Russ and Sylvia Davis Collection
Russell W. Davis was born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 15, 1909. After graduating high school in 1927 he worked at Kansas City radio stations until he left the city in 1931. From 1931 to 1940 he worked at a number of radio stations around the country including KOA in Denver and KWTO in Springfield, Missouri. Starting in 1941 he began working at the CBS radio affiliate in Chicago.
In 1946 he made the switch to television at WBKB, which was Chicago’s first commercial television station. He worked on a variety of shows including two different wrestling shows from the Rainbo and Midway arenas, boxing matches, and Christmas and New Year’s Eve specials. He provided commentary for a women’s baseball league, hosted a short-lived but popular amateur show The Knickerbocker Hours, was the emcee for a man-on-the-street show Off the Cuff, and was the announcer for The Jane Foster Show in which Foster and Davis advised housewives on their domestic problems. No copies of these shows are known to exist.
He left the station in 1949 to co-found IWF, Inc. with his wife Sylvia, who he married in 1946. IWF stood for both Imperial World Films and International Wrestling Films. The company primarily released syndicated wrestling shows that Russ announced. The show was leased to over 160 stations nationwide. Due to its success Russ Davis was considered a television pioneer amongst wrestling fans in the 1950s. The company also made sponsored films and a few other TV series including Raymond Massey Reads the Bible (1951).
From the summer of 1951 to May 1952 Russ and Sylvia hosted a daily talk show on WGN called alternately The Davises or The Russ Davis Show. In the show the Davises attempted to enlighten and entertain the viewers (mostly housewives) by interviewing guests from the world of high culture – opera singers, art critics, ballet dancers, musicians – in a welcoming, yet slightly irreverent tone.
He worked on the IWF wrestling TV shows until his death on March 14, 1969. He died of a heart attack, but had been battling alcohol addiction for decades.
Sylvia H. Carlson, was born in Goteberg, Sweden around the mid teens of the Twentieth century. She moved with her family to San Francisco in 1930. By 1937 she was in charge of the beauty shop in the Russ Building. She met her future husband, Russ Davis, there in 1946. They were quickly married and she moved to Chicago where Russ had lived since the late 1930s.
Sylvia began to work behind the scenes on Russ’ television shows. In 1948 she was co-producer of his amateur talent show on WBKB, The Knickerbocker Hour. In 1949 Russ and Sylvia started IWF, Inc, a television film production company, with Sylvia acting as president. The company, called both International Wrestling Films and Imperial World Films, mainly created a syndicated wrestling show, but also made sponsored films and a short run TV series with Raymond Massey. From the summer of 1951 to May of 1952 Sylvia was the co-host with Russ of a daily talk show on WGN-TV, The Russ Davis Show.
The couple divorced in 1954 and was remarried in 1957. By 1957, Sylvia and the company were based in Sonoma, California. After Russ’ death in 1969, Sylvia lived by herself until her death in 2005.