Friday, April 2, 2010

R.I.P, John Forsythe

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.

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Edward Copeland said...

I forgot about And Justice For All... when I was rushing to get my tribute up. I must have not noticed it when I quickly perused his IMDb listing.

Hal said...

I always kind of compared Forsythe with Bob Cummings. Both were underrated performers who twice starred in Hitchcock films (Cummings' were the underrated SABOTEUR and DIAL M FOR MURDER) and both had pretty good film careers but became best known playing 'hounds' on 1950s television---Cummings, of course, on LOVE THAT BOB, and truthfully, BACHELOR FATHER was mainly the most successful knockoff of LOVE THAT BOB of the several that were tried (i.e. THE DENNIS O'KEEFE SHOW).

Each man acquitted himself nicely when given a meaty dramatic role: you mention Forsythe in IN COLD BLOOD and ...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL; Cummings had his fine moments in KING'S ROW and THE BLACK BOOK/REIGN OF TERROR.

Another Forsythe performance I enjoyed was in a little known, but effective TV movie from the mid-1970's called CRY PANIC. Worth checking out if you can find it.

hobbyfan said...

I remember seeing "To Rome With Love", which was Don Fedderson's last sitcom for CBS. Too bad that it isn't as widely available as Mr. Forsythe's other hits. RTV in Albany dropped Bachelor Father back in December to make room for Daniel Boone, but when will RTV get the cajones to do tribute blocks. That's three stars on their "roster" now that have passed in the last two weeks!

I wasn't that big on Dynasty, never really got into soaps anyway. I'd only tune in for Charlie's Angels if there wasn't anything else on, and I suppose if they go through with the reboot, they'll dedicate that to Forsythe, David Doyle, AND Farrah Fawcett. That's three of the original cast gone now, if you're keeping score at home.

patrick lordoew said...

This is available on DVD I found the listings below they look ok. Thanks