The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Willie D. Davis

Broadcast executive and football player Willie D. Davis was born on July 24, 1934, in Lisbon, Louisiana to Nodie Bell and David Davis. Recruited to Grambling College (now Grambling State University) by football coach Eddie Robinson, Davis captained the football team and was a student on the dean’s list for two years. In 1956, he graduated from Grambling with his B.S. degree in math and industrial arts.

Davis was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the seventeenth round of the 1956 National Football League Draft. However, that same year, Davis was also drafted into the U.S. Army and was unable to begin his NFL career until 1958. After two years with the Browns, Davis was traded to the Green Bay Packers. For ten seasons, Davis played 138 consecutive regular season games and was a member of all five of Vince Lombardi’s NFL title-winning teams, playing in Super Bowls I and II. In his career with the Green Bay Packers, Davis recovered twenty-one fumbles, setting a team record, never missing any of the 162 games in his twelve-year tenure. Davis was awarded the Associated Press’ All-Pro honors in 1962 and from 1964 to 1967. During the last two years of his football career, Davis studied at the University of Chicago, earning his M.B.A degree in 1968. The following year, the Packers honored Davis’ retirement with Willie Davis Day. That same year, Davis purchased the West Coast Beverage Company and served as its president for eighteen years, while also working as a color commentator on the NFL telecasts for NBC in the early 1970s. Since 1976, Davis has been the president and chief executive officer of All Pro Broadcasting, Inc., a Los Angeles broadcasting company which owns radio stations in the Midwest and Southern California. In 1981, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Davis served as the director of the 1984 Olympics Committee in Los Angeles in 1984. That same year, President Reagan appointed him to the President’s Commission on the Executive Exchange.

Davis has served on the boards of the Sara Lee Corporation, the National Association of Broadcasters, Dow Chemical Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Johnson Controls, MGM Mirage, Manpower, Fidelity National Financial, Wisconsin Energy, Strong Management Fund, Mattel Toys, Schlitz Brewing Company, Fireman’s Fund Insurance, Bassett Furniture, Alliance Bank, the Green Bay Packers, the Kauffman Foundation, Occidental College and K-Mart. Davis is also an Emeritus Trustee for the University of Chicago and a Trustee at Marquette University. In 2001, Davis co-chaired and founded the Vince Lombardi Titletown Legends, a charitable organization created to assist various charities throughout Wisconsin. Davis was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year, was ranked 69th on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players and was given the Career Achievement Award from the NFL Alumni. Davis and his wife Ann have a son, Duane, and a daughter, Lori.

Willie D. Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 9, 2007.

Davis passed away on April 15, 2020.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Middle Name



Washington High School

Grambling State University

University of Chicago

Search Occupation Category
First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

U.S. Virgin Islands

Favorite Quote

Early Start Beats Fast Running.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Favorite Food

Steak, Collard Greens

Death Date


Short Description

Broadcast executive, football player, and entrepreneur Willie D. Davis (1934 - 2020) played for the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, winning Super Bowls I and II. In 1981, Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was also the president and chief executive officer of All Pro Broadcasting, Inc.


All Pro Broadcasting

West Coast Beverage Company


Green Bay Packers (Football team)

Cleveland Browns (Football team : 1946-1995)

United States Army

Favorite Color

Blue, Green

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Willie D. Davis' interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willie D. Davis lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willie D. Davis describes his mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willie D. Davis remembers his mother's religious involvement and career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willie D. Davis recalls his decision to play football</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willie D. Davis describes his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis recalls his relationship with his father as an adult</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis remembers his maternal grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis describes his paternal grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis recalls his early childhood in Lisbon, Louisiana</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis describes his earliest memories of Texarkana, Arkansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis recalls his family life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis remembers his community in Texarkana, Arkansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willie D. Davis describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis describes his elementary school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis recalls his personality in elementary school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis talks about his early aspirations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis describes the role of religion in his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis remembers his junior high school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis recalls teachers and friends at Booker T. Washington High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis describes his high school activities and aspirations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willie D. Davis recalls the football team at Booker T. Washington High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis describes his decision to attend Grambling College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis recalls meeting Coach Eddie Robinson</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis talks about his hesitation to attend Grambling College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis shares his first impressions of the Grambling football team</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis recalls his attempt to leave Grambling College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis remembers his college girlfriend</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willie D. Davis recalls becoming comfortable at Grambling College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis recalls a memorable football game at Grambling College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis talks about being drafted by the Cleveland Browns</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis remembers his service in the U.S. Army</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis recalls playing for the Cleveland Browns</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis remembers being traded to the Green Bay Packers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis describes his offseason job as a substitute teacher</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willie D. Davis recalls playing for the Green Bay Packers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis recalls winning NFL championships with the Green Bay Packers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis remembers earning his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis talks about why he pursued his M.B.A. degree</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis recalls working in the beverage industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis remembers his service on corporate boards</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis talks about his work in the television and radio industries</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Willie D. Davis describes how he would like to be remembered</a>







