Ex-actor, screenwriter rekindles love of writing

Lauren Schoepfer, Daily News Correspondent

Posted February 1, 2012

Forty years after its outline was originally written, the first draft of a new novel by part-time Naples resident Donahue Silvis was finally finished. After merely three years of becoming a serious writer again, his work has been professionally published, won awards and received commendable reviews.

Silvis began his creative career in the late 1950s, studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, a well-known drama school in California. About 10 percent of the actors became famous in Hollywood at that time; Silvis studied alongside Dustin Hoffman, Ruth Buzzi, Joanne Woodward, and others. Years later he moved to Florida, where he received a bachelor’s degree in film study and creative writing from Florida Atlantic University in 1967. During his time at the college, he discovered Empire Studios near Ft. Lauderdale, where he earned college credits and worked after he graduated. At Empire, he served as a scriptwriter, script doctor, and actor on mostly independent films. Later, as a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he worked with Frank Sinatra in “Lady in Cement” and Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy,” to name a couple.

Silvis’s acting skills during his time at Pasadena won him first place at Al Jarvis’s national television talent show contest at KABC in Los Angeles. It was an eight-week competition. Silvis dressed as a Marlon Brando look-alike and his partner dressed in a Hawaiian get-up played the bongos. They pantomimed the “Banana Boat Song (Day-O).”

Early in his acting days, Silvis was pictured in a 1957 issue of “TV Guide. Silvis decided to switch to business for 40 years and currently owns the local franchise of ITEX, a national barter company. Around three years ago he pulled out some of his old scripts and turned them into books and screenplays he has completed seven novels, four screenplays, and one illustrated children’s book. Silvis finds his writing inspiration derives from being an actor as it brings back the feeling of becoming someone else.

“It’s the same with books,” said Silvis, “you are godlike in creating people that don’t exist and you live through the characters.”

His writing topics vary from a soft mafia book called Cop on the Hook to a detective story, The Deadly Puzzle, of which he recently completed a sequel titled Stilettoed. His screenplays include a 1880s western, I’ll Dance on Your Grave, and a somewhat dark comedy, The Cemetery Plots. Silvis says he enjoys weaving humor into his stories as well as writing dialogue so much, in fact, that he hopes to write a play in the future. “I guess I enjoy putting words in people’s mouths,” he commented. But his favorite aspect of writing is its creativity. “In my writings, I’m able to make people come to life, laugh, suffer, and die. I can make them do whatever I wish, both good and bad. I’m also able to create situations: if my mind can think of it, then it can be.”

Although Silvis is 76 years old, he appreciates newer technology. “The internet is helpful for writers because they can verify and look up information,” he said. He admits that he hadn’t learned to type until computers were mass-produced. He never touched a typewriter but had someone else type up his handwritten copies. In the media, where connections equal opportunities, websites provide outlets for publishers to see writers’ work. “Most writers hope for an agent and a known publisher,” said Silvis. Mariann Harkness, Silvis’s editor based in England, said his writing is “plot-driven with lots of action, which makes for an exciting read, and would translate well to film. His dialogue is excellent and his characters well-rounded. It would be a pleasure to work with Donahue again.”

Using the outline that he wrote 40 years ago, Silvis recently completed his first draft of a comedy that follows the first three years of a young man’s college life. So much outdated slang was used that the last few pages of the book are a “1950s Slang Dictionary.”

Silvis enters his works into many online contests. In May 2011, his screenplay The Cemetery Plots won the Write movies International Writing Contest and is now “being shopped to various studios and production companies,” according to Silvis. His books have also received high praise. Apex Reviews said of Cop on the Hook, “Donahue Silvis’s gripping offering puts a refreshing new spin on the world of mafia lore. With genuine, authentic characters rather than over-the-top, sensationalized caricatures Donahue weaves a highly believable tale with plotlines taken straight from the pages of everyday life,” and called Silvis “a standout literary talent.”

Silvis weaves his own experiences into his books, both incidents from his life and people he has met. For example, Sheriff Penberthy from I’ll Dance on Your Grave shares Silvis’s wife’s maiden name. He plans on continuing to write. Most of his stories have open endings that allow for the writing of sequels. In one book, Silvis didn’t write “The End,” but instead, “This is not the end, but the beginning of the middle.”

His novels are available for purchase at Amazon.com and Smashwords.