Saturday, April 3, 2010

Handsome and Talented: The Wow Career of Nice Guy John Forsythe

Robin interviewing John Forsythe on a location shoot with the cast of the ABC-TV series "Dynasty".

Sorry to hear about the recent death of John Forsythe. He died of cancer at the age of 92. He had been a working actor for a long time, and he didn't get nearly enough credit for his talent nor for his success in a range of media. I read an entire obituary of him, in what I believe is known as a reputable newspaper, that didn't even mention his best film role, nor his very early success in television.

Memories are so short (and newspaper staffers so poorly paid?) the obit mentioned only his years as the voice on Charlie's Angles, and his role as Blake Carrington on the TV series Dynasty.

I interviewed him during his Dynasty years, and found him bemused to be rediscovered and a hot property at the age of ... well, he didn't say his age but I looked him up and he was 67 the year I met him. He was still very handsome with his white hair (and artfully glued on supplement), and he was articulate, self-effacing, and kind about talking with reporters. (Joan Collins didn't do any interviews that day, while he made time for all of us.)

The location shoot was at the old estate of silent movie star Harold Lloyd, and Forsythe told me; "I go back so far I actually attended a party here when Harold Lloyd was still alive!"

I remember watching him on a television series called Bachelor Father (1957-1962) in which he played a sort of single-parent obverse to the Donna Reed Show. Noreen Corcoran played his oprhaned niece and Sammee Tong was his houseboy. The LA Times quoted him as saying of the show: "The real joke is not that I, a bachelor, am the girl's father. The funny part is that Sammee Tong behaves in all our family crises as if he were her mother."

I think his best role was as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent in In Cold Blood (1967). He was a low key and quiet antidote to the absolute creepiness of the criminals he was hunting in this strange tale of murder from the pen of Truman Capote. The psychopathic killers, played by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, were so dark, the film itself needed John Forsythe at its center to play the role of conscience. His square, intelligent, handsome face--representing the world of values and sunlight--became the heart of the film. The film received four Oscar nominations and won many awards for director Richard Brooks. It is a terrific film, and Forsythe was a big part of it.

His range was amazing: he starred with Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo(1943), worked for Hitchcock in The Trouble with Harry (1955), got kinky with Ann Margaret in the unwatchable but nevertheless memorable Kitten with a Whip (1964), starred on Broadway in Arthur Miller's All My Sons, and as late as 1980 had a memorable part in the movie ... And Justice for All, playing an unpleasant judge, with Al Pacino. Oh and I almost forgot: he was so good in Scrooged (1984) with Bill Murray! This guy could pretty much do it all.

And, unusual in Hollywood, he had a good marriage too. He and Julie Warren were together for fifty years, until her death in 1994.

Like the talent he was, he made it all look so easy. But I wonder if there is an actor today who will have his longevity and versatility, and be able to pull it off with such class?

I'm glad I got to meet him.

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