Willie D. Davis recalls a memorable football game at Grambling College
Willie D. Davis recalls winning NFL championships with the Green Bay Packers
Okay, Mr. Davis [HistoryMaker Willie D. Davis], the year is about 1956 now. You're getting ready to graduate from Grambling [Grambling College; Grambling State University, Grambling, Louisiana], and there are offers coming around now.$$After one of the greatest games we probably ever played, we were crowned the mythical like champions of the country. We beat Florida A&M [Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida] in what they call the Hollywood Bowl [sic. Orange Blossom Classic] or something down in Florida. I never will forget this as long as I live. The paper in Florida had the next day Paul Brown, the everything coach of the Cleveland Browns, came to Florida to see--or was in Florida and he came to see the game. It said he came to see Willie Galimore and a guy by the name of Adolphus Frazier [Al Frazier], and he went away talking about Willie Davis and Ed Murray [Edward Murray], which was my teammate at Grambling. I guess I had credit for about twenty-seven tackles that night and, you know, just one of those crazy nights where everything worked for me. And probably was really my entree into the National Football League [NFL].$$So, did you flash back over your career at Grambling that night? Did everything flash over for you?$$(Laughter) I, yeah, I--well, what had been interesting is we stopped on the way down to Florida, and their running back, Adolphus Frazier, said, "Well, hey you guys." We ate dinner on campus and he said, "Well, you guys, you better touch me now because you won't see me in the game." You know, I'm always up for a challenge. And when he said--what I remember from that game probably will stick with me for as long as I--what I remember about that game. I hit Frazier and knocked him out of his shoes, up out of his shoes. And I looked at him and said, "Well, is this you?" (Laughter) It was a night. Murray ran for about three or four touchdowns and it was our great moment. It's so interesting because as I've said to many people today, I have been very fortunate to play on teams that won the championship at every level I ever played, and the other one that I was either captain or defensive captain of every team, including the Green Bay Packers.$$Since junior high school?$$Since junior high. I say it all the time, not to brag, but I say it as an example of leadership that I think I have been blessed with all my life. Through every year in football and through today in dealing with the corporate world.$Okay, so you're in Green Bay [Wisconsin] now under the great Vince Lombardi. You're there, now can you give us some highlights or, maybe first of all, anecdotes of Vince Lombardi. Anything that he did or said that really shaped you into your maturity as a player and a person?$$There are so many Lombardi quotes, starting with, "How you play this game is a reflection of how you'll live the rest of your life." Something that resonates with me almost every day now in business. And I think Coach Lombardi said this was the example that we had to somehow live through. And, I tell you, that one in particular because he indeed hit something when he said the way you play this game is the way you'll live the rest of your life in some ways. But the Green Bay Packer [Green Bay Packers] situation was just a great experience to me. Today there're eight players off of that team that's in the Hall of Fame [Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio], and with Lombardi, nine people.$$Can you name some of those, including yourself?$$Well, it's Jimmy Taylor [Jim Taylor], Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo, Herb Adderley, Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke and Henry Jordan and--$$--and Willie Davis [HistoryMaker Willie D. Davis].$$Yes, and Willie Davis. One of the proudest moments of my life. Never will forget it. I'm in Canton, Ohio and I'm standing up there being introduced by Coach Eddie Robinson. The situation was emotional, and I look out at my mother [Nodie Allen Archie]. It was the last event, big event she saw in my life. And I'm thinking and I remember I looked out and I said, "Mom, this is a long way from Texarkana, and no one ever assured us that we were on the right road, but today (laughter) it was the right road." And at that, she blew up. And you're up there and they've already taken bets on whether you can get through it without breaking down. And I said, when I saw that, I said, "Aw, they got me."$$That's beautiful.$$But it was absolute one of the greatest moments in my life. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a personal achievement but what I resonate well with is the six championship games we played at Green Bay, and we were five times world champions, including the last team that win three consecutive championships. All of those things to me, I look at now and say, you know, and the thought that somehow in your mind the first thing Green Bay was gonna be was your downfall. So, you never know in life, and I said, the best thing I've ever done in my life is to try to make the best out of every situation where you have an opportunity. Because you never know.

