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Grand Theft Hotel 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

High Rise 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Joe Versus the Volcano 1990 (Movie)

Marshall (Actor)

Night Train 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

The 22nd Annual NAACP Image Awards 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

The King of Jazz 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

The Red Shoes 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Narrator

We'll Take Manhattan 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Winner Takes All 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Auntie Sue 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

Blues For Buder 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

Do the Right Thing 1989 (Movie)

Da Mayor (Actor)

Making "Do the Right Thing" 1989 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

Route One/U.S.A. 1989 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

Royal Gambit 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

The Dancer's Touch 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

School Daze 1988 (Movie)

Coach Odom (Actor)

The Blessings of Liberty 1987 - 1988 (TV Show)

Actor

A Letter to Booker T. 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Actor

Alice in Wonder 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Actor

Fussell's Landing 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Actor

Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum 1985 - 1986 (TV Show)

Actor

Treemonisha 1985 - 1986 (TV Show)

Narrator

Avenging Angel 1985 (Movie)

Captain Moradian (Actor)

Harry & Son 1984 (Movie)

Raymond (Actor)

Don't Look Back 1980 - 1981 (TV Show)

Actor

Hot Stuff 1979 (Movie)

Captain Geibarger (Actor)

The House of God 1978 (Movie)

Dr Sanders (Actor)

Countdown at Kusini 1976 (Movie)

Ernest Motapo (Actor)

Let's Do It Again 1975 (Movie)

Elder Johnson (Actor)

Malcolm X 1972 (Movie)

Eulogy (Actor)

Night Gallery 1969 - 1970 (TV Show)

Actor

Sam Whiskey 1969 (Movie)

Jedediah Hooker (Actor)

Slaves 1969 (Movie)

Luke (Actor)

The Outsider 1967 - 1968 (TV Show)

Actor

The Scalphunters 1968 (Movie)

Joseph Winfield Lee (Actor)

A Man Called Adam 1965 (Movie)

Nelson Davis (Actor)

The Defenders 1961 - 1965 (TV Show)

Actor

The Hill 1964 (Movie)

Jacko King (Actor)

Gone Are the Days 1963 (Movie)

Purlie Victorious (Actor)

Shock Treatment 1963 (Movie)

Capshaw (Actor)

The Cardinal 1963 (Movie)

Father Gillis (Actor)

The Joe Louis Story 1953 (Movie)

(Actor)

12 Angry Men (TV Show)

Actor

A Vow to Cherish (TV Show)

Actor

All God's Children (TV Show)

Actor

Bonanza (TV Show)

Actor

Deacons For Defense (TV Show)

Actor

Finding Buck McHenry (TV Show)

Actor

Freedom Road (TV Show)

Narrator

King (TV Show)

Actor

Malcolm X: Make It Plain (TV Show)

Actor

Miss Evers' Boys (TV Show)

Actor

Mississippi, America (TV Show)

Narrator

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (TV Show)

Narrator

Plates (TV Show)

Actor

Queen (TV Show)

Actor

Roots: The Next Generations (TV Show)

Actor

Teacher, Teacher (TV Show)

Actor

The Android Affair (TV Show)

Actor

The Ernest Green Story (TV Show)

Actor

The Feast of All Saints (TV Show)

Actor

The Great Depression (TV Show)

Actor

The Outsider (Movie)

(Actor)

The Sheriff (TV Show)

Actor

The Soul Collector (TV Show)

Actor

Thomas Jefferson (TV Show)

Narrator
Director (7)

Crown Dick 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Director

My Man Bovanne 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Director

Countdown at Kusini 1976 (Movie)

(Director)

Gordon's War 1973 (Movie)

(Director)

Kongi's Harvest 1973 (Movie)

(Director)

Black Girl 1972 (Movie)

(Director)

Cotton Comes to Harlem 1970 (Movie)

(Director)
Writer (5)

Countdown at Kusini 1976 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Cotton Comes to Harlem 1970 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Gone Are the Days 1963 (Movie)

("Purlie Victorious") (Play as Source Material)

Gone Are the Days 1963 (Movie)

(Screenplay)
Producer (4)

Crazy Hattie Enters the Ice Age 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Producer

Mama 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Producer

Refrigerator 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Producer

The 85-Year-Old Swinger 1986 - 1987 (TV Show)

Producer
Music (1)

Cotton Comes to Harlem 1970 (Movie)

("Ain't Now But It's Going to Be") (Song)
Other (1)

Zora Is My Name! (TV Show)

Assistant

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.

Relationships

Laura Davis

Mother

Kince Davis

Father

Hasna Davis

Daughter
born c. 1957

Nora Davis

Daughter
born c. 1950

Guy Davis

Son
born c. 1952

Ruby Dee

Wife
married on December 9, 1948 acting together since the 1940s

EDUCATION

studied acting in New York with Rose McClendon Players

Howard University

Washington , Washington D.C. 1935 - 1938
dropped out after third year

studied under Paul Mann and Lloyd Richards

Milestones

2006

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

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"

2004

Cast in Mario Van Peebles' "Baadasssss!"

1998

Starred opposite Eddie Murphy in the comedy "Doctor Dolittle"

1997

Starred with Alfre Woodard and Laurence Fishburne in "Miss Evers' Boys," the true story of the US Government's 1932 Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiments

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

1995

Returned to series TV as regular in "John Grisham's 'The Client'", recreating his film role as a judge

1993

Starred in Alex Haley's "Queen" a CBS miniseries

1992

Eulogy Performer in Spike Lee's "Malcolm X"

1991

Cast as The Good Reverend Doctor Purify in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever"

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

1989

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

1989

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

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"

1987

Served as producer on "Ossie and Ruby", a PBS dramatic anthology series

1986

Starred in the Tony award-winning Broadway production of "I'm Not Rappaport" for 13 months

1984

Executive produced and hosted first TV special, "Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum" (also acted)

1978

Portrayed Martin Luther King, Sr. in the acclaimed NBC biopic miniseries "King"; nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy

1969

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

1965

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

1963

Screenwriting debut with "Gone Are the Days," adapted from the play "Purlie Victorious"; also reprised his role in the feature film version

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

1955

Served as stage manager for the City Center production of "The World of Sholom Aleichem"

1951

TV acting debut, "Green Pastures", on the Showtime Network

1950

Film acting debut in "No Way Out"

1946

Toured with Dee in a production of "Anna Lucasta"

1946

Broadway acting debut as title character in "Jeb"; first collaboration with actress Ruby Dee, whom he married two years later

1941

Served in the US military

1940

Professional acting debut, in "Joy Exceeding Glory" with the Rose McClendon Players

Directed and appeared in the musical "Take It From the Top", written by Dee

Headed Third World Cinema, a film production company, in the 1970s

Joined the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem NYC; remained for three years

With Dee, formed Emmalyn Enterprises, a film and TV production company

Co-hosted "The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour" on radio for 3 years

Set out on foot from Waycross, GA for Washington, DC to attend Howard University

Bonus Trivia

.

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.

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