ROGER DAVIS
BIOGRAPHY


Roger as a student at Castle Heights Military Academy

THE EARLY YEARS...

Jon Roger Davis was born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 5 to Edwin and Virginia Davis.  Roger and brothers Edwin Jr. and Brent, enjoyed a privileged childhood, spending summer vacations at the family farm in Bowling Green, KY, where Roger had his own Shetland pony, a prize pig, along with hunting woods and a corn and tobacco field where he loved to play 'cowboy.'  Roger attended grade school in Louisville, where his acting abilities surfaced early.  At age 9, he played the Archbishop in Louisville's famed Children's Theater production of Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper."  Roger's high school years were spent in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he attended Castle Heights Military Academy. He was a star on the debating team (winning an eight-state debating championship, as well as the National Forensic League's top award.) Davis lettered in cross-country, track and swimming, and graduated the school's second-highest ranking cadet, and one of six cadets selected to graduate Cum Honore.  His name is permanently engraved in gold leaf on the wall of the academy's alumni association.  Thereafter, Davis was accepted into the Ivy League's Columbia University in New York City.

At Columbia, Roger majored in American and British literature and minored in the fine arts of architecture, and his acting ability got him leading roles in college theatrical productions, including the "Varsity" show (the Columbia players' major production, directed that year by Brian DePalma, a fellow classmate.)  "I love acting and architecture," Roger told Teen Life magazine in 1969.  While at Columbia, Roger studied acting under drama coach Michael Howard down in Greenwich Village, and later in Los Angeles with Curt Conway, Eric Morris and Lonnie Chapman.  His acting classmates included Jack Nicholson, Ellen Burstyn, and even Francis Ford Coppola.  "I think it's almost natural to go from an interest in literature to an interest in acting," he told Teen Life in 1970.  "When you understand character and motivation and plot, you can naturally move to wanting to create it yourself.  You can either write or interpret what others have written.  I chose to do the interpreting, which is acting."

Davis admits that he has always loved architecture and can easily spend every minute on a building project:  "Architecture has always been my delight--and the putting up and pulling down my favorite amusement."

At the insistence of his father, a racehorse owner who doubted Roger's choice of an acting career ("When are you going to give up this foolishness and do something legitimate?" his father would ask him,) Davis was accepted at both Columbia and Harvard law schools, but decided to instead pursue a teaching fellowship opportunity to instruct two classes of freshman English and a short novel course at UCLA, right after graduation.  He made the trip to California by bus with only $13 to his name.  He supported himself by pumping gas and waiting tables--occasionally clocking 90 hours a week working the graveyard shift.  While at UCLA, Davis worked on a master's degree in English (specifically 18th century literature) and wrote his thesis on Robert Frost.

But Roger never expected to start acting professionally so soon after college.  He credits viewing the 1962 film, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" with giving him the impetus to keep up that pursuit...and it wasn't long before an opportunity presented itself that changed the course of his life.  Roger explains:  "A girl in one of the English classes I taught was doing a scene out at Warner Bros.  She asked me if I would play the part of Bo in a scene from the play, 'Bus Stop.'  Now...she's 19 and I'm 21, (but) it was a big deal (to her) because I'm her teacher."  Davis obviously made a good impression on the show's noted director, Robert Altman, and its creator, Roy Huggins: Immediately after finishing graduate school, he was signed to Warner Bros. as a contract player for $850 a week.

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ROGER'S ACTING CAREER TAKES OFF...

Roger's professional acting debut came in 1962 on the Warner Bros. TV series, "The Gallant Men," shown on ABC. He played Private Roger Gibson in this World War II drama about the American campaign in Italy; it was initially directed by Roger's mentor at WB, Robert Altman.  "The Gallant Men" ran until mid-1963.  Meanwhile, Davis bought and redesigned and completed his first architectural renovation in 1962.  He gutted and rebuilt a California home in Benedict Canyon.

