Friday, April 2, 2010

The Late, Great John Forsythe

John Forsythe, star of Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry and the TV show Bachelor Father, and the voice of Charlie on the series Charlie's Angels and the two movies spun off from the series, passed yesterday at the age of 92. The cause was complications from pneumonia. He recently battled colon cancer.

John Forsythe was born John Freund on January 29, 1918 in Penns Grove, New Jersey. He grew up in Brooklyn. He graduated from high school when he was only sixteen. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but dropped out when he got a job as an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With a pleasant yet strong voice, John Forsythe was quite successful as the Dodgers' announcer, so much so that he moved into radio. From radio he was able to go onto the stage, making his Broadway debut in Yankee Point  in 1942. The following year he made his movie debut in an uncredited part in Northern Pursuit. That same year he appaerd in the film Destination Tokyo and the play Winged Victory. In 1944 Mr. Forsythe appeared in the play Yellow Jack. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Force.

Following the war John Forsythe returned to acting. In 1947 he returned to radio on the show The Theatre Guild on the Air (AKA The United States Steel Hour) in an adaptation of The Age of Innocence. He also appeared on Broadway in It Takes Two. In 1948 he made his television debut in an episode of Kraft Television Theatre. That same year he appeared in an episode of Actor's Studio. The next few years Mr. Forsythe's career consisted entirely of television and radio. On television he appeared in NBC Presents, The Ford Theatre Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents Starlight Theatre, and Lights Out. On radio he appeared on two episodes of Broadway is My Beat. He returned to film in 1952 in The Captive City. In 1953 he returned to Broadway in The Teahouse of August Moon.

Throughout the Fifties John Forsythe appeared in several films, including Escape from Fort Bravo, The Glass Web, and It Happens Every Thursday. In 1955 he appeared in one of his best known roles, in the under appreciated Hitchcock classic The Trouble With Harry. In the film he played artist Sam Marlowe, the voice of reason when everyone else panics at the presence of Harry's corpse in their town. He would finish out the Fifties by appearing in such films as The Ambassador's Daughter, Everything But the Truth, and Il vendicatore. His career was primarily in television, guest starring on such shows as Suspense, The Philco Television Playhouse, The United States Steel Hour, Studio One (several times), Alfred Hitchock Presents, Goodyear Television Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, Climax, and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. In 1957 he took the lead role of Bentley Gregg in the series Bachelor Father. Gregg was a playboy father who finds himself in custody of his niece (Noreen Corcoran) following her parents' deaths. The series ran until 1962. Popular in its time, Bachelor Father was one of the first shows featuring a single father, a format which would become very popular in the Sixties (The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Bonanza to name a few). He also appeared on radio in the shows Best Plays, Stagestruck, and This is My Story,

After Bachelor Father went off the air, Mr. Forsythe guest starred on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Alcoa Premiere, The Dick Powell Show, and Kraft Suspense Theatre. From 1965 to 1966 he was the star of his own sitcom The John Forsythe Show. He guest starred on Run For Your Life and The Red Skelton Show. In 1969 he was cast as the lead in the family comedy series To Rome with Love. The show ran until 1971, victim of CBS' "Rural Purge." He appeared in the films Kitten with a Whip (one of the most notorious campy movies of all time), Madame X, In Cold Blood, Silent Treatment, Hitchcock's Topaz, and The Happy Ending. He also appeared on Broadway one last time in Weekend.

In the Seventies John Forsythe appeared in the television movies Murder Once Removed, Cry Panic, and Tail Gunner Joe. He guest starred on Police Story, Medical Story, and The Feather and Father Gang. In 1976 he became the Charlie on the series Charlie's Angels. Millionaire and private investigator Charlie would deliver his instructions to his operatives (his "angels") over a speaker phone. At no point in the series was his face ever seen. A hit in its first season, it ran five seasons. He also appeared on The Hallmark Hall of Fame. He appeared in the films as Goodbye e amen and And Justice For All.

In the Eighties John Forsythe played the lead on the series Dynasty, which ran for nine seasons. He also appeared in several episodes of The Colbys. He appeared in the film Scrooged. In the Nineties Mr. Forsythe starred in the short lived classic TV show The Powers That Be. He was a guest voice on the animated series Gargoyles. In the Naughts he reprised his role as the voice of Charlie Townsend in the movies Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. As in the series from which the movies were spun off, his face was never seen on screen.

John Forsythe was one of the greatest actors to ever appear on television. His voice was mellifluous yet powerful, making him the perfect father figure. This is not to say that John Forsythe was limited to roles as authority figures. He could just as easily play a charming and talented slacker such as Sam Marlowe or a playboy like Bentley Gregg. Mr. Forsythe could even play villains, as in the 1968 television film Shadow on the Land, where his character (General Bruce). I am not sure I ever saw John Forsythe give a bad performance. Even when the material was poor (such as Kitten with a Whip), John Forsythe still gave impressive performances.

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