Family: Born June 9, 1903, in New York, NY; died January 16 (one source says January 15; one source says January 20), 1996, in Monterey, CA; daughter of Alma Gluck (an opera singer); stepdaughter of Efrem Zimbalist (a concert violinist); married Russell Wheeler Davenport, 1929 (died, 1954). Education: Attended Shipley School, Wellesley College, University of Grenoble.
New Yorker, New York, NY, member of editorial staff, 1928-31; freelance author, music critic, and lecturer, beginning 1931. Music critic, Stage, 1934-39; commentator for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, 1936-37, and other radio broadcasts on musical subjects.
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- Mozart (biography), Scribner (New York, NY), 1932, revised edition, 1956.
- Of Lena Geyer (novel), Scribner, 1936.
- The Valley of Decision (novel), Scribner, 1942.
- East Side, West Side (novel), Scribner, 1947.
- My Brother's Keeper (novel), Scribner, 1954.
- Garibaldi: Father of Modern Italy (juvenile biography), Random House (New York, NY), 1956.
- The Constant Image (novel), Scribner, 1960.
- Too Strong for Fantasy (autobiography), Scribner, 1967.
- Jan Masaryk: Posledni Portret [Czechoslovakia], 1990.
Contributor to Fortune, McCall's, Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest, and other national magazines.
Valley of Decision was filmed in 1945; East Side, West Side was filmed in 1949.
Marcia Davenport was a popular novelist and lecturer whose ties to the New York City music community enriched both her fiction and nonfiction. Davenport's mother was the opera singer Alma Gluck, and through her the youngster met Toscanini and other notable classical musicians. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Davenport's first book-length work was a biography of Mozart that was widely and favorably reviewed. "By making the most of every situation and dwelling upon the emotional crises, Mrs. Davenport has written a biography that is frank, lively, and entertaining," wrote Nation contributor R. C. B. Brown. "Enthusiasm and honesty are its principal traits." New York Times reviewer Herbert Gorman declared that Davenport "gives, for the first time, a vivid and convincing portrait of the child-prodigy who developed into the man-genius, a portrait that does not romanticize Mozart too much and leaves the reader convinced of the reality of the figure with whom he has passed through a career of hard work, poverty, neglect and few (but astounding) triumphs."
During her lifetime the author was best known for her novels, which ranged in theme from domestic drama to the macabre. East Side, West Side, which was also made into a film, describes the adventures of a Jewish-Irish heroine who escapes an unhappy marriage when she falls in love with a famous war hero. "The diverse origins of her people give Marcia Davenport the opportunity to describe New York at several levels and at several periods," maintained P. L. Adams in Atlantic. "She does it wonderfully well, shifting from past to present, from slum to desiccated women's club to first-night party, describing all of them with enthusiasm and a sharp, affectionate, ruefully cynical eye." According to Guy Patrick in the San Francisco Chronicle, the reader of East Side, West Side "is carried along, day by day, with a sureness of touch that is the property only of a novelist who knows her business and knows it well." A New Yorker reviewer cited the work for "real moral stamina, a lot of overeasy writing, [and] more taste than is commonly met with in current novels," adding that the book is "highly readable."
Other Davenport novels range farther afield in theme and plot. While set in New York City, for instance, My Brother's Keeper proves to be a story of two brothers who descend into madness after failing to woo an Italian opera singer. "There's morbid fascination in the unrolling of the evidence," observed a Kirkus reviewer, who further deemed the novel "superb story-telling, so that, while you know the end, there is no moment when the tortuous chain of incidents building to a psychological horror fails to hold interest." Constant Image, set in Milan, studies the "divergent Italian and American codes of love and family life" when an American woman and an Italian man begin a relationship, to quote Fanny Butcher in the Chicago Sunday Tribune. Butcher concluded that Davenport's novel "is written with a sure hand, with both sophistication and tenderness." Saturday Review correspondent Aubrey Menen called Constant Image "one of the most intelligent love stories of our times. . . . Everything that Mrs. Davenport writes about the Italians in this book seems to me to be true. She likes them, she knows them, and to read her is as much an education as a five-year stay within the country itself." Noted F. H. Bullock in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review: "Miss Davenport displays her usual unfailing felicity with the language, and her usual capacity to see with the eyes and record with the pen whatever arrests her interest."