Next, Davis was asked to replace Ryan O'Neal in the retooled and shortened (30-minute) version of NBC-TV's first full-color show, the hour-long western series "Empire," which was renamed "Redigo."  He accepted and stayed with the series until its cancellation in 1964.  Roger had recently appeared in the movie, "PT109" in July, 1963, and in the cult-classic beach flick, "Ride the Wild Surf," starring Fabian, in August, 1964 (Roger first met actor Peter Duel at the movie's auditions; it was the first of many times their careers crossed paths.)  Davis also did guest leads on an episode of "The Twilight Zone" in February, 1964 and on "Bonanza" in November, 1966.

In 1965, Roger was newly signed to Screen Gems (the television division of Columbia Pictures,) where he rejected an offer to star on the upcoming TV program, "Love on a Rooftop," in favor of a TV series pilot based on the classic 1953 movie, "From Here to Eternity."  Screen Gems producer Jerry Davis tried to talk Davis out of the remake.  "He said to me, 'You're turning down a role that's perfect for you, that will make you a star...it will allow this gift for light humor that you have to come through, and you're going to go off and do the Montgomery Clift role in 'From Here to Eternity?'" Roger recalls.  "Jerry continued: 'You'll only be compared, and never favorably, because Montgomery Clift OWNS that role...you're making a big mistake.'  Well, he was right."  Peter Duel was cast instead in "Rooftop."

1966:  ROGER GETS SERIOUS...

After reading the D. H. Lawrence short story, "Things," Davis reevaluated his life, liquidated all his frivolous "things," and returned to New York in 1966 to pursue a serious acting career.  He immediately captured one of the two lead roles in the political satire "MacBird!" as the Bobby Kennedy-patterned character, Robert Ken O'Dunc, at a 'love for the art' salary of $100 per week.  "MacBird!" was a play that poked fun at the Lyndon Johnson/Robert Kennedy powerplay with a Shakespearean approach.  Davis co-starred with Stacy Keach and played before audiences first at the Charles Playhouse in Boston, and later in New York City (replacing departing actor William Devane, who had played the O'Dunc role there.)  The show ran a year off-Broadway.  Critics in Boston raved at Davis' performance:  "Remember the name Roger Davis," they wrote.  "It's one you're going to be hearing about for years to come.  This guy has talent."  Even Bobby Kennedy's wife Ethel attended one of the shows, and told her husband of Roger's wonderful performance...and, at Bobby's insistence, Roger met Mr. Kennedy after the show one evening.  "I hear you play me with a lot of love," he told Davis.  But tragedy struck just a few months later when Bobby was assassinated in LA, just as "MacBird!" was preparing for its Broadway debut.  The play was put on indefinite hold, and Roger began searching for his next role.

After the production ended, Roger was referred to his first voiceover job by someone familiar with his "MacBird!" character, who thought a Bobby Kennedy imitation would be the perfect way to sell Anacin.  Davis first voiced the spot with his well-honed, Kennedy-esque dialect, but the producers got cold feet over the prospect of being sued over such an impersonation.  They asked Roger to read it again in his own voice.  They were awed with his natural Henry Fonda-sounding vocals, and Roger's career as a voiceover professional took off thereafter.

"DARK SHADOWS," COMMERCIALS AND JACLYN SMITH...

1968 was a pivotal year for Roger; he signed with Universal Studios and was offered the romantic lead as lawyer Peter Bradford in ABC's afternoon gothic soap "Dark Shadows." Davis would go on to play eight different roles on "Dark Shadows" between January 11, 1968 and March 11, 1970, including Peter Bradford (1968-69, 1970,) Jeff Clark (1968-69,) Ghost of Peter Bradford (1968-69,) Ned Stuart (1969,) Dirk Wilkins (1969,) and Charles Delaware Tate (1969-70;) he appeared in 129 episodes and in the movie, "House of Dark Shadows."  "Getting a part on 'Dark Shadows' was one of the best things that ever happened to me," Roger told Teen Life magazine in 1970, "But I feel strongly that I can't rest on that alone.  I want to do more things."

