Tuesday, April 13, 2010

John Forsythe, R.I.P.

John Forsythe had a pretty good career. He was on three hit television series, which is three more than most of us and at least two more than many of today’s so-called stars. He was once referred to as “the epitome of the suave leading man." He was constantly surrounded on screen by beautiful women. I think we can agree that the man was pretty successful.

There was also an ease with which he handled many of these roles, particularly when he wasn’t the dominant character on the screen. Take the disembodied voice in Charlie’s Angels, for example, or the proto-anti-hero in Dynasty, the corrupt judge in And Justice For All, or the man trying so hard to hide the dead body in The Trouble With Harry.

My point is, you don’t remember the voice of Charles Townsend nearly as much as you do his angels bouncing (literally) across your screen.* You don’t remember Blake Carrington nearly as much as you do his his scheming, over-the-top, bitchy ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins).** He was frequently upstaged by the painfully young Shirley MacLaine in The Trouble With Harry, and if Al Pacino had chewed up any more scenery than he did, they’d have had to have his stomach pumped. Yet I’d be willing to suggest that without John Forsythe, none of them would have held together as well. Even when he wasn’t center stage, it was impossible to miss him

* When I wrote this line originally, I typed “angles” instead of “angels”. Freudian slip, obviously.

** Who had some pretty good angles herself.

John Forsythe first hit the television jackpot with his 50s series Bachelor Father, where he played Bentley Gregg, a wealthy playboy (how could you not be with a name like that?) who abruptly finds himself father to his suddenly orphaned niece.* Bachelor Father was a hit for five seasons, and he followed it with a couple of seasons of To Rome With Love in the late 60s and early 70s, along with appearances on other shows and specials, not to mention Topaz, In Cold Blood, and other big screen movies.

* It was a rerun of Bachelor Father which the NBC affiliate in New York preempted with the first bulletin of JFK’s assassination. Just thought you’d like to know.

His unlikely return to stardom came courtesy of the 80s soap Dynasty, where he managed to avoid not only Collins’ claws but Linda Evans’ shoulder pads and still emerge with his dignity intact. It was the role of a lifetime for him, and he made the most of it. He was, in his 60s, a sex symbol all over again.*

* He was not the first choice to for the lead in Dynasty, incidentally. It was George Peppard, who turned it down (he claimed) or had a run-in with the show’s writers (they claimed) and wound up instead on The A Team. People laughed at Peppard and his bad fortune. For awhile. When The A Team became a hit, they stopped laughing.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think that people remember John Forsythe for more than just Dynasty, or Charlie’s Angels. I myself think of Bentley Gregg, who came along a decade before Brian Keith’s turn on Family Affair, or the world-weary writer Al Manheim in What Makes Sammy Run?, or the major determined to find A Bell for Adono on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. There were those, and many more roles, from a career that spanned seven decades in movies and television.

John Forsythe died on April 1, at the age of 92. As I said, not a bad career at all.


  1. " he managed to avoid not only Collins’ claws but Linda Evans’ shoulder pads and still emerge with his dignity intact." LOL! Love it. Thanks.

    Now Dixie Carter?

  2. Charlie outlived two of the three Bosleys. Just for fun, can you find the only Bosley still living?

    Be careful Terry when saying Dixie Carter. Some men who watch that ugly MTV channel called Spike (I've hated it because of how it was started thanks to my ties with Howard Augustine Wheeler Jnr aka Humpy through school) think of a different Dixie Carter (the legit leader of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling) so MTV has had to make sure that is a different one.


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