Film and television actress Phyllis Davis was born on July 17, 1940, in Port Arthur, Texas, where she was raised by parents who ran a successful mortuary business. After attending Lamar University for a short stint, Davis drove out west and landed in Los Angeles to study at the Pasadena Playhouse in the mid-1960s.
Davis’ first appearance in film was the George Axelrod directed LORD LOVE A DUCK (1966). She then moved into several various TV and film roles, many uncredited. In 1970, she landed a role in Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970) where she played fashion editor Susan Lake, the estranged aunt of protagonist Kelly MacNamara (portrayed by BBandBC favorite Dolly Read). This film helped launch Davis’ career leading to a successful recurring role in the popular TV series Love, American Style (1970 – 1973).
In 1972, Davis took the lead role of Sugar Bowman in the Costa Rican produced women in prison film SWEET SUGAR (1972). In SWEET SUGAR, Davis portrays a headstrong prisoner wrongfully accused of drug possession. She’s sentenced to cut sugar cane for a two year term under strenuous conditions. She deals with a psychotic doctor who performs sexual experiments on the female inmates throughout the film. Davis’ role in SWEET SUGAR must have sparked inspiration for director Stephanie Rothman. The very next year Rothman cast Davis in a similar role in the film TERMINAL ISLAND (1973). In TERMINAL ISLAND, murderers and other criminals are dumped on a deserted island to fend for themselves against other convicts rather than being kept in a traditional prison.
From 1973 to 1978 Davis contributed supporting roles in numerous TV series. She made several appearances on the game show Match Game (1975 – 1981) alongside her acquaintance from BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS actress Dolly Read.
In 1978, Davis was cast as Beatrice Travis in the popular TV series Vega$ (1978 – 1981). Vega$ was shot on location, which must have been convenient for Davis since she lived in nearby Henderson, Nevada. The TV series was produced by Aaron Spelling and starred Robert Urich as private investigator Dan Tanna, working cases on the streets of Las Vegas. Beatrice Travis was Dan Tanna’s faithful assistant, a single mother, and former showgirl. Davis appeared in all 69 episodes of the series, giving her plenty of screen time and making her a household name for a short period. During the first season of the series, actress Dolly Read makes an appearance, continuing the BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS connection.
After Vega$ concluded its run in 1981, Davis went on to do numerous other TV shows but none of them put her in the spotlight like Vega$ did. These shows include 9 appearances as different characters on the original Fantasy Island (1979 – 1984), 4 appearances on The Love Boat (1979 – 1984), and 7 episodes of Magnum, P.I. (1985 – 1988) as recurring character Cleo Mitchell. According to the IMDB, her last credit was an extra in the Steven Seagal vehicle UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (1995) as Hostage #3.
On September 27, 2013 in Henderson, Nevada, she quietly passed away from cancer. Trade publications such as Variety and Hollywood Reporter never reported her death and her obituary omitted her career as an actress. Like many of the ladies we feature here in this space, she quietly disappeared and everyone around her just moved on, a situation that has this writer feeling a bit sad.
Here is an abridged list of Davis’ films and ones we recommend you visit.
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)
SWEET SUGAR (1972)
TERMINAL ISLAND (1973)
TRAIN RIDE TO HOLLYWOOD (1975)
THE WILD WOMEN OF CHASTITY GULCH (1982)
Do you have a favorite Phyllis Davis performance? If so, we’d love to hear what it is. Just drop us a comment below.
Contributed by: Mike Murphy