Also, Roger met his future wife, Ellen "Jaclyn" Smith, on an elevator in New York City that July (they had both just gone on a commercial audition, and Roger, who kept his own car in the city, gave Ellen a ride back uptown to her parents' hotel, and was introduced to who would soon be his father- and mother-in-law.)  After two dates and a short courtship, Roger and Jaclyn were married at Bethany Methodist Church, in her hometown of Houston, on November 29, 1968.  Smith had just moved to NYC to pursue an education in ballet, and was about to take on her first modeling job when she met Davis.  Later, at Roger's suggestion, Jaclyn was to audition for the part of Victoria Winters (Roger's on-screen wife) on "Dark Shadows" when Alexandria Moltke departed the show because of pregnancy, but Jaclyn decided not to...and producers were not very excited anyway about the idea of Roger's character being married to his leading lady, both on AND off screen!  Jaclyn later became the popular "Breck Girl" in shampoo commercials, and on to "Charlie's Angels" in 1976.

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Roger, plugging Brut 33 cologne in the early 1970s:  "The thing today is to express your own self," he advised viewers, "Men don't have
to worry anymore if our hair is a little bit too long, or about putting something that smells good and feels good on your face...and body."
Watch the commercial here

Roger's career as a voiceover announcer was booming as well; he and Jaclyn appeared as announcer and actress in commercials for "Close-Up" toothpaste and for Dial soap in the early 1970s.  Davis earned a $250,000 salary in 1971 for his voice work, including spots for Canada Dry that netted him $100,000 alone!  (And a far cry from the $3 total he admitted to making for the year 1966.)  Roger appeared on-camera for Brut 33, and with actress Lauren Hutton on some Canada Dry ads as well.  He also did commercial voiceovers for McDonalds, American Express, Nationwide Insurance, Plymouth, Salem Cigarettes (as actor and announcer,) Norelco, Gold Medal Flour, Philco refrigerators, Dad's Root Beer, The Red Cross, Equitable Life Insurance, Heinz Ketchup, Mrs. Paul's Yams, Armour Star Bacon, Glad Bags, Kawasaki, Quiet World, and even Forest Lawn Cemeteries in Los Angeles!  Roger also wrote, directed and voiced commercial spots for his father's business, Modern Hi-Cap Tire Company, in Louisville (which he purchased the balance of 100% of the stock from his brothers upon his father's death; Roger continues to own it today.)  Davis was honored by both the New York Advertising Board and the National Board of Advertisers for his voiceover work.

Roger concurrently starred in two ABC-TV "Movie of the Week" presentations: "River of Gold" and "The Young Country" (with Peter Duel; producer Roy Huggins saw Roger on a Canada Dry spot and offered him the job; Davis left "Dark Shadows" for good to do "The Young Country.")  Both movies were pilots and not picked up as series.  Davis also did guest leads on "The Bold Ones," "The Most Deadly Game" (produced by Aaron Spelling,) and "The Big Valley" during this period, and starred in the 1969 movie, "Parachute to Paradise."  After "The Young Country," Roger was offered the lead role in the movie, "The Day of the Jackal," by "From Here to Eternity" director Fred Zinnemann in 1971, but Davis turned it down to take on a new western series, "Alias Smith and Jones."  Edward Fox ("Gandhi," "All the Queen's Men") got the lead in "Jackal" instead.  And, despite Roger's acting roles and voiceover assignments being based mostly in LA, he and Jaclyn chose to remain in New York and commuted to the West Coast when needed.  The couple kept homes in both places.

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TV Guide reports on the death of Pete Duel
and the hiring of Roger for Pete's role

ROGER BECOMES AN ON-SCREEN COWBOY...

By 1971, Roger had left "Dark Shadows" and made a pilot for Aaron Spelling Productions, entitled  "Alias Smith and Jones" (Davis had just worked for Spelling on an episode of "The Most Deadly Game.")  It featured Davis' friend and co-star from "The Young Country," Peter Duel.  (Some accounts say that Roger auditioned for Ben Murphy's role.)  Davis was instead hired as the show's narrator, and also guest-starred on an October, 1971 episode (where Roger's character has the distinction of being the only man killed by character Kid Curry in the course of the show!)

