Bill C. Davis, 'Mass Appeal' Playwright and Screenwriter, Dies at 69

MASS APPEAL, Jack Lemmon, 1984
Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Jack Lemmon starred in the movie version of 'Mass Appeal,' written by Bill C. Davis.

He adapted his Broadway drama into a 1984 movie that starred Jack Lemmon.

Bill C. Davis, who wrote the Broadway two-hander Mass Appeal, then adapted the drama for the film version that starred Jack Lemmon, died Friday in Torrington, Connecticut, after a brief illness, a publicist announced. He was 69.

Mass Appeal, directed by Geraldine Fitzgerald, played at the Manhattan Theatre Club before moving to the Booth Theater on Broadway in 1981. Starring Milo O'Shea as Father Tim Farley and Caddyshack's Michael O'Keefe as young seminarian Mark Dolson, it ran for more than 200 performances through May 1982.

"By letting his characters grow and change, Mr. Davis has written a play that lives up to the promise of its title — a tender comedy about the meaning and power of both secular and religious love," Frank Rich wrote in his New York Times review.

Davis then adapted his work into the screenplay for a 1984 film version at Universal that starred Lemmon as Farley and Zeljko Ivanek as Dolson.

Davis returned to Broadway in 1985 with Dancing in the End Zone, starring Laurence Luckinbill and Pat Carroll, but that lasted just 28 performances. He also wrote and directed the 2018 films Household Accounts and Avow.

His other works included Wrestlers, Spine, Coming2Terms, All Hallowed, Jeremiah Rules, ExpatriateAustin's Bridge, Concierge, The Human Cocktail, Open for Me, The Sex King, SIP, Spine, Village Rites and Visiting Day.

Born on Aug. 24, 1951, in Ellenville, New York, Davis was raised in the Hudson Valley and graduated from Marist College. After school, he worked at Rhinebeck Country Village, a residential community for developmentally challenged and emotionally disturbed adults. He wrote Mass Appeal while working and living at Rhinebeck.

A recipient of an Outer Critics Circle Award and a National Board of Review citation, Davis was a playwright in residence at the Manhattan Theater Club and Brooklyn College and a playwright mentor at Carnegie Mellon.

Survivors include his siblings, Warren Davis and Patricia, and nephews Bryan, Jeremy and Warren.