John Davidson on his "demented" Captain Hook

"Finding Neverland"

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — "Finding Neverland" tells the story of how J.M. Barry used the personalities of the people who lived in his personal life to create the story of "Peter Pan." The four young children of a widow with whom he fell in love became the children of Neverland. His agent, Charles Frohman, who tried to talk him out of writing a story that seemed designed for children, became Captain Hook.

What might seem ironic is in the production of "Finding Neverland," which will be at Proctors Theatre on Dec. 5-10, actor, singer and long-time TV show host John Davidson is a central character. Fifty years ago, he might have been perfect as the inspiration for the boy who refuses to grow up. However, today he is playing the role of Peter Pan's nemesis, Captain Hook.

For many, it might be traumatic to learn that the eternally youthful Davidson is now 76 years old. For others, it might be a case of "John who?"

Davidson laughs when in a telephone interview he said he often gets the "who?" reaction — even from his mostly 20- to 30-year-old cast members. "I don't know how many of them knew who I was or cared much about my career when I joined the company. I imagine they had to Google me."

Sounding pleased by his relationship with the cast, he adds, "I love and envy them all, they're all so talented and filled with youthful energy. They all show respect for my career, and I think they are impressed with what I do on stage."

It would be difficult not to be impressed with Davidson. Thanks to his talent, his resilience and his ability to be adaptable, he's been one of the most durable personalities ever to appear on television.

Davidson recalls one of his early managers describing him as a pitchfork.

"He told me, `In show business there are spears. Singers like Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett do one thing very well. They're spears. You, you're a pitchfork. You have a lot of prongs. You can do a lot of different things and do them all well."

And though he is best known for his television career, it all started with musical theater for him. He was on Broadway in 1964, one year after graduating from college. He then costarred with the legendary Bert Lahr in a now-forgotten show titled "Foxy." He returned to the stage in 1996 and starred in "State Fair." Recently, he played the Wizard in the first national tour of "Wicked."

About his appearance in "Finding Neverland," he calls it, "the best role I've ever had. The best roles are always the bad guys. I was never the Al Pacino type. In TV and in films, I played the guy whose biggest problem was how to get the girl."

He claims with Hook he can really let go.

"I play him kind of demented. I'm allowed to go over the top and chew the scenery. But it's a balance because my characters kind of drive the show. I move the story forward."

Though Davidson claims theater has always been his passion, he owes everything to television. As a young singer, he frequently appeared on shows like "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Sonny and Cher Show" and "The Entertainers." He did guest acting shots on "Love Boat," "Love American Style" and was a mainstay on late-night talk shows, even becoming a regular substitute host for Johnny Carson. And he hosted the popular "That's Incredible."

When variety shows disappeared from television, he became a panelist on game shows and a mainstay of Hollywood Squares. Eventually, he ended up hosting Hollywood Squares as well as the $100,000 Pyramid.

As television discarded the forms in which Davidson excelled, he disappeared from public view. His home is now a five-bedroom multi-acre farm in New Hampshire, but he still longs for the hills of the Berkshires.

"My wife and I lived in Lenox for four years. It's the favorite of anyplace I ever spent time. We had a small, one-bedroom house that we loved. But when the family visited, we needed space. Because of price, we had to move to be able to afford what we needed. I miss it and certainly will drive back to revisit and spend some time there when we are at Proctors."


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