With his megawatt smile and dimples, John Davidson was all over television in the 1970s, mostly hosting game shows such as “The Hollywood Squares” and “The 100,000 Pyramid,” sitting in for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" and appearing alongside Sally Field in the series “The Girl with Something Extra.”
He was on the cover of People magazine, and, ahem, inside an issue of Cosmopolitan, where he was featured as the centerfold, one year after the famous Burt Reynolds fold-out that started it all. And I'm only hitting the highlights.
Now 76, Davidson is starring in “Finding Neverland,” which opens next week at Bass Hall. We caught up with him between rehearsals and shows last week, as he was pulling into Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Longevity in the entertainment business is rare, and you’ve made a living by promoting yourself as someone with a range of different talents. Was this something that you set out to do?
When I graduated from college, I went to New York and did Broadway shows, and this TV producer talked to me about being a pitchfork instead of a spear. Johnny Mathis is a spear. Tony Bennett is a spear. I’m a singer, actor, entertainer; I’ve done Shakespeare and I’ve done game shows. I’m a troubadour/singer/storyteller when I’m not doing Broadway, and play in coffee houses and theaters. I’ve had a mutlifaceted career as a pitchfork that’s kept me in this business for 54 years. I started on Broadway, and I’m getting back to my roots.
You’ve had a remarkable run. At what point did you say to yourself, “I’ve made it”?
I don’t feel that I’ve ever really made it. I’ve not done my best show yet. I’m still trying to get it right.
In “Finding Neverland” you play a double-role — as both Captain Hook and theater producer Charles Frohman — characters that are very opposite in their points of view.
Right. As Frohman, I’m trying to talk Berrie into not doing Peter Pan, and as Captain Hook, I’m trying to talk him into it, so in both cases I’m driving the show forward, and I love that.
It sounds exhausting.
It is. Hook is all over the place. I have a little bit of dancing in the show, a little bit of choreography, and it is physically exhausting — this is my workout. After every show, I am worn out, but I wake up the next morning, take a couple of Advil.
But this role didn’t come to you — you found it and went for it.
When I saw “Finding Neverland” on Broadway, I thought, “I can do that and as well as Kelsey Grammer,” and I auditioned and I got the part. I did the same thing with “Wicked.” I went to see “Wicked” and I thought, “Gee, I could be the wizard” and I auditioned and they hired me. I did three different national touring contracts with “Wicked,” and it lasted three years.
And the moral of the story is?
If you sit back and wait for an agent to get you a job, it’s a mistake. If I want to do something, I go after it. I don’t mind saying to a producer, “I think I can do this.”
That takes a lot of self-confidence. Have you always had the sense that you could do whatever you set your mind to?
When I first started, I came to Broadway anxious to play Curly in “Oklahoma,” and this manager said the greatest role that you’ll ever play is John Davidson, so make a list of the things that you want this character to present. Based on how people perceive you, if you’re a certain way people can see that. People can see who you are in the first five minutes. Figure out how you’re perceived and play on that. Use that. Make a list of the things that define your role. So I’ve done that and it has helped me in hosting shows; it helps to figure out how people perceive you. Self-discovery is the biggest thing we’re all trying to figure out. It makes life so much more enjoyable if you can be true to who you are.
“Finding Neverland” wraps up in April, and then you and your wife and Calle, your rescue terrier, will head back to New Hampshire. Then what?
I’m at the point where I could retire, but I want to continue to do inspiring and challenging things. I don’t want to just do a role in a show — I want to do a role that’s a challenge. I don’t know what’s around the corner. I don't want to ever retire. I’d like to fall over on stage one day and that would be the end.
- March 20-25
- Bass Hall, Fort Worth
- 817-212-4280; www.basshall.com