"It's not so much intelligence," said John Davidson of his game show "$100,000 Pyramid" (weekdays at 9:30 a.m. on 4), "it's a way of thinking. There are certain people who can do it and certain people who can't."
One who can is actress Mel Harris of "thirtysomething," who appeared as a contestant on the show years ago. Harris is scheduled to return as a celebrity guest this week, and Davidson said footage of her day as a contestant is scheduled to be shown.
The show, which originated as "The $10,000 Pyramid" in 1973 with Bill Cullen as host, is a word-association game featuring two two-person teams, a celebrity and a contestant. The two must be thinking on the same wavelength to elicit the correct answer in a limited time.
With Dick Clark as host from 1981 onward, the prize jumped to $20,000, $25,000, $50,000 and, in 1985, $100,000.
Clark has since become a producer, but Davidson has no such aspirations.
"I really don't care to be in a position of leadership," he said. "I don't enjoy the pressures. I'd much rather be an Indian than a chief. When you're doing both, something suffers, either directing or acting. And I don't want to battle other people. I'm a peacemaker. I tend to want other people to like me."
Perhaps that's not surprising for a self-described "boringly good" boy who stood beside his Baptist-minister father after Sunday services in White Plains, N.Y. It was "perfect preparation for a career in the people business. You get used to having something to say that is positive. You learn not to be negative. And that's where John Davidson developed his charm," he said. "I don't always do it. I can turn it on and turn it off."
One of four sons, Davidson, lead singer for a high school band, chose small Denison University in Ohio for theater arts. After graduation in 1963, he got a job in David Merrick's Broadway show, "Foxy"; modeled, and he appeared in summer stock. By September 1964, he was on a CBS variety show called "The Entertainers." He did "The Kraft Summer Music Hall" and "The Girl With Something Extra," then "The John Davidson Show." From March 1980 to April 1984, he hosted ABC's "That's Incredible" with Cathy Lee Crosby and Fran Tarkenton.
He's also cut a dozen records and made a few films (recently, "Edward Scissorhands"), and from 1968 to 1978 he played Las Vegas, Reno or Lake Tahoe for four or six weeks a year. "But now I've got so much television that my Las Vegas career has kind of dried up," he said. "Now I do a lot of convention dates."
Next week, he'll present to The Nashville Network an idea for a one-hour series pilot, a talk show with people who have left their jobs. Working title: "Take This Job and Shove It."
Even if TNN doesn't buy his talk-show idea, he says he's quite happy hosting "Pyramid," the latest in his many hosting stints.
"The great thing about hosting 'Pyramid' is I don't have to hype the game," he said. "When I was hosting 'Hollywood Squares' (1985-1988), I had to be a cheerleader. 'Pyramid' is a truly great game that is fun to watch. I hope to do it forever."