Before Davidson came to town, Sandwich already experienced a few brushes with pop culture fame. The biggest was the 1981 film “On the golden pond.” Much of the production took place on Squam Lake in the nearby town of Holderness (which served as a replacement for Belgrade, Maine), but some scenes were shot in Sandwich, which is also on Squam Lake. Footage that was never used for the movie of a car driving through Sandwich became the opening for the CBS sitcom “Newhart”.
Over 30 years later, those 1980s moments remain a point of pride in Sandwich. While I was having dinner at Foothills Coffee & Curio, one of the employees selected “On Golden Pond” on the restaurant’s television. It was not the first time this weekend that “On Golden Pond” was played in the restaurant.
“No matter how many times I see it, I cry,” one woman said as I sipped dandelion wine from a local vineyard and realized how much I loved the movie too.
But “On Golden Pond” was not the reason Davidson had come to Sandwich. Trees, landscapes, and opinionated people may have played a part in her decision, but the real reason seems to be her tireless work ethic. Davidson is a man whose career began in the 1960s in television and film as he simultaneously released a series of easy-to-listen pop albums that featured the hits of the day. He sang tunes from Dusty Springfield, Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles while appearing in Disney films. Since those early days, the 79-year-old Davidson has never stopped.
“I was discovered by Bob Banner, the television producer who did ‘The Garry Moore Show’ and ‘The Dinah Shore Show’,” Davidson tells me after his performance. “He discovered Carol Burnett on Broadway and brought her to television. He was trying to find the male version of Carol Burnett to develop as a variety show host, and he thought I would be that guy.
Davidson basically stars on his own variety show every weekend in his sandwich barn. He opened the place, called Club Sandwich (naturally), at the end of June, and since then, things have been going strong. It has a capacity of 40 and the audience is seated on a jumbled collection of old sofas and chairs as Davidson sings and plays from the postage stamp-sized stage. He has a mane of snow-white hair that crumbles back and forth as he mixes memories of his life with self-deprecating zingers. Despite the fact that he might forget a word or two – or maybe three – the man is a pro.
He was funny and quick on his feet. His show was sentimental without getting syrupy, and his singing voice sounded louder than it was when he sang back to the Bee Gees in the 1960s.
The Club Sandwich is open seasonally and will finish its 2021 race at the end of October. Davidson says he plans to reopen the club next summer. Due to limited capacity, the sofas are full most weekends. The audience is an eclectic mix of individuals who are drawn here because they know one part or another of Davidson’s career. They might remind him of the 1980s show “It’s incredible!” Or maybe they’ve known him from his time on “Hollywood Squares”, or his eponymous talk show. They might remember him when he replaced Johnny Carson 87 (!) Times. He also hosted an incarnation of “The $ 100,000 Pyramid” and a short-lived game show called “Time Machine”.
It’s easy to forget that Davidson is this guy. The guy who’s done almost everything, which is why the fact that he’s performing in a barn in rural New Hampshire shouldn’t come as a surprise.
He toured “Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island”. He was the guest of “The Carol Burnett Show”, “The Ed Sullivan Show”, and “I love the American style.” He played in a sitcom with Sally Field. But it also seemed like he was ready for whatever was thrown at him. He starred in “The Streets of San Francisco” in 1974, playing a murderer, schizophrenic drag queen. He even posed nude in a center page of Cosmo magazine. But perhaps the bravest thing he’s done in his career, even more than posing nude or opening a club in a barn, was playing an alien space captain in “The carpenters … Space encounters” special television. With co-captain Suzanne Somers, he teleported to Richard and Karen Carpenters’ recording studio in a zip-up poly-mix suit until then. Just use your imagination. On second thought . . .
“A producer told me you don’t want to do a single thing,” Davidson told me after his show. “You don’t want to be just a spear. You want to be a Swiss Army Knife.
His Swiss Army Knife skills began in West Bridgewater. He is the son of a pair of Baptist ministers, exposed every Sunday after services. He learned that his smile, and those dimples, would make him take his place. He says when he’s not smiling people tend not to recognize him.
He seems to welcome Club Sandwich and this new chapter in his life with a mixture of happiness, relief and resignation.
“The beauty of this for me is that I don’t have to travel,” Davidson said. “I have been a gypsy all my life. Now in winter I can spend a few months on my boat cruising the Sea of Cortes. I may have a little New Hampshire winter, but not all of it. “
But on reflection, he appears slightly more nostalgic.
“My career is not the same as it used to be,” he said. “I had great years. You know, every career has its heyday and I am. . . no i can’t say that. I miss having a more active career. It was fun. But it’s my life.
I’m ready to settle in for more showbiz stories. I wanna hear what it was like to sing with Mom Cass and interview Catherine Deneuve. I think Davidson can sense that these questions are imminent because he looks at me wisely with his familiar blue eyes and tells me that I probably have more than enough material for my story (he’s right), and with that, unfortunately we call it a night.
Club Sandwich, 12 Main Street, Sandwich. 617-468-8512, www.johndavidson.com/clubsandwich.