Teddy As He Goes

When you think of actors well-suited to the role of Teddy Roosevelt, John Davidson isn't likely to be the first name that springs to mind. Or the second, or the eighth. But the '70s-era Cosmo centerfold, Carson guest host and star of Broadway and short-lived sitcoms like The Girl With Something Extra is on a mission to change that. Now 57, Davidson is playing the Rough Rider of San Juan Hill in Jerome Alden's one-man show Bully. The tour stops at the Sundome on Sunday.

"It's a play that I found two and a half years ago, while I was looking for a tour de force that would define my career," says Davidson, by phone from Oklahoma City. Davidson, who made his Broadway debut opposite Bert Lahr in 1964's Foxy, is hoping that Bully will get him taken seriously, changing the perception that he's a lightweight fit only for frothy musicals. "I'm trying for an end run, instead of pushing myself up the middle."

Alden wrote the play in the late '70s for James Whitmore as a follow-up to Whitmore's one-man triumph in Give 'em Hell, Harry. Davidson had already played the Bull Moose in an unsuccessful show called Teddy and Alice. "It was not a very good musical, but I was rather well-received as T.R."

It was Alden's idea, after seeing Davidson in Teddy and Alice, to revive Bully with Davidson in the role. Davidson has worked to reshape the show as a vehicle for himself--to make it "fuller and more inspirational"--both before and after Alden's death from cancer a year and a half ago, and he still regards it as a work in progress. "[Alden's] estate has given me permission to continue to revise it."

The show has made Davidson into a self-confessed T.R. buff. "His message is to get action into your life, to take chances, to go for it. Almost like Nike," Davidson quips. Following this example, he has tried to submerge himself in the role, growing a full mustache, shaving back his hairline, gaining 25 pounds and strapping on an artificial belly.

"No one recognizes me," sighs Davidson, with a frankness rare in a celebrity. "It drives me crazy. I love being recognized."

--M. V. Moorhead

Bully with John Davidson is scheduled to be performed at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 14, at the Sundome, 19403 R.H. Johnson Boulevard in Sun City West. Tickets range from $9 to $29. 975-1900 (the 'dome), 503-5555 (Dillard's).