John Forsythe dies at 92; actor known for roles on TV series ‘Bachelor Father,’ ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Dynasty’
John Forsythe, the suave actor with the silvery hair and mellifluous voice who was familiar to millions for his roles on the popular television series “Bachelor Father,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “Dynasty,” died Thursday. He was 92.
Forsythe, who had heart bypass surgery in 1979 and was hospitalized for colon cancer in 2006, died at his home in the Santa Barbara County town of Santa Ynez from complications of pneumonia, publicist Harlan Boll said.
Skilled at both comedy and drama, the actor began his long career on Broadway, where he stepped in for Henry Fonda in “Mister Roberts” and later originated the lead role in the hit comedy “Teahouse of the August Moon.” He also appeared in many films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble With Harry” and “Topaz.”
But he was best known for three roles: Bentley Gregg, a bachelor uncle whose social life is curtailed when he must care for a young niece; the unseen Charlie, who gives three sexy young detectives their assignments in “Charlie’s Angels”; and, most notably, Blake Carrington, the oil tycoon around whom life revolves in one of TV’s most successful prime-time soap operas, “Dynasty,” which aired from 1981 to 1989.
The actor once described Carrington as “ruthless, powerful, cruel, selfish, kind, loving, tender, passionate.” A dashing character, he inspired catfights between his vengeful ex-wife (Joan Collins) and melancholy second wife (Linda Evans) while fending off nonstop crises.
“He was one of the last true gentlemen of the acting profession,” Collins said in a statement. “I enjoyed our . . . feuding, fussing and fighting as the Carringtons.”
Forsythe got the role partly because he had played against his good-TV-dad image as a sadistic judge in the 1979 Norman Jewison film ". . . And Justice for All,” which starred Al Pacino.
“To be seen in so unredeemable a part was a revelation to some people,” Forsythe told The Times in 1980 of his portrayal of the judge.
He was born John Lincoln Freund on Jan. 29, 1918, in Penns Grove, N.J., to Samuel Freund and his wife, Blanche. When John was 6, the family moved to New York City, where his father worked on Wall Street.
A baseball player in high school and college, Forsythe attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent summers as a public-address announcer at Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Even then he had this caressing, mellifluous voice . . . and drop-dead good looks that would make him a show business staple for half a century,” Times sports columnist Jim Murray wrote of Forsythe in 1990.
After dropping out of college as a junior, Forsythe took roles on radio soap operas before segueing to film.
He had parts in two 1943 war-related movies, most notably “Destination Tokyo” with Cary Grant. That same year, he joined the Army Air Forces and continued his acting as Pvt. John Forsythe in Moss Hart’s “Winged Victory,” the Broadway play produced by the Army Air Forces.
After the war, Forsythe returned to the stage as one of the progeny in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” directed by Elia Kazan. He also studied at the Actors Studio, where his gentlemanly clothes stood out.
Marlon “Brando and Montgomery Clift and all those were in torn T-shirts, and I had my button-down collars,” Forsythe later said. “They called me the Brooks Bros. bohemian.”
He toured with “Mister Roberts” and filled in for Fonda in the title role during the show’s three-year Broadway run.
By then, Forsythe was dabbling in television on live dramas such as “Kraft Television Theatre” but was back on Broadway in 1953 in “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” His genial performance in the long-running comedy earned comparisons to Fonda.
“It gave me a sense of worth as an actor,” Forsythe later said of the role.
In the 1950s, he starred in many films, including “It Happens Every Thursday” with Loretta Young, “Everything but the Truth” with Maureen O’Hara and “The Trouble With Harry,” which marked the film debut of the young Shirley MacLaine.
But by then, Forsythe, a family man, wanted parts that would keep him closer to home. In 1943, he had married singer-actress Julie Warren, and they had daughters Page and Brooke, in addition to his son, Dall, from a brief marriage to actress Parker McCormick.
In 1957, he switched to television with “Bachelor Father,” an amiable family show that also starred Noreen Corcoran as his niece and Sammee Tong as their houseboy. The show endured for five years.
“The real joke is not that I, a bachelor, am the girl’s father,” he told TV Guide in 1960. “The funny part is that Sammee Tong behaves in all our family crises as if he were her mother.”
“The John Forsythe Show,” another situation comedy, soon followed. He considered the one-season show a forgettable disaster.
He kept his hand in films, including “Kitten With a Whip” opposite Ann-Margret as a teenage delinquent, “Madame X” with Lana Turner and the 1967 dramatization of Truman Capote’s chilling book, “In Cold Blood,” in which Forsythe played a detective.
Also, in 1964, he made a bit of TV history by starring in NBC’s “See How They Run,” billed as the first made-for-TV movie.
He was back in a TV series in 1969 with “To Rome With Love,” another take on bachelor fatherhood, this time as a widowed college professor with three daughters who teaches in Italy.
In 1976, he took the role of the avuncular Charlie Townsend -- the disembodied voice in the hit ABC series that began with his saying: “Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy. . . .” The show made a star of Farrah Fawcett and also featured Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd, among other actresses.
Before “Charlie’s Angels” ended in 1981 after five seasons, Forsythe was ensconced in ABC’s “Dynasty,” with its larger-than-life characters and plot lines.
He modeled Carrington on then-MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman, who was “strong and tough, but a man of great integrity,” Forsythe told The Times in 1991.
Though Forsythe had a long and respectable career, he told the newspaper in 1992: “I’ve had an interesting life for a guy who stumbled into the whole acting business.”
For many years, Forsythe was deeply involved in horse racing and owned and bred horses at his ranch north of Santa Barbara. He was the national spokesman for the Breeders’ Cup and on the board at Hollywood Park for several years.
Forsythe’s wife Julie died in 1994 after more than 50 years of marriage. In 2002, he married Nicole Carter, who survives him, as do his son, Dall; daughters, Page Courtemanche and Brooke Forsythe; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Luther is a former Times staff writer.
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