Year Born: 1921
Year Died: 1996
Davis, Fred (1921-1996)
Frequently billed as the nicest guy in television, he became a national celebrity as moderator of CBC-TV’s Front Page Challenge, the game-interview show that was meant to run for 13 weeks and ran from 1957 to 1995. The nice-guy tag sometimes bothered him, although he said in a 1966 interview he liked getting along with people.
Fred was born in Toronto and played trumpet at school and in small groups in Ottawa. He dropped out of college to become a full-time musician and led a 26-piece dance band and 16-voice choir. His musical career was interrupted in 1942 when he enlisted in the Canadian Army Signal Corps and served four years as a member of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, which was led by Captain Robert Farnon.
In 1946, when he left the army, Davis won a scholarship to Lorne Greene’s Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto. At the end of that year he joined CFRA Ottawa as an announcer and became program director in 1949. In 1953 he was hired by the National Film Board as a commentator for the series On The Spot, later known as Perspectives.
While he was with the National Film Board he read a script by Jo Kowin and they married. They had two girls and a boy. Jo was a successful filmmaker, comedy writer and producer and was working for the CBC. At her instigation, Davis joined the CBC in 1956 as a contract broadcaster and co-hosted with Anna Cameron the afternoon program, Open House. Front Page Challenge made its debut in the summer of that year and Fred took over as moderator in the fall. From 1957 to 1959 he was also host of Great Movies, the summertime replacement for Saturday night hockey broadcasts.
In the late ’50s Fred also co-hosted an NBC-TV program Brains and Brawn and went on to moderate the debate shows Under Attack and Crossfire. He took on a considerable amount of commercial work, including acting as spokesman for Dominion Stores, becoming the corporate image for Westinghouse on U. S. TV, and acting as a spokesman for Imperial Tobacco (at the same time as he was making public appearances for the Canadian Cancer Society). He was the first M.C. for lottery draws on TV. He was a member of local 149 of the Toronto Musicians Association for 55 years.
As years rolled on, it was his role on Front Page Challenge that endeared him to his associates and to Canadian television viewers. At the time of his death, panellist Betty Kennedy said: “He was really something special. He had a marvellous ability to make people feel at ease and at home. And he made it look easy – but it wasn’t.” Panelist Alan Fotheringham commented: “He was one of the few that I have ever met (in our business) who was both a true professional and a true gentleman… He was just a class guy.”
Fred Davis died July 5, 1996.
Written by Jerry Fairbridge – August, 2002