And so comes the end of a Dynasty. . .
Published 10/04/2010 | 05:00
John Forsythe was well into his sixties and a moderately successful film and television actor, when his career was transformed by a fortunate piece of casting. The first choice to play Blake Carrington, the oil tycoon at the centre of the soap opera Dynasty, was George Peppard.
But Peppard left over differences with the producers and Forsythe secured the part, becoming the only actor to appear in all 220 episodes. A celebration of wealth, glamour and greed, Dynasty ran for most of the 1980s concurrently with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and could be seen as the unacceptable face of his free-market economics.
When the series began, Forsythe's silver-haired patriarch had taken a new wife, Krystle (Linda Evans), but a former, much-married spouse, Alexis, was soon back causing trouble. She was played, in another career-rescuing performance, by Joan Collins.
The Blake-Krystle-Alexis triangle, and all of its ramifications, fuelled most of the increasingly preposterous plots.
Although Blake was one of the less flamboyant characters, his life was never dull. He was charged with murdering his son's gay lover in the very first episode, survived a plane crash, emerged unscathed from a massacre at a wedding reception and finished up getting shot by a policeman.
In between he struggled to hold on to his business empire and fend off the evil Alexis. The show made Forsythe -- who up to then had been best known for his voice-only contribution to Charlie's Angels -- into a star and a very rich one. He was a handsome presence but a limited actor who finally found a role that fitted him, though only after he resisted attempts by the producers to make Blake too nasty.
He was born John Lincoln Freund in Penns Grove, New Jersey, in 1918, and raised in Brooklyn, New York City. He graduated from high school at 16 and went on to the University of North Carolina. He became an announcer at baseball games in Brooklyn and this led to other radio work. Although discouraged by his father, he took up acting, became a bit-part player for Warner Brothers in Hollywood and appeared in Destination Tokyo (1943). Cary Grant was the star, Forsythe had 12th billing.
He served in the US Army during World War Two and worked with injured soldiers who had developed speech problems.
In 1947 he joined the initial class of the Actors Studio, which espoused the Method acting technique of Stanislavski. Here he was a contemporary of Marlon Brando and Julie Harris. He appeared on Broadway in Mister Roberts, succeeding Henry Fonda in the title role, and The Teahouse of the August Moon.
Alfred Hitchcock gave him a leading part opposite Shirley MacLaine (making her film debut) in The Trouble With Harry (1955).
Although this gentle black comedy went on to become a cult classic, and one of Hitchcock's favourites, it flopped on its first release and did nothing for Forsythe's career. On Hitchcock's advice he moved into television, and found success as a lawyer who becomes the reluctant guardian to his teenage niece in the comedy Bachelor Father, which ran for four seasons from 1957.
He also appeared in Hitchcock's television shows and had his own series, The John Forsythe Show (1965-66).
But neither this, nor the subsequent comedy series To Rome With Love (1969-71), were successful and neither was seen in Ireland. He appeared in another, inferior Hitchcock film, Topaz (1969), but his career seemed to have become stuck in narration and voiceovers when it was unexpectedly revived.
The producer Aaron Spelling had come up with a fantasy adventure series in which a team of glamorous women work undercover to solve unlikely crimes. They were Charlie's Angels -- Charlie was their employer and Forsythe was chosen to play him. But the character never appeared on screen and so Forsythe was seldom required on set, recording his contributions on tape.
Initially starring Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Jaclyn Smith as the Angels, with Cheryl Ladd joining later, this glossy, undemanding fare was enormously popular and ran from 1976 to 1981.
Although Forsythe was only a voice, he became one of the highest-paid actors on television, investing much of his wealth in his hobby of breeding and racing thoroughbred horses.
Surviving a quadruple heart bypass in 1979, he completed his stint with Charlie's Angels and was soon at the centre of Spelling's next project, Dynasty. He also played Blake Carrington in the spin-off series, The Colbys, and like Linda Evans and Joan Collins, launched his own perfume range, an aftershave called Carrington Cologne, on the back of the show.
By the time Dynasty ended, Forsythe was into his seventies and rich enough not to have to work. But in 1992 he returned to television for a situation comedy, The Powers That Be, in which he starred as an elderly, incompetent senator with a dysfunctional family. The series never quite gelled, was cancelled after a season.
Forsythe came briefly out of retirement to play Charlie in the film of Charlie's Angels (2000) and its sequel, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003).
He married his first wife, the actress Parker McCormack, in 1939, and they had a son, but were divorced after three years. He had two daughters with his second wife, Julie Warren, also an actress, in a marriage which lasted for 51 years until her death in 1994. In 2002 he married Nicole Carter, a businesswoman 22 years his junior. He was 92 when he died.