John Davidson wonders what would have happened had he recorded a hit record. He might have performed at a famous venue.
Say, Caesars Palace’s fabled Circus Maxiumus showroom.
Wait. He did that.
”I opened for Jack Benny at Caesars Palace in 1966, and what I had done that year was host a Kraft Summer Music Hall TV special with George Carlin and Richard Pryor,” says Davidson, who on Friday night hosts a reception and cabaret performance at Penn and Emily Jillette’s Las Vegas residence (more on that in a moment) to benefit Aid for AIDS of Nevada. “I never had a hit record or anything to play off of. I was on TV, and I was the preacher’s kid who lived the ’60s in a bubble.
“I was wholesome and clean, and I’m sure I milked that for all it was worth.”
Those who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s recognize Davidson as the man in the family room, constantly on TV as host of “That’s Incredible!” or “100,000 Pyramid,” or “Hollywood Squares.” He hosted his own daytime talk show for a time, and was in regular rotation among Johnny Carson’s guest hosts on “The Tonight Show,” appearing 87 times, more than any singer enlisted in that role.
Davidson also appeared on several sitcoms and TV series of the day, “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” and the like.
The still-telegenic Davidson, toting a guitar and in fine voice, remains a popular draw as a cabaret act. His act is storytelling, singing and strumming, drawing inspiration from Garth Brooks’ shows at Encore Theater a few years back.
“I poke fun at who I am now, how I’ve evolved,” the 77-year-old says Davidson says. “It’s done with guitar, and a more personal show than I’ve ever done.”
Davidson has connected with the Penn & Teller camp through shared atheist beliefs. He met Jillette at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C, in June 2016, and later that year attended a Penn & Teller performance at the Rio. Also, P&Ts longtime manager, Glenn Alai, is the new AFAN president (a few tickets at $100 remain at afanlv.org).
Davidson further says he is a far-left liberal. “I do a little bit of politics, but I don’t harp on that too much. Ever since I took college courses in philosophy and religion, I have wrestled with religion, but I don’t harp on that too much, either. I talk about relationships, about how being over 70 sucks (laughs) and the questions we don’t have answers for — why do men have nipples? That sort of thing.”
The Las Vegas of Davidson’s youth is long gone, of course. He remembers hanging at the Caesars Palace pool and Benny walking by, saying, “Hi, John! I’ll see you tonight at the show!’ I don’t think you’d see anything like that today.”
“Jack Benny was just so great, he had this routine when we opened Caesars about how his toilet wasn’t working and he called in the plumber from the Flamingo,” Davidson says. “The electricity went out and he called the Flamingo. Everything at Caesars was so new that it was actually running off the Flamingo.”
He also recalls the days playing the Elvis showroom at Las Vegas Hilton.
“It was surreal, and looking back on that time, it was like it was a different person,” Davidson says. “I’d look up and see J-O-H-N, letters taller than I was, as big as Elvis or Wayne Newton. Coming back to Vegas brings back all those memories.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter,@JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.