The world of classic comedy lost another legendary contributor this week with the passing of writer Madelyn Pugh Davis.
At a time when there were few women writing in Hollywood (and even fewer writing for comedy), Davis took advantage of the dearth of male writers in the midst of World War II and carved a place for herself, first in radio and then in television. She was jokingly referred to as “the girl writer” on many of her projects, where she was generally the only woman in the writing room. The title was even emblazoned on her chair on the I Love Lucy set in later years.
Along with writing partner Bob Carroll, Jr. and show producer/writer Jess Oppenheimer, Pugh helped adapt Lucille Ball’s popular late 1940s radio show, My Favorite Husband, into the landmark sitcom I Love Lucy. Davis went on to write episodes for every incarnation of Lucille Ball’s television career–from I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in the 1950s, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy in the 1960s and 70s, and Ball’s truncated final series, Life With Lucy, in the 1980s. Over the years, Davis received three Emmy nominations for her work on I Love Lucy, though she never won.
Throughout her career, Ball lauded her team of writers (which later included Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf, after Oppenheimer left the show after the fourth season), crediting them with creating the “Lucy” persona that became such a beloved icon of pop culture. Davis in particular was credited with smoothing out the edges of the “Lucy” character, ensuring that her on-screen antics came across as more endearing than potentially abrasive.
Throughout her decades-long career, Davis also wrote episodes for other series including Alice (which she also produced), Sanford and Son, and The Mothers-in-Law (which she also co-created), among others. All told, Davis wrote over 400 hours of episodic television with longtime partner and friend Carroll. Additionally, she was given a story credit (along with Carroll) for Ball’s 1968 big-screen film Yours, Mine and Ours, though the pair’s script was later revised heavily by other writers.
Davis retired after the cancellation of Life with Lucy in 1986. In 2005, she published her memoirs, Laughing with Lucy, again in conjunction with Carroll. Less than two years later, in 2007, Bob Carroll died, sadly bringing their fifty-year professional partnership to a close.
Davis passed away on Wednesday at the age of 90 at her home in California. She leaves behind a legacy of hilarity that helped pave the way for other female writers in Hollywood and continues to influence comedians even today.