Peter Duel lived a troubled and depressed existence.  When he committed suicide early in the morning of December 31, 1971, Davis was tapped to replace Duel in the role of Hannibal Heyes/Joshua Smith (he was quickly chosen over actor George Peppard.)  Roger had just wrapped up a voice work project in Denver the morning Peter died, doing a marathon 48 radio spots, including 35 for the Ponderosa Steakhouse.  Davis was en route to nearby Aspen for some skiing when he was detained at the airport by officials sent to locate him.  He was hired for Duel's role by producer Roy Huggins over the phone, and returned immediately to California, where production on the show hastily resumed the day after Peter was buried!  Davis had to recreate Duel's scenes for the "Biggest Game in the West" episode that Duel had already partially filmed.  "They even gave me Pete's dressing room," Roger explains, "His clothes, his personal belongings, even his cigarettes were still in there."  The first day of filming was well documented as tense and somber for the cast and crew, and none were in any mood to tape a lighthearted program.  Films of Duel's performance in that episode were viewed over and over that day so Roger could duplicate Peter's actions...casting even more of a pall over the production.  And Davis confirms an long-standing suspicion by "Alias" fans that an existing clip of Duel remained in the episode:  "That's Pete...it's the back of Pete (as) he walks into a hotel."

While expecting apprehension from the show's stars and writers, Davis was eventually welcomed into the fold, and the show ran another year, until January, 1973.  ("Alias" was first up against NBC's popular "Flip Wilson Show" on Thursdays, then opposite the CBS powerhouse "All in the Family" on Saturdays during its last season, where it quickly faltered...Roger said, "Even my own parents watched 'All in the Family' first, then tuned in to the last hour of 'Smith and Jones!'")  The BBC took an interest in the show upon its cancellation, and discussed plans with Universal Studios to bring Roger and co-star Ben Murphy to Spain to film new episodes...but it never came to pass.

Davis's on-screen role on "Alias" was not without incident.  On two occasions while filming episodes for the 1972-73 season, Roger suffered injuries:  The first, when he took 19 stitches in his forehead when a light standard fell on him in July, 1972; and the following month, on August 15, when the cinch broke on the horse he was riding, causing Davis to fall to the ground and get trampled by the horse.

Also backburnered was a production Roger adapted for the screen entitled, "Between Dallas and Fort Worth There's a Town Called Arlington."

Davis concurrently guest starred on the TV shows "Medical Center," "Night Gallery" and again on "Bonanza" during his "Alias" run.

ROGER CONTINUES SECOND CAREER AS REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER AND RENOVATOR...

By 1973, Roger and Jaclyn had permanently relocated from New York City to Los Angeles.  Early in the year, he tested for and won the starring role in the "The Way We Were" (early on, he unwittingly suggested to the producers that Robert Redford would be his own choice for the role.  Unfortunately, they agreed.)  Davis, who had been periodically buying, remodeling and reselling houses in New York and LA since November, 1961, started an acquisition company, "Thoroughbred Properties," and began an intense effort of purchasing, developing and renovating several apartment complexes and homes in Beverly Hills (Roger counts composer John Williams and actors Bill Cosby and Barry Newman among his renters; one of Davis's complexes was bought from actor Arthur O'Connell, consummated while O'Connell was guesting on "Alias Smith and Jones" in May, 1972!)  One of the projects was a 40-unit apartment complex in the Hancock Park district of L.A.  Jaclyn learned about the construction industry from Roger, and, as a hobby, began buying, refurbishing and reselling houses herself in LA.

In 1973-74, Davis was hitting the big and small screens once again, appearing in "The Killer Bees" and narrating "This is the West That Was," along with guest roles in the NBC shows "Faraday and Company," "Ironside," "McCloud" and the premiere episode of "The Rockford Files."  His voice work continued with radio spots for Gabbert's Furniture, Albertsons and Dad's Root Beer, among many others.


Roger and Tricia Sembera in a publicity
photo for "Flash and the Firecat"

ROGER SIDELINED BY NEAR-FATAL ILLNESS...

1975-76 brought starring roles for Roger in the theatrical releases "Nashville Girl" and "Flash and the Firecat" (which also featured his younger brother, Brent,) but was stopped abruptly by a major health dilemma:  On December 10, 1975, Davis nearly died from an undiagnosed ruptured appendix.  He had just completed the pilot of "The Bionic Woman" as the romantic interest of Lindsay Wagner, whom he knew from actor James Best's acting class in the mid-1960s (Best was later the "Dukes of Hazzard" sheriff.)  After five months in the hospital and surviving seven operations for peritonitis, the usually strapping and healthy Roger weighed a mere 91 lbs.

