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Birth Name: Marlin Davis
Born: August 26, 1909 in Edgerton, Missouri, USA
Died: April 26, 1981 in Northridge, California, USA
Cause of death: multiple myeloma

Star Sign: Virgo

Height: 6'2½/1.89 m
Eye Color: blue/blau

 Ancestry: Irish, Welsh and Native American

 

Hobbies and Interest

 

he liked:

Collecting "western stuff" 

Collecting clown figures

horse riding

cooking

Playing golf

Chinese and Mexican food. He didn't like raw fish


Education

 

       

                                North Platte High School                                             William Jewell College

 

Jim attended North Platte High School in Dearborn, Missouri.

Later he went to the Baptist-affiliated William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.

He was a very successful player in the college football team. His coaches thought he had great talent for a sports career. 
Jim graduated in political science.


Occupations

 

Davis' odyssey to acting began when he declined to enter the family business.
The Family owned and operated the "Davis Funeral Home" in Dearborn, Missouri from 1914 to 1948.
In addition, the family ran a small shop, too.

 

 Jim Davis: " No way I wanted to be in a mortuary. " he laughs

 

 

Before he started working as an actor in 1942 Jim had been working in many different occupations. 
For example at the circus as a rodeo performer and in a "Quaker Oats" oat mill. 
It soon became clear that he was a very clever speaker and was able to convince the people well. 
In addition he had a very sympathetic personality.
So it was not surprising that he switched from production to sales. 


For a short time he tried to work as a car salesman.

Later he worked as a salesman for the Texas Oil Company "Quaker State Oil". 
The latter one was a good job, though this job had no future. 

It was around that time that he married his first wife Betty Norman in Kansas City.

The marriage did not end well and was divorced after only three years.
One day they sent him to Hollywood to convince local car dealers to buy Quaker State Oil. 
Whether talent scouts got aware of him or if he started to send in applications to the studios,

we will probably never be able to find out exactely.

He sent for his girlfriend Jane Campbell and they got married in California. But this marriage was divorced too,

after only eight months  and two days. The huge age difference might have been the problem.

Most newcomers experience extreme difficulties in finding an agent, let alone a role. 
Not Davis, he was quick to find the right man because of his determination and persuasiveness. 
George Ward became his agent who worked for Mitch J. Hamilburg.

This agency had already made Gene Autry rich and famous.

To get a contract with MGM Jim worked very hard. Impressed by this diligence and ambition, the film producer 

Pandro S. Berman ordered some test shots with Davis.

He let him recite a scene from "Test Pilot". The role had originally been played by Clark Gable.

When studio boss Louis Mayer saw Davis' test, he decided that this man had everything he needed to be an actor.

Davis wanted $ 250 a week, a lot of money in those days. Mayer rather had the modest sum of $ 75 in mind.

But Davis was once again able to convince everyone, he argued, why work for 75 Dollars if he could get 200 Dollars

and a car at Quaker State Oil. He eventually got $ 250 a week.


World War II

 

 

He served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II

 

Enlistment: 15.December.1942

Discharge: 15.June.1945

 

Shortly before Jim started his military service at the Coast Guard, Louis B. Mayer called him to his office.
Mayer promised to get him a role in the new Clark Gable movie after the war. 

He also received a $ 1,000 bonus. After Louis Mayer had wished Davis good luck, they parted ways.
During his Coast Guard-time Jim had small roles in various, mostly war-supporting films but the major roles were missing.

After Davis' military service Mayer could not even remember Jim's name

This made Jim laugh and shortly after he left MGM.

 

Louis B. Mayer


All over now?

 

 

In 1948 he got the chance to do test shots for the role of Slick Novak in the new Bette Davis film by Warner Bros.
The competition was tough and the studio favored Richard Widmark.
But Widmark portrayal of a sadistic killer in the previous year's "Kiss of Death" movie made it difficult to

accept him in the role of Slick Novak.

Jim was the last of 13 actors who auditioned for the role. 

Supposedly Bette Davis jumped in and said Jim had to be her film partner. Neither the studio nor the director Bretaigne Windust were enthusiastic about this idea. 
Bette Davis issued an ultimatum, either Jim Davis got the role or she wouldn't do this movie.

At that time, she kept close contact with Jim Davis and assured him that he would get the role.
In the end he not only got the role, Bette Davis also advocated that he got the same money as she received. 

She was thrilled that she and Davis would be in one movie together and said Jim Davis would one day become

a big star. In this case this would have meant she had discovered and encouraged him.
Jim Davis believed his dreams were to become true and he would finally be on top.

