BILL C. DAVIS was an American playwright and actor born on this date (d: 2021); He was best known for his 1980 play Mass Appeal. Other noted works of his include Dancing in the End Zone, Wrestlers, Spine, Avow, Coming2Terms, All Hallowed, Jeremiah Rules, Expatriate, and Austin’s Bridge.
He went on to study at Marist College, graduating in 1974. After graduation, Davis worked at Rhinebeck Country Village, a residential community for developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed adults. He wrote Mass Appeal during his time at Rhinebeck, which he said he “began to understand human nature” through his outreach to the individuals living there.
Mass Appeal debuted at the Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) in the spring of 1980. It was well-received, with Frank Rich of The New York Times writing how the play “quickly deepens into a wise, moving and very funny comedy about the nature of friendship, courage and all kinds of love”. He described Davis as “a natural [who] writes with wit, passion and a sure sense of stagecraft”. It shifted to Broadway the following year, ultimately running for 212 performances at the Booth Theatre. Director Geraldine Fitzgerald and Milo O’Shea (who played the main character) were both nominated for Tony Awards, while Davis himself was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play in 1981. Mass Appeal also won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best play, as well as the Molière Award. It was adapted as a film of the same name three years later and featured Jack Lemmon and Željko Ivanek.
Davis was gay and remained a lifelong bachelor. He joined the Green Party and made a brief run for Congress in 2005 for Connecticut. He was a regular contributor to Common Dreams. He called for a ban on Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and spoke out against fast food restaurants, sugar, and processed foods in November 2020.
Davis died on February 26, 2021, at a care center in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 69, and had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and pancreatic cancer one month prior to his death
Davis was the recipient of several awards, including the Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice Award, a National Board of Review citation, and the Drama-Logue Award. He was conferred the Marist College President’s Award in 1981, for his “distinguished achievement in American theatre and the arts”. He was later inducted into his alma mater’s Theatre Hall of Fame in 2016.