Feature

John Forsythe

The suave actor who charmed his way through Dynasty

John Forsythe
1918–2010

By his own admission, John Forsythe was “a vastly usable, not wildly talented actor.” But he used his debonair good looks and sonorous voice to forge an enduring career in stage, television, and film. Forsythe is probably best remembered for the role of the silver fox Blake Carrington in ABC’s prime time soap opera Dynasty, which ran from 1981 to 1989. Making the most of his suave demeanor, he played a Denver oil tycoon who was fought over by his wife and ex-wife, making Forsythe a sex symbol in his 60s. The role earned him two Golden Globe awards and three Emmy nominations.

The son of a stockbroker, Forsythe was born John Lincoln Freund in Penns Grove, N.J. He won an athletic scholarship to the University of North Carolina, said The Washington Post, but left after three years to pursue a career in show business. After working as an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Forsythe moved into acting, he said, because “I loved to eat during wintertime.” He soon won roles on radio soaps and then worked his way from children’s theater to Broadway. Signed by Warner Bros., he made two war pictures in 1943 before heading back to Broadway, where he appeared that same year in Moss Hart’s Winged Victory and later in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Forsythe replaced Henry Fonda in the title role of the Broadway hit Mister Roberts.

In film, he played an artist in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry (1955), acted opposite Ann-Margret in Kitten With a Whip (1964), and played the chief murder investigator in the adaptation of Truman Capote’s best-selling In Cold Blood (1967). But television is where Forsythe made his mark, said The New York Times. In 1957 he landed the first of several lead TV roles—“another dashing, well-dressed self-possessed man of means: Bentley Gregg, the playboy Beverly Hills lawyer in the sitcom Bachelor Father.” Later, Forsythe played “Charlie,” the disembodied telephone voice of the patron of three beautiful female detectives in Charlie’s Angels, which ran from 1976 to 1981. He reprised the role in the 2000 film and its sequel based on the show. As the ruthless tycoon Blake Carrington on Dynasty, a role Forsythe won after George Peppard abandoned it, Forsythe carried the plot to comical extremes. “He was charged with murdering his son’s gay lover in the very first episode,” said the London Times, “survived a plane crash, emerged unscathed from a massacre at a wedding reception, and finished up getting shot by a policeman.”

Forsythe had three marriages, his second, to Julie Warren, lasting 51 years until her death, in 1994. He was a founding member of New York’s famed Actors Studio, in 1947, but despite achieving wealth and popular success, he avoided any claims to greatness. “I figure there are a few actors like Marlon Brando, George C. Scott, and Laurence Olivier who have been touched by the hand of God,” he once said. “I’m in the next bunch.”

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