In his dreams he already started buying cadillacs.

The honest story about the differences of opinion between a Catholic and a non-Catholic was a problem for Hollywood.
After all the censorships, the movie ended up being just a new average drama.
Therefore, it was not surprising that the film became a flop.
(It cost $1,927,000 to make and took in $1,083,000 at the box office)
Because they needed a scapegoat, the studio and the director took the same view to reject any blame. 
Later Windust said during filming Jim never showed any signs of the character he had portrayed in the test shots.
Bette Davis never talked to Jim again.
Surprisingly, the film is now seen as a classic movie.

 

Since no one wanted to employ a "loser" and the contract with Warner Bros had expired, 

Davis had to look for something else. 
As he was wandering the streets looking for work, he talked to a man at a construction site to see if they had work for him. 
The man asked for his work experience and Davis replied that he would do anything.

The next morning he was able to start straight away.
His job was to tow the very heavy concrete slabs for the new Corinne Griffith Building.

After some time things started going well.
From 1949 on Jim was working as an actor again. 
Nevertheless, there were always periods in his life in which he found no work as an actor.

However, he never complained about this.
Davis once said that he was always working and he was never sitting on his butt, just waiting.

If he wasn't able to act in films he sold real estate, freezers, hearing aids and much more.


It's getting better

 

 

It was not a good year for his carreer, he only had a couple of small roles in movies but it was a good year for love. 
Jim met his later wife in 1949, at the club "Mocambo", on the Sunset Strip. 
They were both accompanied by another person, he was there with a friend of Blanche. After introducing each other, he asked Blanche for her phone number while dancing. They both met again and fell in love.
After two short failed marriages, he finally found the right woman in Blanche Hammerer. They were married for more than 30 years.                    


In the following years he found his place as supporting actor in western movies. Jim´s relaxed, easygoing manner and southern drawl made him the perfect fit for the parts as cowboys. What made his career special was that he kept changing between good guy and bad-guy parts in the movies. He was not set on one thing. It was the beginning of a very productive time at Republic Pictures.

 

 

He made a bunch of western movies with well known actors, for example with:

- Three times Oscar winning actor Walter Brennan, Brimstone (1949).
- Loyd Bridges, Little Big Horn (1951) 
- Gene Autry, Silver Canyon (1951)


He also did various films with Rod Cameron and Forrest Tucker. 

Jim had close friendships with some of the actors such as James L Brown, their friendship lasted for a lifetime.

Their first film in which they were both starring was "Yes Sir, That's My Baby (1949)". 
Much later the hit series "Dallas" marked the end of their career, for both of them. 
 

 

Jim found his biggest luck when his only child, daughter Tara Diane was born on January 15, 1953. He and his wife Blanche were very pround of Tara and they did everything for her.

The enthusiastic horseback rider Davis put his daughter on a horse as early as when she was 4 and dreamed of how his daughter would be winning big tournaments one day. 

 

 


Television as a new medium provided new opportunities for Jim.
So in addition to the movies he was now also able to work in television. It all began when he got smaller but sometimes also bigger roles in five episodes of the crime series "Dangerous Assignment". He also starred in four episodes of the western series "Cowboy G-Men" and he did ten episodes of "Fireside Theatre". 

A little movie highlight was a small role in the  Twentieth Century Fox production "The President's Lady" (1953).

He was starring alongside Charlton Heston (who later won an Oscar in 1960). 

 

Not much later things were going to become even better for Jim as the Republic Pictures Studios started planning

on a new western series with Jim in the leading role. 


Stories of the Century

 

 

In 1954 Republic Pictures established the television production arm "Studio City Television Productions".
"Stories of the Century" was the first production they made, which ran in syndication for 39 episodes from January 1954 to March 1955.

They were looking for the right man for the leading part of the series. It had to be a charismatic man, a man who looked like he was in the right place. The studio found this man in Jim and so he got the part of railroad detective Matt Clark despite of having mostly appeared as bad guys in the movies before. Davis also narrated each episode. 

For the female supporting part Republic had originally wanted Kristine Mille for the show but at the time, she was expecting her first baby. So Mary Castle  was cast in the role of Frankie Adams. She played this character for 26 episodes.
Later the studio decided they really wanted to see Kristine Miller in the show. Now that her baby was six months old she made it into the series and played Margaret Jones in the last 13 episodes.

The 39 episodes tell fictionalized stories of famous bad guys.
Matt Clark, who works for the Southwestern Railroad, has always been tasked with clearing some kind of illegal connection to the Southwestern Railroad. Each episode took place in a different time period and place. 

