Dave Davis – in memory

  • Years at WGBH: 1956-67
  • Position(s): Producer, director, manager

From the University of Maryland Libraries

David MacFarland Davis was born on March 23, 1926 in St. Charles, Illinois to Harrold Henry Davis and Bernice (MacFarland) Goodstein. He received his bachelor’s degree in musical education from Northwestern University in 1947, and a MS degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951.

From 1947 to 1951, while studying for his masters, Davis worked at WFIL-AM-FM-TV in Philadelphia as a producer and a director. During the same years, he also worked as an instructor at Temple University. From 1951 to 1952, Davis worked as a television producer and coordinator for Michigan State University in East Lansing. He then worked as production manager for ABC affiliate station WMAL-TV, Washington, DC. From 1953 to 1956, he was Director of Programs for WUNC-TV, Greensboro, North Carolina. He then worked as station manager at WGBH-TV, Boston, Massachusetts from 1956 to 1967. During his tenure at WGBH, he produced and directed several productions including the 1963 Oscar-winning documentary film Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World and two television series during 1966 to 1967: Aaron Copland: Music of the 20’s and Lotte Lenya: World of Kurt Weill.

From 1967 to 1968, Davis was the Director of Programming Instruction at the Television Trust in Tel Aviv, Israel. In 1968, he returned to the United States to work for Ford Foundation’s Office of Public Broadcasting as a Television Program Coordinator until February 1969. At that time he became program officer until September 1969. From October 1969 until December 1974, Davis served as officer in charge. He worked under Fred W. Friendly until September 1972. Davis retained his position as the Office of Public Broadcasting became the Office of Communications in 1974 due to increased federal support for public broadcasting resulting in the need to refocus on other areas of communications including policy issues, media impact, journalism, and news and the law.

Davis left the Ford Foundation in 1979 to work as a consultant for the German Marshall Fund in Washington, DC. His consulting work continued through 1981 but in 1980 he became President of Public Television Playhouse, Inc. (New York City) which produced American Playhouse. Meanwhile, he also became Vice Chairman of the Indiana Television Services, Inc. also located in New York City. Finally he was president and chief executive officer of The American Documentary Inc. which produced P.O.V. from 1987 to 1993.

Davis has been a member of several national and international association including the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He also served on several committees including the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Media Committee of the Indo-U.S. Sub-Committee of Education and Culture.

Online resources

National Public Broadcasting Archives

The National Public Broadcasting Archives (NPBA) [at the University of Maryland] brings together the archival record of the major entities of non-commercial broadcasting in the United States.

Papers of David M. Davis

The Papers of David M. Davis cover the years 1956 to 1980, with the bulk of materials dating from 1968 to 1979. The collection documents Davis’ work for the Ford Foundation in the Office of Public Broadcasting and in the Office of Communications. Types of documents include correspondence, grant recommendations, program reviews, reports, and speeches.

Copland, Aaron, 1900-. Transcripts for Music in the 20s

During the years 1964 and 1965 Copland wrote, conducted, narrated, and hosted a series of twelve television programs entitled Music in the 20s. The transcripts described in this collection were transcribed from filmed interviews recorded live at the WGBH studios in Boston, Mass. between 1964 Nov. 11 and 1965 Jan. 26. …

These transcripts include what is called “Copland’s text,” as well as pre- and post-session conversations among various persons present in the studio including: David M. Davis, Curt Davis, [?] Sloss, and others. The topics of the transcripts concern all variety of issues and personalities in the field of western music in the decade of the 1920s.


  1. Jane Savitt Tennen on July 8, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Through a connection made when I was an intern at WGBH during a summer in graduate school, I met Dave in the mid 1980s in NYC, just as American Playhouse was getting off the ground.

    With little knowledge of me save our mutual contact and my fancy degrees, Dave gave me my first consulting gig, writing an NEH proposal for an American Playhouse episode that never got made. He was kind, gentlemanly, and so, so smart.

    I went on to consult for the next 18 years, pretty much entirely because of the credibility I had gained from that first job, working for Dave.

  2. Deedee Morss Decker on August 19, 2007 at 8:57 am

    When I started at WGBH, Dave signed everything DD, so I became little dd.

    To this day I sign away my life as dd.

    With love to you all, dd

  3. Michael Ambrosino on August 19, 2007 at 8:57 am

    David Davis and I arrived at WGBH the same week in September, 1956. He was quiet, decisive, and rarely wrong when it came to matters of making programs. We all became more professional because of his presence.

    Don Hallock has given a wonderful description of his directing technique. Let me add one more example.

    Preparing a symphony broadcast in those days meant aiming cameras at empty seats with large signs on them signifying the instruments of the orchestra. Previous [audio] recordings were used to plan each shot, made difficult in those days before zoom lenses. Just which lens will pick up four first violins from camera 3’s position in the balcony, is not an academic thought.

    Also, when the trumpet sounds its strident entrance, we want to show the player and the instrument just a hair before, not a hair after the sound. That meant the director, beating time with his hand in exact cadence with the conductor, calls for the “take” with his hand rising on the upbeat, bring the viewer the image at the exact moment of the trumpet’s sound.

    Incidental you say? Well, if you see it done both ways, you will know why David’s attention to detail mattered.

  4. Virginia Kassel on August 17, 2007 at 8:56 am

    What a time it was, what great people — Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, Louis Lyons, Buckminster Fuller, Max Lerner, the dancers of A Time to Dance, the musicians of the BSO.

    We who were working at WGBH (at 84 Mass. Ave.) did not know just how amazing that time was.

    Nor did we appreciate the WGBH leadership who held it together — Hartford Gunn, Greg Harney, and Dave Davis. Such leadership, judgment and courage.

    How grateful I am to have been there.

  5. Nat Johnson on August 15, 2007 at 8:55 am

    When I joined WGBH in 1967, Dave Davis and Hartford Gunn were practically legendary as educational TV’s dynamic duo, “pushing the envelope” and breaking down barriers. I remember how supportive Dave was to anyone who had a good new idea. Smiling, charming, energetic, and a great conversationalist, he was a pleasure to be with.

    In later years while in New York, I visited Dave at WNET where he got me part-time work reading scripts for American Playhouse. In those years, long after his departure from WGBH, he still seemed very much the same, which is the way I shall always remember him — a good friend and a gentleman.

  6. Don Hallock on August 14, 2007 at 8:54 am

    I think it is significant, and should be noted, that at least most of the documents in Brooks’ collection, as well as those in the Nohling collection, and anything about the Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts, as well as all music work done from 84 Mass. Ave., stand as a tribute to Dave Davis.

    Dave really taught us about all we knew about music work, of all genres — especially classical and jazz. As well, he brought significant children’s programming to the station.

    Dave brought us out of the dark ages on production technique (a work-in-progress that Greg Harney continued). Ask any old-timer director (and probably some of the younger ones) about “1-1-1-take!” and “ready 2…dissolve.” I believe that those camera calls of Dave’s are still being used (Bill Francis knew them as TD when I employed them directing in Montana in 2002.

    Also the spectacular recovery from the fire, the planning of the move to the Museum of Science, the use of the Catholic TV Center and the planning of the 125 Western Ave. plant, are memorial to Dave’s dedication and savvy.

    He was a terse, but towering, figure in the station’s history.

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