Dawidziak was born in Huntington, New York, on September 7, 1956. He is a graduate of Harborfields High School, class of 1974.
A journalism graduate of George Washington University, Dawidziak has worked as a theater, film and television critic since 1979. He started his journalism career in the Washington, D.C., bureaus of Knight-Ridder Newspapers and the Associated Press. In 1983, after stints as the arts and entertainment editor at the Bristol Herald-Courier in Bristol, Virginia, and the Kingsport Times-Times in Kingsport, Tennessee, he moved to the Akron Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio as that newspaper’s TV critic (later becoming its film critic and critic-at-large). He has been the television critic for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1999. A member of the Television Critics Association’s board of directors for five years, he has won five Cleveland Press Club awards for entertainment writing, as well as a Society of Professional Journalists award for coverage of minority issues.
Dawidziak has written two non-fiction books about beloved TV characters: The Columbo Phile: A Casebook (The Mysterious Press, 1989), a history of Peter Falk’s Lt. Columbo, and The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute (Pomegranate Press, 1997), a history of the Carl Kolchak character played by Darren McGavin in two TV movies and the 1974-75 ABC series. His 2003 book, Horton Foote’s The Shape of the River: The Lost Teleplay About Mark Twain (Applause Books), details the 1960 Playhouse 90 production on CBS.
Mark Twain Studies
In addition to Horton Foote’s The Shape of the River: The Lost Teleplay About Mark Twain (Applause Books, 2003), he assembled Mark Twain’s thoughts on writing and the writing process for Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing (St. Martin’s Press, 1996). He also teamed with noted Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen for the chapter Mark Twain on the Screen published in A Companion to Mark Twain (Blackwell Publishing, 2005, edited by Peter Messent and Louis J. Budd). He has twice been the visiting Twain scholar giving the Trouble Begins at Eight lecture at Elmira College’s Center for Mark Twain Studies. He has presented academic papers at four consecutive State of Mark Twain Studies conferences (held every four years in August at Elmira College): on The Shape of the River in 2001; on the many similarities between Twain and Charles Dickens in 2005; on the importance of Hal Holbrook’s one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight!, in 2009; and on director-producer Will Vinton’s Claymation film The Adventures of Mark Twain in 2013. He also has been the featured speaker at the Mark Twain Museum in Buffalo and the keynote speaker at the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read initiatives devoted to Mark Twain. Two Twain-centric books appeared in 2015: Mark Twain in Ohio from Rod Serling Books and Mark Twain’s Guide to Diet, Exercise, Beauty, Fashion, Investment, Romance, Health and Happiness from Prospect Park Books.
Dawidziak and Paul J. Bauer are the authors of the first full-length biography of “hobo author” Jim Tully, a forgotten writer hailed as “America’s Gorky” and as a literary superstar in the 1920s and ’30s. Titled Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler, of Jim Tully, it was published by Kent State University Press in 2011 with a foreword by Ken Burns. A former vagabond and boxer, Tully wrote about the American underclass and was credited with founding the hard-boiled school of writing. Bauer and Dawidziak also edited and wrote the introductions for Kent State University Press reprints of four of Tully’s books: Beggars of Life, Circus Parade, Shanty Irish and The Bruiser.
In addition to writing two non-fiction books about the Carl Kolchak character — Night Stalking: A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion (Image, 1991) and The Night Stalker Companion (1997), Dawidziak has edited three collections of works by Richard Matheson, all published by Gauntlet Press: Richard Matheson’s Kolchak Scripts (2003), Bloodlines: Richard Matheson’s Dracula, I Am Legend, and Other Vampires Stories (2006) and Richard Matheson’s Censored and Unproduced I Am Legend Screenplay (2012). He contributed the career appreciation and overview to Produced and Directed by Dan Curtis (2004) and he is the creative consultant to Moonstone’s comic book series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. His work in the horror field includes a 1994 novel (Grave Secrets), a play (The Tell-Tale Play), short stories, comic book scripts and the non-fiction book The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Dracula (Continuum, 2008).
Actor and Playwright
Dawidziak met his wife, actress Sara Showman, through the stage. In 2002, they founded the Largely Literary Theater Company, a touring troupe dedicated to promoting literacy, literature and live theater. The company’s artistic director, he frequently appears in Largely Literary productions as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. His two-act adaptation of Twain material, Twain By Three, was performed at the 103rd Annual International Dickens Fellowship Conference (held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio). Another play about Twain, The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated, was entered in the American College Theater Festival. His play The Mystery of Dashiell Hammett was premiered as part of Big Read initiative at Hiram College in 2009. His other plays include a two-act adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for three actors. He also performs one-man shows as Twain and Dickens. He teams with Showman for such two-person shows as Ghosts By the Tale, Shades of Blue and Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War and Twain By Two.
Series of Lectures
Dawidziak currently is teaching part-time as an adjunct professor at Kent State University, in addition to writing for The Plain Dealer. Each semester since the spring of 2009, he has taught the Reviewing Film and Television and Vampires in Film and Television courses.
He frequently lectures and gives talks on Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, television and vampires.
He lives in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with his wife, Sara Showman, and their daughter, Becky.