Reuben Cannon

Producer and casting director Reuben Cannon was born on February 11, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in the Harold I. Ickes housing projects and attended Southeast City College.

Wanting to move into the entertainment industry, Cannon decided to try his luck in California. Dogged in his pursuit, Cannon went to film studios daily looking for work. After months of doing this, his perseverance paid off and Cannon was offered a job in the mailroom of Universal Studios on New Years Eve. Unbeknownst to him, the mailroom was the studio's executive training program, and thus a successful entertainment career began.

Cannon worked at Universal Studios from 1970 to 1978, eventually becoming a casting director. From 1977-1978, he served as Head of Television Casting for Warner Brothers. In 1978, he began his own casting agency, Reuben Cannon & Associates. As a casting director Cannon has been credited with launching the careers of many stars, including Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Bruce Willis, Michael J. Fox, and Whoopi Goldberg. His casting credits include: "Promised Land", "Touched by an Angel", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", "Desperado", "What's Love got To Do With It?", "The Color Purple", "Village of the Damned", "The Josephine Baker Story", "Moonlighting", and many others.

Cannon then moved into the realm of producing film and television in the 1980s. As a producer Cannon has made it a point to make movies about African Americans that are also financed by African Americans. His television producing credits include: "The Women of Brewster Place", "Amen", and many others. He has also produced his own films, including "Down on the Delta", "Get on the Bus", and "Dancing in September". Cannon has also worked as a producer on most of Tyler Perry's television shows and movies.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

Douglas Elementary School

Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School

Daniel Hale Elementary

Southeast City College

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Anything is possible.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food

Beans, Rice

Short Description

Film casting director, television producer, and film producer Reuben Cannon (1946 - ) produced the films Down in the Delta and Get on the Bus.


Universal Studios

Warner Brothers

Reuben Cannon & Associates

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Reuben Cannon interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon remembers his mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon meets his father, Reuben Cannon, Sr.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon, Jr. witnesses his father's death</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon befriends Warren Dur, a Chinese classmate</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon learns an important lesson in multiculturalism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon discusses the Harold Ickes Housing Project, Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Reuben Cannon challenges his grandmother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon continues to battle his grandmother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon discusses his adventurous adolescence</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon remembers the smells and sounds of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon reveals his singing talents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon finds a pair of male mentors</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon becomes a teenage father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Reuben Cannon pursues the married life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon finds the inspiration to leave Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon navigates the Universal Studios mailroom</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon begins a career in the entertainment industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon becomes an influential Hollywood casting director</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon discusses his casting philosophies</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon reveals his entrepreneurial spirit</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Reuben Cannon befriends Alex Haley in the casting of 'Roots II: The Next Generation'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon characterizes Redd Foxx</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon goes independent with Reuben Cannon & Associates</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon takes interest in 'The Color Purple'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon casts Oprah Winfrey in 'The Color Purple'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon discusses the legal side of the entertainment industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon discusses his experience with 'The Women of Brewster Place'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon embarks on a producing career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon discusses 'Down in the Delta' and 'Get on the Bus'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Reuben Cannon considers diversity in Hollywood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Reuben Cannon considers his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Reuben Cannon names inspiring public figures</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Reuben Cannon imagines his father's and grandmother's reactions to his success</a>







