Playwright Won Tony in 1954 for Best Musical
By BRUCE WEBER
By Bruce Weber
The New York Times
Luther Davis, a playwright who won a Tony Award in 1954 for the book of the musical “Kismet” and a screenwriter whose films included “The Hucksters,” with Clark Gable, and “Lady in a Cage” with Olivia de Havilland, died Tuesday in the Bronx.
He was 91 and lived in Manhattan and West Palm Beach, Fla. His death was confirmed by his wife, Jennifer Bassey Davis.
A busy author for the screen and the stage, Davis wrote 15 movies and dozens of scripts for TV series, and he had a hand in five Broadway shows, including writing a 1945 play, “Kiss Them for Me,” about four sailors back from the war, and the book for “Grand Hotel,” the musical adaptation of Vicki Baum’s novel, which was directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune and which ran for more than 1,000 performances from 1989 to 1992.
“Kismet,” which won the Tony for best musical, and which Davis wrote with Charles Lederer, was one of Broadway history’s more peculiar entries, a crossbreed of high culture and low. The music, which included the songs “Stranger in Paradise” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” was adapted from the symphonic scores of Alexander Borodin, but the story, a florid fable set in Baghdad at the time of “The Arabian Nights,” was replete with groan-worthy double-entendres and staged with grand spectacle .
I n 1978, Davis, as producer and writer, reprised “Kismet” in a different form, as “Timbuktu!,” moving its setting to Africa and giving it a new score based on African folk tunes and tribal rhythms. Starring Eartha Kitt and Melba Moore, this version ran for 221 performances and was nominated for six Tonys . It was during this production that he met his wife, an actress who had invested in it.
She and other investors had written to complain that as a singer, Moore was holding her notes too long, Davis said in a phone interview. “When we met, I talked total gibberish for about five minutes, and then I said, ‘Why don’t we have lunch?’
Young Davis went to Culver Military Academy in Indiana and then to Yale, graduating in 1938. He served in the Army Air Corps in both Asia and Europe during World War II, rising to the rank of major.
His first screenplay credit was “The Hucksters,” a boy-gets- loses-gets-girl story set in the advertising business, based on a novel by Frederic Wakeman and starring Gable and Deborah Kerr.
Luther Davis wrote 15 movies and dozens of scripts for television series, and he had a hand in five Broadway shows, including writing a 1945 play, “Kiss Them for Me,” about four sailors back from the war.
Originally published by BY BRUCE WEBER.
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