Davenport published her memoir, Too Strong for Fantasy, in 1967. In the Saturday Review, Arthur Darack commented that the accounts of the author's mother "and her descriptions of Toscanini, the man and musician, have a resonance and glow, as do her recollections of [editor] Maxwell Perkins." Book World reviewer Eleanor Perenyi found fault with the autobiography, concluding that Davenport's accounts "are the straight stuff, dished out just as it came to hand, without any attempt to look again. . . . It can rightly be said that she isn't trying to write history. Perhaps not, but there are far too many canned, and incorrect, synopses of it in her book if she isn't." Conversely, a New York Times Book Review correspondent maintained that Too Strong for Fantasy "is too long, too gushing, sometimes too improbable; it is nevertheless a thoroughly readable, even a compelling production. . . [The] episodes make exciting reading in the hands of a born storyteller."
Davenport died in 1996 in Monterey, California. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer perhaps best summed up her career by describing her as "a capable storyteller with a love of colourful scenes and a good command of the means whereby characters are brought to life and plots made probable."
- Los Angeles Times, January 23, 1996, p. A16.
- New York Times, January 20, 1996, p. 13.
- Times (London), January 31, 1996, p. 19.
- Washington Post, January 22, 1996, p. D5.*
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Atlantic, November, 1947, p. 178; November, 1954, p. 88.
- Best Sellers, December 1, 1967.
- Books, March 20, 1932, p. 6.
- Book World, November 12, 1967, p. 7.
- Boston Transcript, July 1, 1932, p. 1.
- Catholic World, December, 1947, p. 282.
- Chicago Sun Book Week, October 20, 1947.
- Chicago Sunday Tribune, October 31, 1954, p. 6; January 24, 1960, p. 3.
- Christian Century, June 1, 1960, p. 672.
- Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 1932, p. 10.
- Commonweal, November 28, 1947, p. 176.
- Harper's, November, 1967, p. 120.
- Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1947, p. 446; September 1, 1954, p. 591; July 15, 1957, p. 491; November 15, 1959, p. 843.
- Library Journal, January 15, 1960, p. 300; October 1, 1967, p. 3410.
- Nation, November 16, 1932, p. 483.
- New Republic, May 4, 1932, p. 334.
- New Statesman, February 12, 1968.
- New Yorker, October 25, 1947, p. 133; October 30, 1954, p. 135; January 23, 1960, p. 122.
- New York Herald Tribune Book Review, October 24, 1954, p. 6; January 24, 1960, p. 4.
- New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, November 2, 1947, p. 2.
- New York Times, March 27, 1932, p. 5; October 19, 1947, p. 4; November 17, 1957, p. 28.
- New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1954, p. 5; January 24, 1960, p. 4; October 22, 1967, p. 4.
- Punch, April 10, 1968.
- San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1948, p. 16; November 14, 1954, p. 25; March 3, 1960, p. 27.
- Saturday Review, October 23, 1954, p. 16; February 6, 1960, p. 17; November 25, 1967, p. 57.
- Saturday Review of Literature, March 19, 1932, p. 599; November 22, 1947, p. 15.
- Springfield Republican, March 27, 1932, p. 7E.
- Theatre Arts Monthly, May, 1932, p. 425.
- Time, November 3, 1947, p. 112; November 8, 1954, p. 120; December 8, 1967, p. 119.
- Times Literary Supplement, October 22, 1954, p. 669; June 24, 1960, p. 406.
- Washington Post, September 2, 1968.
- Yale Review, winter, 1933, p. 418.