Actor and singer John Davidson still doesn't seem quite old enough to boast celebrating 50 years in show business.
It was in 1964 when he appeared on television for the first time, for a spot on NBC's "Hallmark Hall of Fame" broadcast of "The Fantasticks." It was also in 1964 that he made his Broadway debut in the stage production of "Foxy," opposite Bert Lahr, playing his son.
Today, Davidson is still all smiles with his trademark pearly-whites while doing the national Broadway tour for the 10th Anniversary run of "Wicked," opening today and also featuring actress Kim Zimmer of "Guiding Light." Today marks the actual 10th anniversary and Davidson and Zimmer are in Chicago with the musical which opens tonight at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., in Chicago and plays until Dec. 21.
To celebrate the first decade of "Wicked," the producers are giving away the 20 front-row seats. The drawing is held inside Block Thirty Seven shopping center, located at 108 N State St., across from the theater where entry forms are available during business hours up until two hours prior to performance for the drawing. And at tonight's 10th anniversary performance, the audience will receive bubbles to celebrate during the curtain call.
Davidson is playing The Wizard, a role previously also performed by actors Joel Grey and Richard Kline.
"This is an extra special tour for me because of the anniversary of the show," said Davidson, who is traveling with his wife Rhonda Rivera.
"I love performing on stage. One of my first times on stage in my career was as the opening act for Jack Benny in Las Vegas."
While "Wicked" ranks as one of his cherished later career highlights, Davidson said one of his fondest early work memories comes from when he was cast in the 1967 Walt Disney film "The Happiest Millionaire" starring Fred MacMurray, Greer Garson and Geraldine Page and based upon the true story of Philadelphia Main Line millionaire Anthony J. Drexel Biddle. It featured a musical song score by brothers Robert and Richard Sherman.
"This was the last big musical film Walt Disney ever worked on," said Davidson, whose parents were Baptist ministers in Pittsburgh, Penn.
"And I recall how proud my parents were when they came to see me on the set and Walt Disney was right there and made sure to make them feel welcomed. They were so impressed."
Davidson holds the distinction of having been a regular guest on the original "Hollywood Squares" hosted by Peter Marshall in the 1970s and starring Paul Lynde in the center square. In the 1980s, when the game show relaunched, Davidson was named host.
"Being part of the original 'Hollywood Squares' was something very special," said Davidson, who still remains friends with fellow "Squares" regulars Joan Rivers, 80, and hairbow-wearing Rose Marie, who is now 90.
"We had so many great guest stars that I got to meet. We would tape five of those shows a day. And between the third and fourth show, which were the Wednesday and Thursday shows that would eventually air, they'd change out the audience and all of the stars had dinner and drinks together in this big dining room area, all catered. So I'd get to share a meal with everyone from Johnny Carson and Rock Hudson to Gypsy Rose Lee."
Davidson said he was a natural for the game show.
"I was a square even before being on that show," he said.
"Starting out, while all of the other young people were wanting to sing like Elvis Presley or The Beatles, my idols were always Robert Goulet and Tony Bennett. And while playing Vegas, I learned from, and modeled my stage style, from the greats like Sammy Davis Jr., Liberace and Wayne Newton."
Tickets for "Wicked" start at $40. FYI: (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com or wickedthemusical.com.