Reuben Cannon begins a career in the entertainment industry
Reuben Cannon discusses 'Down in the Delta' and 'Get on the Bus'
A position became available in the casting department [of Universal Studios, Los Angeles, California], to be a trainee in the casting--to be a casting director--to become a trainee. I was interviewed by a man named Ralph Winters. And whenever you interview for a position at the studio, three mail boys go up, you know. They interview three of you. And you're supposed to bring in three references. People who can speak to--speak to your character. The competition was Jay Heifetz. His father was a legend. So he had lots of letters of reference. John David, you know, his father was, you know, married to Angie Dickinson, and just, and you know--. Burt Bacharach was married to Angie Dickinson. So he had letters from Angie Dickinson. And I decided to go in on the strength of my character. 'Cause who am I gonna take? Hawk [homeless man/mentor from Chicago, Illinois]. To have a letter from Hawk, you know? A letter from Robert Lee and, you know, and people I grew--you know. Rather than--I didn't know anyone here. I'd been here, at that point, not even six months, seven months. Po' Bill [former steel mill co-worker, Chicago, Illinois] could speak about my character. But I had--if it was about casting, if it was about actors--. I'd been around actors. I knew more about theater than these guys and I decided to go on the strength of that. So I sat in front of Ralph Winters who was the head of casting for Universal Studios. And he said, "I've seen you deliver mail here 'cause you're in this department. And, you know, everyone in this department likes you. And you're a very impressive young man." He said, "Do you know your date of birth." I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you know what time you were born?" And it so happened I had my--'cause I didn't have a California driver's license. I had my birth certificate shipped out and I had it miniaturized. So I said, "No, but I have my, you know--" And I took out my date of birth, he started drawing these circles. He was into astrology. And he said, "Oh, you're an Aquarian." I said, "Yeah." And he says--then he looked and says, "Why aren't you in a monastery?" And I said, "'Cause I have--you know, I believe my ministry will be here in entertainment." He says, "You know, if I had career ambitions, I would have to hire one of the other two boys. But for the first time in my career, I'm gonna do what's fair and what's right. I'm gonna retire in three years so I can afford to do what's fair and what's right. I'm gonna hire you." And he hired me. I became the first black casting director trainee in the history of Hollywood [motion picture industry] and went from being an assistant to then his secretary, then ultimately became--I became a casting director. And stayed at Universal for seven years. And was offered to be head of casting for Warner Brothers. I went over to Warner Bros. [Studios] I did 'Roots II' ('The Next Generation'). And being--but once again, I'm from Chicago [Illinois], so after nine years of working two different studios and having a reputation in town as being a very good casting director--. By the way, also--the, you know--. So being the first, I got tired of being referred to the first, so I brought in the second, my secretary. When I went to Warner Brothers I brought in Eileen Knight who became the second black casting director. And there is now maybe eight. And seven have come through my office.$Now you--what--talk about the two other times then.$$The other situation was--so 'Down in'--'Get on the Bus' was the first film I produced. The second was 'Down in the Delta'. And that was a script that had been around for three years. A prize-winning script, it had been sitting on the shelf. But movies are made because they're very often talent-driven. You have to attach some element to--property to get the studios interested. And because of the way Hollywood is structured, there isn't a black actress today or wasn't at that time that could get this movie green lit. But there are other ways to generate heat around properties, I believe. So when the script was brought to me, I sent it to my friend Maya Angelou. And Maya read it, liked it, and said she would direct it. So now we had a world-class storyteller, you know. And if filmmaking is eighty percent writing and casting, I'm comfortable--we had a good script. I'm comfortable with the cast. It turns out Maya is a film student. I mean she's a graduate of the Swedish Film Academy and has directed documentaries. And we didn't know this 'til we all flew down. We met with her and she agreed to direct it. And with that, Wesley [Snipes] came on board with his company and Alfre [Woodard] . And the movie was financed by Showtime. And then we sold it to Miramax. So we had within a window. So it was a unique arrangement, whereby we had sixty days from the time we finished the movie to find a theatrical distributor. And Miramax came on board and took it out theatrically. And it didn't do great at the box office. But it's doing great in video.$$Now the other incident.$$The other film was a--Reggie Bythewood, who wrote 'Get on the Bus,' wrote a wonderful movie called 'Dancing in September.' And once again there Reggie came in with the initial funding, with the first $300,000 and a wonderful script. And when people come to me with--who are willing to bet on themselves. I mean, you have to--you know. And the script was so well written that I took on like an impossible task to produce the movie and raise the rest of the money. And we knew it would be about a million dollars to finish--to make this movie. And we--so that was like Labor Day I got the script. And we started shooting in October. And I just called on friends again. I called on Danny Glover and Robert--Donna and Robert Guillaume, Abe Thompson. Friends I didn't even know--people I knew, who had--you know, who knew of me. And we made a wonderful movie. And we sold that movie to HBO [Home Box Office] for double the price. And once again gave the investors back their initial investment plus twenty-three percent interest and profit within the first thirteen months. And I'm using that model over and over. Because what it does is, it empowers you. You don't have to wait. You know, you have a script, you know. And you have a creative team now. And I say to producers, I mean I say to writers and directors, "Look, I'm not a studio yet. But if you wanna come and make a movie and execute the vision that you originally conceived, this is the place. We may have creative differences. But we won't have any cultural differences." Which very often was at the heart of the studio process. And so the next film where--I'm doing is with Gary Hardwick who wrote and directed '[The] Brothers.' We'll do it--we're using the same model as 'Get on the Bus' and 'Dancing in September.' And I'll continue doing these one-offs. The ultimate dream is to not just do one-offs, but to create a film fund to be able to do multiple films and create a consistent flow of films, that's independently financed. And--that are made without compromise.$$You know, that's really a fascinating sort of model there.