Russ and Sylvia Davis Collection, 1932-1970
370 reels of 16mm film totaling 303,387 feet of film, 1 folder of paper documents and photos
1932 - 1970
1950 - 1957
The Russ and Sylvia Davis Collection contains 16mm film prints and elements produced by the couple's production company, IWF Inc. The majority are from a syndicated wrestling television show from the 1950s that included wrestlers such as Verne Gagne, Gorgeous George, and Lou Thesz. Russ was a pioneering TV personality in the Chicago broadcast area at WBKB-TV. Sylvia worked as president of their company and a producer on a number of Russ' shows.
The Russ and Sylvia Davis Collection is split into two series: I. Films and II. Paper and photos. The films in Series I are predominantly comprised of 16mm film prints and production elements for the long running syndicated wrestling show that the couple produced through their production company IWF. The show was given a variety of names including Wrestling from Chicago, Wrestling from the International Amphitheatre, ‘Rasslin with Russ, Main Event, and Chicago Wrestling depending on the station that leased the show.
The 208 wrestling matches in the collection were recorded in the 1950s but the prints were distributed throughout the 1960s. Precise dates of the matches are uncertain. Also contained in this collection are prints for a short run syndicated show Raymond Massey Reads the Bible, a print for a sponsored film Arapahoe, and a print and production elements for a film on hunting and taxidermy called Indoor/Outdoor.
Series II comprises one folder of materials containing magazines with articles on the Davises, clippings of newspaper articles on the Davises, business documents for IWF including a contract with a TV station renting their wrestling show, and seven photos promoting their 1951-52 daily talk show on WGN and behind the scenes at IWF.
January 8, 2013: We are currently in the process of publishing the item records of the Russ & Sylvia Davis Collection. The list below is a complete list of all composite prints within the collection (as well as other non-wrestling films within the collection), with no associated streaming video. We plan to publish streaming videos of most records in the upcoming months. If you would like to purchase any of these matches on DVD, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-243-1808 for pricing and further information.
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.
The films and paper materials in this collection were created and gathered by Russ and Sylvia Davis when they ran their television film production company in Chicago. The materials were stored in their house in California until Sylvia's death in 2005 at which point they were willed to her neighbors Ernie Goumas and Brian Zielinski. Goumas and Zielinski looked after Sylvia after Russ' death in 1969. They donated the collection to CFA in 2008.
This collection is open to on-site access. Appointments must be made with Chicago Film Archives. Due to the fragile nature of the films, only video copies will be provided for on-site viewing.
Chicago Film Archives holds the copyright for the films in this collection and for documents created by the Davises. For the additional paper materials published by others, any determination of copyright status for reproduction is the responsibility of the user.