LEE — Las Vegas star, television game show host, Broadway performer and even a serial killer on TV. For nearly six decades, John Davidson has performed on stage, in concert halls, on the big and small screens, but has chosen the Berkshires to continue singing and writing songs until he sounds his final note.
"I should be retired as I will be 75 in December, but I can't sit still. I love the freedom to be a troubadour," he said in a recent Eagle interview outside a downtown Lenox coffee shop.
The Massachusetts native returned home three years ago, choosing Lenox, in part since his business manager lives there, and to live the life again of a New Englander.
"I like New England sensibility, I like New England liberalism and our curiosity," said the multi-talented entertainer.
Those who saw the son of a preacher man at the height of his popularity in the 1960s through early 1990s will be curious to see how Davidson relishes the local spotlight during Lee Founders Weekend. On Friday and Saturday, he will sing and likely tell a few stories as part of the "Saturday Night Liv" variety show at Spectrum Playhouse on Franklin Street in downtown Lee.
Hosted by local comedic actress, playwright and songwriter Liv (pronounced Leev) Cummins, the show will feature sketch comedy, comic Danny Bloom, local magician Carl Seiger and The Berkshire Children's Theater.
Cummins and head writer Sandy McKnight created the concept 15 years ago in nearby Columbia County, N.Y., before they relocated to Lee last year.
They are thrilled Davidson will make his SNLiv debut.
"His name carries weight, but his level of performance is tremendous," Cummins said. "John fits perfectly with what we do."
Davidson expects to feel right at home at the Spectrum Playhouse, a former episcopal church with terrific acoustics.
Since moving to Lenox three years ago, he has revelled in regularly singing at small venues such as The Gateways Inn, in Lenox.
"It's a place to try out new songs and I like to support the local music scene," he said.
Davidson was born in Pittsburgh to parents who were both Baptist ministers, but primarily grew up in West Bridgewater, south of Boston, before moving to White Plains, N.Y., where he graduated high school. His first job that got him noticed was as an underwear model before his first foray on a Broadway Stage in the 1964 production of "Foxy." Three years later, he made his film debut with a young Lesley Ann Warren and veteran actor Fred McMurray in the Disney movie "The Happiest Millionaire."
Davidson would eventually become a regular on television game shows, especially Hollywood Squares, which he would later host in it's revival in the late 1980s. He guest starred on numerous TV series and variety shows of the '60s, '70s and '80s, hosted "That's Incredible" and was one of Johnny Carson's four regular guest hosts for "The Tonight Show."
"Those shows gave me the chance to play live," he said. "TV makes you famous and a household name."
With model looks, a terrific smile and great personality, Davidson wanted to prove he could step outside the clean-cut American image when he appeared in a 1974 episode of the TV police drama "Streets of San Francisco." Davidson portrayed a cross-dressing lounge singer who murders his/her fans. His character wore female garb impersonating Carol Channing and other notable female stars of that era.
"That was a chance to be weird," he said. "Sometimes we don't accept funny people with having a dark side."
Today, Davidson is content to write and perform original songs on his own terms, rather than be tied to a set schedule of doing a theatrical production or television show.
"I like versatility, I like variety, that's why it was confining to do 'Wicked,'" he said, referring to his recent two-year role as The Wizard of Oz in the first North American Tour of "Wicked."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233
If you go
What: Saturday Night Liv with special guest John Davidson
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Where: Spectrum Playhouse, 20 Franklin St., downtown Lee
Advance discounted tickets available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2595946. At the door $20, seniors and students, $10.
For more information call 413-394-5023