Longtime Academy Exec Director Writing Comprehensive Book About Organization

Bruce Davis - 76th Academy Awards Poster Unveiled (2003) -P 2016
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When Bruce Davis stepped down from his post as executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 2011 following 30 years with the organization, he went straight to work.

But he’s managed to keep his new gig a secret until now. “I have been working on this pretty much since the day I retired,” Davis tells The Hollywood Reporter. That “this” is a book about his former employer, focused on the evolution of the organization since its formation on May 11, 1927. Davis is quick to caution that this is not a tell-all nor is it a snooze.

“I was pretty serious about Academy history as the executive director and thought I knew all that there was but — big surprise — there is all this important stuff about the Academy that I didn’t know,” Davis explains. “The Academy has been very helpful, but this won’t be an official Academy publication.” 

It will be personal.

Davis admits he will include personal anecdotes, working in some of his experience during his long tenure. “I’m not putting myself at the center of the narrative but having been there for 30 years, I have a perspective that not everyone would have. I’m trying to keep it light. I deliberately elected not to make it scholarly, but it will be accurate,” he says.

“Hybrid” is a word he also uses to describe the historical tome that travels from the beginning of the organization through the 1950s and the signing of the TV contract. “Then it becomes more issue-oriented, with details of the issues the organization has faced including diversity through the McCarthy and the Blacklist eras,” Davis relates. “What it’s not is an account of who won what award in what year. Bob Osborne does that and does it very well.”

Of diversity, Davis notes his research has included breakdowns of membership and how those numbers have evolved in regard to geography, ethnicity and race. Of the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Davis explains that “it’s interesting how short all of our memories are,” he offers. “These things are oddly cyclical.”

Davis notes that the Academy has been “very helpful” in his research and writing process, even offering him an office in the organization’s Hollywood outpost where he worked for approximately four days per week for the first three and a half years.

On Wednesdays, he would set up shop at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library when it was closed to work closely with librarians while researching the organization. “That was enjoyable,” Davis explains of his time inside the Herrick space. “And really great in trying to find out some obscure fact from 1982. They just buried me — I had no idea what kind of stuff we had.”

Six months ago, Davis moved his book project home, where he continues to work. “I’ve condensed everything into a bedroom and there are not quite so many stacks of paper,” he says.

Many first-time book scribes will be able to easily identify with Davis’ comments on what the experience has been like. “I was very naive. I thought it would be six months of research and six months of writing and here I am, still slogging away with probably a year to go still,” he laughs. “I had a lot of fun in my 30 years at the Academy, and I’m going to try to make this book fun to read as well."