Friday, April 02, 2010


John Forsythe (1918-2010)

John Forsythe, who has died at the age of 92, had a long career as a leading man in movies and television, even a bit on stage, but for all the work that played off his distinguished looks, one of his most famous roles may always be the one the depended solely on the timber of his voice.

Forsythe's first film of note was 1943's Destination Tokyo, but the majority of his early career was spent on various episodic television and the stage, including a role in the Broadway debut of Teahouse of the August Moon in 1953.

In 1955, he landed the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's dark comic classic The Trouble With Harry. Two years later, he starred in his first television series, Bachelor Father, which ran through 1962.

In 1964, he starred opposite Ann-Margret in the cult classic Kitten With a Whip. In 1965, he had a short-lived, self-titled TV comedy that ran a mere 29 episodes about a retired Air Force major who inherits a school for girls.

In 1967, he landed a role in Richard Brooks' classic adaptation of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. In 1969, he and Hitchcock worked together again, this time in one of the master's lesser works, Topaz. The same year he played opposite Jean Simmons in her Oscar-nominated role in The Happy Ending.

1969 also brought him another television series, To Rome With Love, about a widower who takes his three daughters and accepts a teaching position at a school in Italy. It lasted two seasons.

Then, in 1976, he finally landed his most successful series to date and he never had to appear on camera. All he had to do was begin his dialogue with, "Hello, angels" and you'd recognize the voice as John Forsythe on Charlie's Angels. Throughout the years of the series until its end in 1981, the angels may have been replaced, but there was only one Charlie. In fact, when they decided to do a movie version in 2000, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz may have been the new angels, but Forsythe was still Charlie.

No sooner had Charlie's Angels gone away that Forsythe scored another television hit and this time, he actually appeared on screen as well. Aaron Spelling, looking to cash in on the success of Dallas, designed his own soap opera among the rich and famous and Dynasty was born with Forsythe playing Blake Carrington. He also appeared as Blake on the spinoff The Colbys and a Dynasty reunion movie.

In the middle of the run of Charlie's Angels, he had a juicy big screen turn as a corrupt judge battling Al Pacino's crusading lawyer in 1979's And Justice For All... He returned to the big screen again briefly during Dynasty in 1988 to play the ghost of Bill Murray's old boss to tell him what was about to happen in that take on "A Christmas Carol," Scrooged.

Forsythe's final TV series didn't last, but I enjoyed it. It was from Norman Lear and was about a political family titled The Powers That Be with Forsythe playing a Reaganesque senator with Holland Taylor as his Nancyesque wife. It also introduced TV audiences to the comic talents of David Hyde Pierce, who played his congressman son-in-law.

R.I.P. Mr. Forsythe.

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I once confessed my love of Mr. Forsythe to a very famous critic -- She Who Cannot Be Named -- who looked at me in horror and asked "Are you kidding? He must look like your father." He did not (my father resembled a convergence of Stan Laurel and Fred Astaire), but Forsythe, who I believe was a sports announcer, had the most seductive of voices. I fell for him in the days of "Bachelor Father" (sigh).
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