While recuperating at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel after his release from the hospital, Roger met with noted horror movie director Curtis Harrington.  It was Harrington who had directed Davis in 1974's "The Killer Bees;" he asked Roger to star in the thriller movie "Ruby," with Piper Laurie and Stuart Whitman.  Roger joined the cast in October, 1976.


Roger appears with Lynda Carter in "Wonder Woman"

THE SHOW MUST GO ON:  TV, MOVIES AND A DIVORCE...

With his health problems resolved by mid-1977, Roger took on "Ruby" and continued his acting career with the NBC-TV miniseries, "Aspen," in the fall.  He also did lead guest roles on "Wonder Woman," "Quincy M.E." and "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries."  Despite his on-screen success, Roger's marriage was failing.  A two-year separation was followed by a divorce from Jaclyn in January, 1978.  Roger said, "The root of our problem was simply (that) we were separated for long periods of time on different projects, and I was too immature to realize how much Ellen (Jaclyn) was my soulmate."  Jaclyn blamed herself: "I was too much an innocent.  I was too much living [just] for him, and I lost sight of myself."  They had no children together.  By then, Jaclyn was enjoying tremendous success as one of  "Charlie's Angels."  She was briefly married to actor Dennis Cole thereafter (whom she met during his 1977 guest appearance on "Angels,") then to cinematographer Tony Richmond from 1981-89, and to Dr. Bradley Allen from 1997 to present.

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Undaunted, Davis was on the small screen again by March, 1979, touting the new Chevrolet Citation in an advertising blitz to introduce the "First Chevy of the 80s" (see one of the commercials here.)  He also guest starred on the short-lived sequel to "Battlestar: Galactica" entitled, "Galactica 1980."


Roger stands in the lobby of the Seelbach

GOING HOME: THE SEELBACH, MARRIAGE AND FATHERHOOD...

Roger left Beverly Hills in late 1978 to return to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.  Earlier that year, he began buying up restorable properties in town, and moved back to Kentucky to oversee his projects on a fulltime basis.  He expressed his affection for 18th century architecture by designing and building the 20-story Georgian-style luxury condominium building known as "1400 Willow."  It is a four-acre site in Louisville's prime historic district overlooking Cherokee Park (a park created by Frederick Law Olmstead, who is best known for designing Central Park in New York City.)  The building was completed in 1980.

Davis and a business partner also purchased the ritzy, yet alledgedly haunted Seelbach Hotel in town.  It is located on the "100% Corner" of the city, and is lovingly referred to in F. Scott Fitzgerald's book, "The Great Gatsby."  The Seelbach is a 1905 structure that Roger gutted, completely restored, redesigned and reopened in 1982 (it had been closed since 1975.)  Unfortunately, he lost over $30 million on the investments (although a CNN report estimated the loss at $7 million, city records confirm that Roger spent $26 million on the Seelbach restoration and over $20 million on 1400 Willow; Roger's credo is, "When it comes down to making a decision based on doing it well, or based on dollars, I will always opt for doing it well.")  Undaunted by the costs, Davis persevered and completed both projects.  Roger opened the Seelbach's doors to "Dark Shadows" fans in 1987 and 1988 to host the "Dark Shadows Fellowship Fair," and later sold the property to the Hilton chain (the hotel was featured prominently in the 1999 film, "The Insider," starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.)

Roger also renovated buildings in the Highlands area of Louisville, as well as the city's ritzy Commodore and Dartmouth-Willow Terrace luxury high-rise apartments.  A Louisville historian, R. C. Reible, said of Davis, "He's really an architectural historian with a reverence for preservation; he has been able to use this knowledge and desire to create new concepts from the past, with an eye to the future."

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Roger's beautiful daughter Meg Davis appears in an April, 2006 episode of David Spade's "Showbiz Show" on Comedy Central

Davis bought and took residence in the 18th century, Federal-style mansion and sprawling property known as "Spring Station" (Louisville's oldest home.)  On May 19, 1979, he married Suzanne Irwin, philanthropist and part of a pioneering Ohio family.  In 1981, Suzanne and Roger became first-time parents to a daughter, Meg ("She's a cross between Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn," Roger proudly says today, "She's really something!")  Meg moved to southern California later and graduated from USC; she is now a budding entrepreneur.

