Bill Davidson; Veteran Journalist Known for Celebrity Biographies
Bill Davidson, author and journalist who co-wrote a book with President John F. Kennedy and turned his own World War II experiences into the best-selling “Cut Off,” has died. He was 82.
Davidson, who crafted 13 books and countless articles for Collier’s, the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines, died Jan. 15 in Palm Desert after a stroke, said his daughter Carol Stevens.
A versatile writer of both nonfiction and fiction, serious works and humor, Davidson helped Kennedy craft the 1962 book “President Kennedy Selects Six Brave Presidents” for the juvenile market. The book followed Kennedy’s earlier volume, “Profiles in Courage.”
As longtime Los Angeles bureau chief of Collier’s, Davidson wrote about Hollywood greats for many years and penned a number of their biographies--including Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Danny Thomas, Jane Fonda and Gary Coleman.
Caesar’s 1982 autobiography “Where Have I Been?,” written with Davidson, clearly spelled out the comedian’s struggle with drugs and alcohol.
“The book was hard to do,” Caesar told The Times after publication, “but I felt it was another part of my therapy, and I’d known Bill for 30 years and felt comfortable around him.”
In the 1988 “Spencer Tracy: Tragic Idol,” Davidson also laid bare Tracy’s alcoholism and violence, prompting a Chicago Tribune reviewer to note: “Although Davidson, a good Hollywood reporter for decades, has sincerely attempted to give balance to his portrait of the actor, the revelations in this book have made it a picture painted in very dark tones.”
Born in Jersey City, N.J., Davidson attended New York University’s school of journalism and went to Europe with World War II combat troops as a correspondent for Yank, the Army magazine.
After the war, Davidson settled in Los Angeles to write for Collier’s, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal and other magazines.
His 1972 book about his war experiences was subtitled “Behind Enemy Lines in the Battle of the Bulge with Two Small Children, Ernest Hemingway and Other Assorted Misanthropes,” and described aiding two Jewish children who escaped from a concentration camp during the Battle of the Bulge.
Although the magazine Best Sellers commented that the book contained “so many unexpected and even fantastic happenings that one finds it hard to believe that Mr. Davidson did not make some of them up out of whole cloth,” it also advised: “Those who miss this ride will be most unfortunate.”
Davidson wrote a humorous personal book about his family’s attempt to buy a house, “The Crickets All Look Alike,” in 1962, and fictional works about crime. Among those was “Collura: Actor with a Gun” in 1977, which the late New York Times writer Alden Whitman termed “a crackling good book.”
Another was “Indict and Convict” about a district attorney who fatally shoots his wife and her lover when he finds them together in bed, and the resulting court trial. That 1971 book was made into an ABC movie starring George Grizzard, William Shatner, Myrna Loy, Eli Wallach and Harry Guardino.
In one of his occasional articles for The Times, Davidson wrote humorously on the show’s air date, Jan. 6, 1974, of the author’s woes waiting to see his book put on the small screen: “The normal gestation period of a movie-for-television is approximately that of a baboon--a little over six months from conception to public viewing. How would you like to sit through a TV-movie gestation period that combines those of an elephant (21 months), a beaver (4 months) and a chipmunk (1 month)? . . . The networks move in wondrous ways their miracles to perform.”
Davidson’s first wife, Muriel, a television executive who also wrote books and collaborated with him on a 1966-67 series of articles on organized crime for the Saturday Evening Post, was murdered in 1983. Robert Thom, whom she had counseled for alcoholism as a volunteer at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, was convicted and remains imprisoned for the slaying.
In addition to his daughter, Davidson is survived by his second wife, Maralynne; two sisters; one grandson and one great grandson.