Digital Collections

Ronald L. Davis Oral History Collection [Cover Image]

Ronald L. Davis Oral History Collection

Oral History Collection on the Performing Arts [cover]

Fred Astaire Interview by Ronald L. Davis [excerpt]

Fred Astaire Interview
by Ronald L. Davis [excerpt]
Yul Brynner Interview by Ronald L. Davis [excerpt]

Yul Brynner Interview
by Ronald L. Davis [excerpt]
Rosemary Clooney Interview by Ronald L. Davis [excerpt]

Rosemary Clooney Interview
by Ronald L. Davis [excerpt]

Edith Head Interview
by Ann Burk [excerpt]
Gregory Peck Interview by Ronald L. Davis [Part III excerpt]

Gregory Peck Interview
by Ronald L. Davis
[Part III excerpt]
Maria Tallchief Interview by Ann Burk [excerpt]

Maria Tallchief Interview
by Ann Burk [excerpt]

About the CollectionDr. Ronald L. Davis portrait, ca. 1990

Holding library: DeGolyer Library

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The Ronald L. Davis Oral History Collection comprises more than 500 oral history interviews that were transcribed from taped interviews conducted in the 1970s and 1980s. The interviewees are from all branches of the performing arts, but the emphasis is on motion pictures and popular music. Many interviewees give detailed accounts of personal experience and reflections from their professional career. The interviews were conducted primarily by Ronald L. Davis (1933-2022), Professor of History at Southern Methodist University (1965-2001), under the formerly named “Southern Methodist University Oral History Program.” Davis was the originator of this collection while in the History Department. Upon his retirement from SMU after 35 years of teaching, the collection was named in his honor.

As described by Dr. Davis in 1988, “The Southern Methodist University Oral History Program was begun in 1972 [as] a part of the University's DeGolyer Institute for American Studies. The goal of the program was to gather primary source material for future writers and cultural historians on all branches of the performing arts - opera, ballet, the concert stage, theater, films, radio, television, burlesque, vaudeville, popular music, jazz, the circus, and miscellaneous amateur and local productions. The Collection is particularly strong, however, in the areas of motion pictures and popular music and includes interviews with celebrated performers as well as a wide variety of behind-the-scenes personnel, several of whom are now deceased. Most interviews are biographical in nature, although some are focused exclusively on a single topic of historical importance. 

“The Program aims at balancing national developments with examples from local history. Interviews with members of the Dallas Little Theater, therefore, serve to illustrate a nation-wide movement, while film exhibition across the country is exemplified by the Interstate Theater Circuit of Texas. The interviews have all been conducted by trained historians, who attempt to view artistic achievements against a broad social and cultural backdrop. Many of the persons interviewed, because of educational limitations or various extenuating circumstances, would never write down their experiences, and therefore valuable information on our nation's cultural heritage would be lost were it not for the S.M.U. Oral History Program.

The level of access to each interview is determined by the terms of its corresponding consent form, signed by the interviewee, as well as copyright law. This digital collection makes available excerpts of the interviews; some restrictions allow only the metadata to be viewed. Please cite DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University when citing the collection. For more information, contact

Digital Collection Highlights

Ron Davis Oral History Interview

Pam Lange interviewed Ron Davis, Professor of History, on March 28, 2003, as part of the SMU Video Archive Series. In the interview, SMU History Professor and oral historian Ron Davis discussed his career at SMU, which began in 1965 and spanned three decades. He described how he transitioned from a traditional history background to become an oral historian specializing in the performing arts.

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Items in SMU Libraries Digital Collections are digitized following the nCDS Digitization Guidelines and Procedures. Digital collections are created under the guidelines of the Digital Collections Workflow and Metadata Guidelines, or through specialized metadata profiles tailored for the collection.

Copyright usage terms vary throughout the collection. Each item contains information about usage terms. If SMU does not have the right to publish the item on the Internet, only the item's metadata will be available and the digitized object will be available on a restricted access basis. Such items may only be viewed on campus. When items are available for use, please cite DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. A high-quality version of these files may be obtained for a fee by contacting

For more information about the collection, please contact