But a long-term marriage was not in the cards for Davis this time; he and Suzanne were divorced on March 8, 1983.  On June 15, 1985, Roger married Louisville realtor Alice LeGette; they divorced on June 7, 1988.

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(L) Label from Roger's line of clothing, (R) One of several cutting-edge homes in Roger's Hollywood Hills development

BACK TO HOLLYWOOD:  ACTING, APPAREL, AND CARVING HILLS INTO HOMESITES...

Despite being consumed with his architectural projects, Roger found time to appear in a theatrical movie, "The Act," in 1982.  He was back on TV again in the late 1980s, appearing in a January, 1988, episode of "The Highwayman" and in a May, 1989, episode of "Matlock," where he was murdered in the first 10 minutes of the show!  He also acted in the 1989 TV movie/pilot, "Chameleons," which was not picked up as a series.

Also in 1989, with both of his (Kentucky-based) parents recently deceased and with new opportunities calling, Davis relocated once again to Los Angeles and began re-creating business as a real estate developer and designer.  That same year, he also opened an apparel manufacturing business, "Packing Crate Classics," in Santa Monica, CA.  Roger's shirts and accessories were sold at J.C. Penney and other upscale retailers.  One series of shirts called "Baseball Forever" even made the cover of Time Magazine once, worn by Senator John Kerry!

Roger's latest real estate project took him to the Hollywood Hills, where he developed land and, along with cutting-edge architect Angelo Caciola, designed bold, contemporary homes worth over $5 million each!  "I credit Angelo for his spectacular work," Roger recently said, "And for the fact that he was open to me designing the finishes and details that make a big project like this very special."  See Roger's feature article in a 2008 edition of The Robb Report here.

Davis's final marriage was to Los Angeles attorney Donna Jenis.  They met in 1990 at the World Trade Center in Boston, while Roger was visiting the east coast on business.  After a long-distance courtship of nearly two years--Roger in LA, Donna in Boston--the two married in November, 1991.  But Roger's celebrity status was unknown to Donna when they met.  Davis said, "She watched 'Dark Shadows' as a child, but didn't remember me in the show...only the vampires!"  Their relationship ended in 2017.

NEVER FAR FROM THE BIG SCREEN...

Roger's most recent acting roles were in the 1997 TV series, "Night Man," and the independent theatrical movie, "Beyond the Pale" (shot in the US and Ireland, it won the Houston Worldfest 2000 Film Festival's bronze award for independent productions, and was a finalist in Arizona's 2000 Saguara Film Festival International.)  In November, 1999, Davis appeared on the E! cable network's "Mysteries and Scandals: Peter Duel" documentary, and in 2004, he was interviewed for the "Beyond the Pale: A Look Back" retrospective.  Roger was involved in the production end of the industry as well, as a partner with producer Tony Eldridge in Lonetree Entertainment, a movie production company based in Malibu, CA.  They brought the 1980s TV series, "The Equalizer," to the big screen in 2014, starring Denzel Washington.  Other feature movies once in the works include "Just Desserts," "The War Magician" (to star Tom Cruise) and "The Naked Truth," to have starred the late Leslie Nielsen.

Most recently, Davis lent his voice to two audio productions based on newly-written scripts of "Dark Shadows" in 2011.
 
 

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(L) Roger Davis, in recent years.  (C) Roger as a finalist in the Ride-and-Shoot competition at the 2007 National Festival of the West in Phoenix (photos courtesy of Renelle.)
(R) Lobby of Roger's Seelbach Hotel, upon reopening in 1982

KUDOS FOR A JOB WELL DONE...

A recent front-page article in Louisville, KY's Pulitzer Prize-winning Courier-Journal applauded Davis for having created properties (the venerable 1400 Willow and the classic Seelbach Hotel) that the succeeding 20 years have proved out as the state's most prestigious.  The article was headlined that today, "Recovered from Losses, Davis Pursues His Muse."  Still movie star good-looking and youthfully exuberant, Roger continues to create new projects that may, in retrospect, prove legendary.


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