Casting for the outlaws was terrific, some of the best western actors had guest appearances on the show.
Some examples: Jack Elam as Black Jack Ketchum, Lee Van Cleef as Jesse James or Marie Windsor as Belle Starr.

 

The series always looked very authentic. Everytime when Matt was horse riding, spending a long time on the road he looked dirty and done. Nobody comes home clean and fine after a two hours ride so the show was always very good at telling stories in a realistic way.
In addition, Jim totally filled out the role and apparently became one with it.

Very often they used outdoor shots and action shots from other Republic Pictures films. 
So they were able to offer the viewer great beautiful landscapes, chases and more without having to spend much money. 
This set the show apart from many other Western series. 

The show was something really special and so, well deserved, the series won an Emmy in 1955 as the first Western series ever to receive such an award. 
After some time the studio boss of "Republic Pictures", Herbert Yates decided to switch from Western to another genre. He thought the time for western was over. That's when they began filming a new series about a doctor, Fu Manchu. This turned out to be a serious mistake as the series totally flopped. This led to both series getting cancelled and shortly after the studio itself was gone. 
So this was the end of Jim's first TV hit series which unfortunately hadn't lasted that long. 

 


Finally on the TOP


"Stories of the Century" was very popular but the studios cancelled it. Yet, these 39 episodes increased Jim's popularity enormously. During the production of the series, he was playing a few minor roles in various films.
But after the series Jim's roles grew bigger. He was now a lead actor. Some of his first lead acts were non-Western films like "Blonde Bait" (1956) and the sci-fi / horror movie "Monster from Green Hell" (1957). No masterpieces but the films found their viewers. Much better were the Western films in which he now appeared as a star of the movie.
You can notice that these films and the image of what they represent, fit better.


A small selection:

Last Stagecoach West (1957 reunited with his serial mate Mary Castle)
Raiders of Old California (1957 a movie with historical mistakes but interestingly, he played a bad guy in the leading role)
The Badge of Marshal Brennan (1957)
Wolf Dog (1958 a modern times western)
A Lust to Kill (1968)
Noose for a Gunman (1960)

 

Another little movie highlight was the comedy western "Alias Jesse James (1959)", starring Bob Hope in the leading role. Both actors combined a passion for golf.  In 1983 Hope was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame because of his big contributions to golf sports. He held regular tournaments in which Jim also participated.

Of course, he also continued to appear in various series. One deserves a special mention: Dezernat 'M'.
This crime series, starring Oscar winner Lee Marvin reunited Jim for an episode with Kristine Miller.
Something very special about the show: Jim had a dual role in it.

 

A new chapter in Jim's TV career was about to begin. The year 1958 brought him a new leading role in a series.


Rescue 8

 

Screen Gems produced the series "Rescue 8" from September 1958 to May 1960, for two seasons.
It was an action drama series about a Los Angeles County Fire Department Rescue Squad 8.

The show ran in syndication for 74 half-hour long episodes. "Rescue 8" was very popular so nobody was surprised that syndicated reruns continued for almost a decade. The Rescue 8 team was mostly seen in physically oriented rescues.
 
Once again, Jim was convincing and the producers chose him for the role as fireman Wes Cameron.For the supporting part they cast Lang Jeffries as the fireman Skip Johnson.
As recurring roles they also casted Nancy Rennick and Mary K. Cleary as Patty Johnson and Susan Johnson, the wife and daughter of Skip Johnson.

Jim narrated parts of the episodes again.

The series was very popular and had some good guest stars.
Some examples: Patricia Blair, John Carradine, Richard Chamberlain, Michael Dante,

Robert Redford and Harry Dean Stanton.

The series raised Jim's popularity again. This time, even non western fans were paying attention to him. His continuing stardom was also proven by the fact that he got one of the first of 1500 stars on the Walk of Fame. At this time, it was not such a big deal. Although this award only gained in importance over the years, it was a first mention of his achievements in film business. Today, millions of people are visiting the Walk of Fame every year.

 


TV Commercials

 

Jim's rising popularity opened another type of offer, TV commercials.
As TV became more and more popular many companies were starting to use it for their own purpose.
So they became aware of him and increased Jims reputation through their products.

For many great actors the advertising business was a "no go". They were afraid their career would suffer.

They thought it was under their dignity to do something like this.
Jim had always seen this pragmatically. Why make a movie that takes weeks to finish if he could as well get $ 3,000 for a single TV commercial? One of the first products Jim did advertising for was the "Buick Wildcat" (1964). Over the years other very lucrative offers were following. For example "Coffee Mate" and "Winn Dixie".


