John Davidson

On this date in 1941, entertainer John Hamilton Davidson was born to two ordained Baptist ministers in Pittsburgh. After graduating from high school in White Plains, N.Y., he earned a B.A. in theater arts after first majoring in philosophy at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. 

He got his start on Broadway in the 1964 musical “Foxy” and won a Theater World Award in 1965 for his role as “Curly” in “Oklahoma!” He landed roles in several Disney movies, which led to other Hollywood and television roles. He recorded 12 albums in the 1960s and ’70s, five of which reached the Billboard 200 album charts.

He was a regular on “Hollywood Squares,” performed in Las Vegas, guest-hosted “The Tonight Show” 87 times and hosted a revival of “The $100,000 Pyramid” in 1991. He continued to perform theatrically and played The Wizard in 2013 in the touring Broadway musical “Wicked.” He’s since been entertaining in Branson, Mo., and elsewhere as a troubadour and storyteller. 

He married singer Jackie Miller in 1969. They divorced in 1982 and have a son, John Jr., and daughter, Jennifer. He married singer Rhonda Rivera in 1983 and they have a daughter, Ashleigh. In a January 2020 piece in New Hampshire Magazine, he wrote about moving there and enjoying its “sense of freedom, individualism, self-reliance and, yes, healthy skepticism. Being a progressive, I of course came here in search of other progressive liberals, but I’ve also encountered open-minded conservatives who have been an inspiration.”

Davidson in 2015 joined Openly Secular, a coalition of freethought groups started by the Center for Inquiry. He spoke at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., in 2016 and appeared in 2020 on FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV talk show about the harm Christianity has done in countries like Mexico, where he lived for a while: “I would see these poor, poor Mexican people come in and light a candle and give their last couple of pesos to the church, which has billions of dollars in Rome.”

He said in a 2020 interview with Broadway World that he started questioning his faith in college: “My sophomore year I was a philosophy major and my first two courses were comparative religions of the world. You study all the religions of the world, everyone’s approach to what they think god is or that thing in the atmosphere, whatever. And the other course was logic one 0 four. And if you take logic and try to apply it to religion, it just doesn’t work! So that was the beginning of my journey towards atheism.” 

Public domain photo: Davidson in 1973 on the set of “The Girl With Something Extra,” co-starring Sally Field.

Freedom From Religion Foundation