When it comes to premonitions, I have to admit I’m a bit of a skeptic. And yet for some odd reason, I convinced myself over the past few days that the next television immortal that would be taken from us would be John Forsythe. Don’t ask me how I came to this conclusion, particularly since I’m saddened to learn of his passing at the age of 92. (I had planned to watch a rerun of Bachelor Father this morning except that it was the same one RTV ran yesterday.)
Bachelor Father was Forsythe’s first big television success; a benign if occasionally amusing situation comedy about a successful Hollywood attorney named Bentley Gregg whose household consisted of his niece Kelly (Noreen Corcoran), his valet/houseboy Peter Tong (Sammee Tong) and a big shaggy mutt named Jasper. Most of the situations on the series centered on Bentley’s attempts to be a surrogate parent to Kelly (whose lost both her parents in a car accident when she was thirteen) while at the same time not allowing the newest addition to Castle Gregg to cramp his style via the ladies (Bentley, to put it in the nicest way possible, was a bit of a hound).
Father became a huge TV hit largely in part to the fact that it alternated weekly with The Jack Benny Show; in fact, Benny himself appeared in an episode (“Bentley, the Homemaker” – 01/19/58) as a guest in one of the earliest-known attempts to “goose” the ratings. Father was also one of many shows that made the rounds of the “Big Three” networks: it premiered on CBS in 1957, moved to NBC in the summer of 1959, and finished out its five-year-run on ABC beginning in the fall of 1961. After Father, Forsythe had a fling at two other series: The John Forsythe Show (1965-66), whose premise of the actor as a retired Air Force major running a girls’ school was a little too similar to Father, and To Rome With Love (1969-71), another family comedy with Forsythe as a widower teaching in the titular city and having to cope with the problems of three daughters (Melanie Fullerton, Joyce Menges, Susan Neher).
Come the 1970s, Forsythe landed a plum gig as the voice of “Charlie” on the hit series Charlie’s Angels…and with the onslaught of the 1980s, found another television smash in the primetime soap Dynasty as oil billionaire Blake Carrington, which is probably the TV showcase for which he’s best remembered. He had one more try at a hit series in the 1990s with The Powers That Be (1992-93), a short-lived political comedy that failed to live up to its promise; he played a clueless senator whose ambitious wife (Holland Taylor) called the shots in his office.
Forsythe was such a fixture on television that it’s sometimes easy to forget he also enjoyed a not-too-shabby film career; he starred in two Hitchcock pictures, The Trouble with Harry (1955) and Topaz (1969), and can also be seen in such TDOY faves as Destination Tokyo (1943), The Captive City (1952), Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and In Cold Blood (1967). And who can forget his performance as an evil judge battling with idealistic attorney Al Pacino in ...And Justice for All. (1979)? (He was a real piece of work in that one.)
R.I.P, John. You will be sorely missed.