The great Era of TV Series


In the 60s, Jim worked mainly in TV business with a few exceptions that include many successful and famous series : 

 

The Tall Man (2 episodes), Wells Fargo (3 episodes), Laramie (4 episodes),

Have Gun-Will Travel, Wagon Train (4 episodes), Bonanza (3 episodes),

Daniel Boone (3 episodes), The Guns of Will Sonnett  (starring Walter Brennan and Dack Rambo who would later star in the cast of Dallas),

Some of Jim's non western series include:

Time Tunnel, Hoppla Lucy! , Perry Mason (2 episodes) 
The Donna Reed Show (Donna would also star on Dallas many years later) and Lassie.
 

 

 

 

Not only his TV series showed a great variety but also the movies he was shooting at the time. With increasing age and slightly graying hair, the roles for which he got cast changed.
For example he was seen as the father of a little boy in the wonderful family movie "Zebra in the Kitchen".
But even the simple Korean war movie "Iron Angel" still has a great reputation among his fans up until today.
 

 


And then Jim also shot some western movies again including one of his best western films as a lead actor in "The Gambler Wore a Gun" (1961). Another film highlight is "El Dorado" (1967). This was the first movie in which he played alongside John Wayne. Both actors got on very well and so they stayed in contact with each other after the filming.

A few years later Wayne would do something very special for Jim as he helped him process a very tragic loss.


Tragic Loss

 

In 1970 he had to cope with the biggest loss of his life.
His daughter had a terrible car accident, just weeks before her high school graduation. Her injuries were so severe that she could only be kept alive on a life support mashine.
Jim had to make the hard decision to remove her from life support or not. Davis opted for the latter because there wasn't much hope she would ever wake up.

So he thought his daughter had the right to die in dignity.


Tara was only 17 years old and was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

For many years, neither he nor his wife Blanche were able to talk about it. Both found comfort in their faith in God. Jim also spent a lot of time in the garden of his house.
He never was embittered, in his opinion he had a very lucky life. And tragic and bitter moments belong to life as well. 
 

 

Despite all of this Jim never gave up. Life had to go on.

He also received a lot of support from various colleagues,

including John Wayne who helped him to get smaller roles

in some of his movies. 

Also physically, this heavy loss left its mark. It seemed like he

had aged years in a very short time. Jim's hair became gray

and he also added a few pounds.

 

 


Moving on

 

The following years brought a great variety of work for Jim.
He was seen again in popular western series like Gunsmoke (11 episodes) or Kung Fu (2 episodes).

But the big era of western series was over. More and more people wanted to see other formats.

This gave Jim the chance to play other parts than sheriffs and cowboys.


He was in "The Streets of San Francisco" (2 episodes) starring Oscar winner Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. He was also in "The Blue Knight" (1 episode) starring Oscar winner George Kennedy who was later a star on Dallas.

1974 he was cast in the short lived series "The Cowboys".

The series was based on the John Wayne movie with the same name. 

Only 12 episodes were produced before the series was canceled. This should not be the only failure in the next years. 


One year later Jim was co-starring in the movie "The Runaway Barge".

He played the captain of a Mississippi river tugboat who started drinking after the death of his beloved wife.

After a little adventure he found new hope and began a new life.

The movie was the pilot for a TV series called "Rivermen". But the series was not ordered. 

 

 

Jim guest starred in other more or less well-known series like "Project U.F.O.", "The Oregon Trail", "The Quest" and "Banacek" starring George Peppard. 
 

Things were going similarly in Jim´s film work.
Jim co-starred alongside Oscar winner Jeff Bridges in the great western movie "Bad Company" in 1972.

He also had a small part as a senator in "The Parallax View" in 1974.

Years later after Rescue 8 Jim played a rescure man again: As fireman Rocky Stratton in the 1974 movie "Inferno in Paradise". Other good movies he made in this time were "Satan's Triangle" in 1975 and "Killing Stone" in 1978. 
The latter was a movie written and directed by Michael Landon. 
Both actors had worked together on Bonanza many years ago.
 


The decade was coming to an end and one of Jim's last works was a supporting part in "Comes a Horseman" in 1978 starring oscar winner Jane Fonda. An other part he had was as a lead actor in the family science-fiction movie "The Day Time Ended" in 1979.  It was a special-effect movie without a good story.

Nobody expected that a minor role in a mini series was about to change everything.