Sweet Phyllis – Remembering Phyllis Davis (1940 – 2013)

Posted in Remember by - June 17, 2018
Sweet Phyllis – Remembering Phyllis Davis (1940 – 2013)

With a smile as big as her personality, beautiful Phyllis Davis was one of those Seventies starlets who appeared regularly on screen for nearly 30 years. Though more familiar on television than in film, she nethertheless starred in some pretty good cult movies and a couple of very popular exploitation pieces.

Born Phyllis Ann Davis, in Texas on July 17th 1940, the former airline stewardess got her cinematic break with bit parts in the bizarre but funny ‘Lord Love a Duck’ and the Elvis Presley vehicle ‘Spinout’ (both ’66). After minor roles in another Presley flick ‘Live a Little, Love a Little’ (’68) and the Ryan O’Neal dud ‘The Big Bounce’ (’69), Davis landed the role of Dolly Read’s glamorous aunt, in Russ Meyer’s cult favourite ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ (’70). It would be two years later however that Davis would land the role that she would become best remembered for. Playing the title role in 1972’s ‘Sweet Sugar’, Davis displayed her ample charm (and more!) in what remains one of the Women-in-prison genre’s best productions. In it, Phyllis played Sugar, a prostitute with a heart of gold who is wrongly condemned to a chain gang on a prison plantation. Yes, it’s the same tried and tested story of a group of glamorous girls eventually staging a breakout, and includes the usual shower scenes, torture and lesbianism. But, with the mass appeal of Davis in the lead role, it remains one of my favourite cult movies. Oh, and who can forget the infamous moment when Sugar and her cellmates are attacked by feral cats tossed at them by the prison guards?!

The following year, Phyllis starred as another put-upon prisoner, this time dumped on an island rather than in jail, in Stephanie Rothman’s pretty good exploiter ‘Terminal Island’. Though not as entertaining as ‘Sweet Sugar’, it moves along nicely and was another good showcase for Davis’s likable persona. Today though, it maybe more notable for having early roles for Tom Selleck (minus moustache) and his ‘Magnum’ co-star Roger E. Mosely.

After a small bit in Mike Nichols’ ‘The Day of the Dolphin’ (’73) Davis did a very good impersonation of Scarlett O’Hara in the cult musical-comedy ‘Train Ride to Hollywood’ (’75). Made as a showcase for the Blues band Bloodstone, it featured an array of actors portraying various stars of the Golden Screen, including the brilliant Jay Lawrence as Clark Gable, and the wonderful Roberta Collins as Jean Harlow.

With decent movie parts scarce, Phyllis was lucky in 1978 to land the part of Robert Urich’s secretary Beatrice Travis, in Michael Mann’s crime series ‘Vega$’ (’78-81), while also finding time to have recurring roles in two other popular series; ‘The Love Boat’ and ‘Fantasy Island’. Later, she would also appear with her ‘Terminal Island’ co-star Tom Selleck, in the massive hit series ‘Magnum, P.I’ (’85-88).

After a couple of Phyllis retired from the screen in 1995, after blink and you’ll miss them parts in the sequels ‘Beverly Hills Cop III’ (’94) and ‘Under Siege 2: Dark Territory’ (’95).

Never married and retiring to Las Vegas, Nevada, Phyllis Davis died from cancer, aged 73, on September 17th 2013. Never losing her distinctive Texas drawl, Davis was much more than just a busty beauty who often played bimbo roles. She made her limited talent and cheerful persona go a long way, and I think she possessed one of the screens warmest smiles.

Favourite Movie: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Favourite Performance: Sweet Sugar

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