Luther Davis, Tony-Winning Bookwriter, Dies at 91

Obituaries   Luther Davis, Tony-Winning Bookwriter, Dies at 91
Luther Davis, who won a Tony Award for his book to the musical Kismet, died July 29 in the Bronx, The New York Times reported. He was 91 and lived in Manhattan and West Palm Beach, FL.

A prolific writer who forged careers in film, television and theatre, he achieved his most notable credit when he teamed with co-librettist Charles Lederer and composer-lyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest to create Kismet, an exotic, high-brow musical, set in ancient Baghdad and adapted from the symphonic scores of Alexander Borodin. The critics did not love it, complaining of its creaky, old-fashioned quality. But audiences liked the melodic score and lavish stets. The unlikely venture proved a durable hit, running one-and-a-half years, winning the Best Musical Tony Award (shared by Mr. Davis and his collaborators) and spawning the standards "Stranger in Paradise" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads." The show also had a successful London run.

Mr. Davis returned to the material in 1978, when he produced the show as Timbuktu! and transposed the action of the show to Africa. Eartha Kitt and Melba Moore were members of the all-black cast. It did not fare as well this time around, winning no awards and running only 221 performances.

He returned to Broadway only one more time, again in the company of Wright and Forrest. The project was a musical adaptation of Grand Hotel. Though critics thought the show a bit old-fashioned and melodramatic, they praised director-choreographer Tommy Tune's fluid work. The show went on to become Mr. Davis' longest-running hit, lasting 1,017 performances. His book was nominated for a Tony Award.

Luther Berryhill Davis was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 29, 1916. In 1921 when he was only four, tragedy struck. His father, Charles T. Davis, a businessman and inventor who worked at the surgical-supply company Davis & Geck, shot two policemen and an insurance adjuster who came to his office. The elder Mr. Davis apparently believed they were thieves. The policeman died, and the inventor was sent to jail, convicted of manslaughter.

Mr. Davis went to Culver Military Academy in Indiana and then to Yale, graduating in 1938. He served in the United States Army Air Corps in both Asia and Europe during World War II. He turned to writing. He had a hand in a 1941 Broadway revue Crazy With the Heat. In 1945 his war play, Kiss Them for Me, was directed by Herman Shumlin and had a short run on Broadway. (Kiss Them for Me and Kismet were both turned into films.) He provided "additional text" to Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952. In 1981 he co-produced the Off-Broadway play Not About Heroes, starring Dylan Baker, and the following year backed Eden Court, starring Melanie Griffith and Ellen Barkin at the Promenade Theatre.

Mr. Davis began writing for film in the 1940s. His credits include "The Hucksters," "Black Hand," "A Lion in the Streets," "B.F.'s Daughter" and "Lady in a Cage." His last screenplay was for the 1972 urban drama "Across 110th Street."

Mr. Davis' first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his companion for 30 years, actress Jennifer Bassey, whom he married in 2005, he is survived by two daughters, Rory Bolander and Noel Davis.

Today’s Most Popular News: