It was announced last week that American actor John Forsythe had died at the age of 92 following a battle with cancer. Although Forsythe will forever be associated with Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty he had a long and varied career which stretched back to the 1940s. ATV takes a look back at the career of the actor who’ll be best remembered as oil tycoon Blake Carrington.
John Forsythe early acting roles was in films of the 1940s appearing in Destination Toyko in 1943, Winged Victory and The Trouble with Harry. He also appeared in several Broadway productions such as Mister Roberts and The Teahouse of August Moon. John Forsythe television roles in the early 1950s include appearances in Lights Out, Danger, Studio One, Climax and Alfred Hitchcock Presents – in the 1960s he appeared in another Hitchcock show, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
In 1957 John Forsythe was cast in a leading role in the television comedy series Bachelor Father in which he played playboy lawyer Bentley Gregg. The comedy also starred Noreen Corcoran and over its course had appearances from Mary Tyler Moore, Barabra Eden, Sally Kellerman and a teenage Linda Evans who would some years later once again star alongside Forsythe in Dynasty, as his wife. The comedy was a rating hit but moved channels from CBS to NBC and later to ABC in 1961 but was later cancelled by the broadcaster because of declining ratings.
Following the cancellation of Bachelor Father in 1961 Forsythe continued to work on television in a wide range of roles but also returned to cinema appearing in films such as Kitten with a Whip and In Cold Blood. His television work in the 1960s includes The John Forsythe Show on NBC in the mid 1960s and CBS’s To Rome With Love in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Proving his worth as a voice artist – which would come in use for Charlie’s Angels, Forsythe was the narrator on the wildlife series The World of Survival.
In 1976 John Forsythe was cast in the role of Charlie Townsend in the new detective drama with a twist – Charlie’s Angels. The drama detective drama wouldn’t concentrate on two males, a double-act, investigating a murder or even a solo male detective but instead a trio of female private investigators who worked for the reclusive millionaire Charlie Townsend and aided by Bosley. The fact that the series revolved around three female leads, all of whom were intelligent and able to look after themselves, was something new on television in the late 1970s but part of a growing movement of moving away from the typical roles played by women on television and towards more liberated characters. The success of Charlie’s Angels certainly paved the way for other shows, most notably in the 1980s, which had intelligent and strong female leads – such as Cagney and Lacey.
The role of Charlie’s Townsend on Charlie’s Angels was also slightly different for John Forsythe as he was never actually directly seen on-screen; only his voice would be heard. Charlie would often phone the ‘angels’ with their new assignments and would congratulate them on the completion of their assignment. It became a running gag between the angels at what Charlie looked like and often he would hint to the angels they had unknowingly come across him during the course of their assignment. As Forsythe did not appear on-screen for Charlie’s Angels his filming schedule was a lot less brutal and hectic than those of his co-stars. His dialogue was recorded quickly in a sound studio while his fellow stars would often be filming long days in studios or on-location.
In the first season of Charlie’s Angels were Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett – who’s departure between seasons one and two prompted legal action and who subsequently agreed to return for five more episodes. However, Farrah Fawcett’s return for the five additional episodes were not consecutive and instead spread across two more seasons with actress Cheryl Ladd joining at the start of the second season as Kris, the sister of Fawcett’s character. The departure of Farrah Fawcett wouldn’t be the only exit from the show that would affect it as after three seasons Kate Jackson quit – something from which Charlie’s Angels wouldn’t really recover from as ratings decline and Shelly Hack and later Tanya Roberts were introduced with little success.
In 1981 the series was cancelled because of the declining ratings but in the late 1980s there were plans to revive the series as Angels 88 but these plans fell through. In the early 2000s two Hollywood movies based on the series were made with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Lui as the new ‘angels’. However, to bridge the gap between the two versions of Charlie’s Angels John Forsythe once again provided the voice of the reclusive Charlie. In the second film in addition to John Forsythe voicing Charlie actress Jaclyn Smith had a small cameo role which was implied to be as the same character she portrayed in the television series.
In 1981 the actor took on another role for which he will be most remembered forever; Blake Carrington in Dynasty. The three hour pilot which introduced viewers to Dynasty saw rich oil baron Blake Carrington marry his secretary Krystle [Linda Evans] much to the distaste of his daughter Fallon [Pamela Sue Martin] and his butler Joseph [Lee Bergere] who clearly thought little of his new mistress. Dynasty was ABC’s answer to the highly success Dallas which had launched on CBS in 1978 and was watched by millions thanks to the antics of the double-dealing JR Ewing [Larry Hagman] and it was clear that the character of Blake was inspired by his Dallas counter-part. The first series of Dynasty was not a huge success but established some of the characters who would play crucial part of the soap over its course. Blake’s daughter Fallon married Jeff Colby [John James] as part of a business arrangement with Blake’s business friend – later rival – Cecil Colby [Lloyd Bochner] to help out Blake financially. Stephen [Al Corey] was gay of which Blake thoroughly disapproved and lead to the accidental death of Stephen’s ex boyfriend Ted for which Blake was placed on trial at the end of the first season.
It was the introduction of Alexis [Joan Collins], the ex wife of Blake, at the start of Dynasty’s second season that really put the drama on the map and lived things up. The vengeful Alexis had returned to testify against Blake at his trial and it marked the beginning of a power-struggle between Alexis and Blake that would continue throughout its run. If Alexis wasn’t scheming to get back with Blake, and remove Krystle, she was scheming to bring Blake down with the aid of Cecil Colby and later Adam Carrington, her long lost son. However, although Blake is remembered for his ruthless double dealings and power battles he also had a different, sensitive side which isn’t always remembered.
When Blake was on trial he refused to allow Stephen’s girlfriend Claudia [Pamela Bellwood] to testify because he knew doing so would destroy her marriage – however, Blake’s protestations did not prevent Claudia being asked to testify. When Claudia subsequently had a breakdown because of the disappearance of her husband and daughter, who was later, presumed to have died, Blake once again showed another side by offering Claudia a home, job and help. This even continued when she was suspected of kidnapping his grandson believing him to be her daughter. Blakes compassion towards Claudia helped him become a more fully rounded character rather than the always villain of the piece.
The success of Dynasty led the producers to decide to create a spin-off series because Dallas had successfully spun-off Knots Landing which attracted huge audiences. The spin-off, The Colby’s, saw the characters of Fallon [now played by Emma Samms] and Jeff Colby spun-off into their own show. Although Joan Collins refused to appear in The Colby’s John Forsythe did agree to crossover, such was the popularity of Blake, and appeared in four episodes of the series across its two year run. When The Colby’s was axed due to low ratings Emma Samms and John James rejoined the cast with actresses Stephanie Beacham and Tracy Scoggins crossing over for the final series of Dynasty in 1989.
The final season of Dynasty in 1989 saw the departure of Linda Evans as Krystle early on as her character was written out to Europe to seek an operation while Blake was once again arrested and Alexis was seen falling over a balcony. The series was not re-commissioned for another year because of declining ratings but in 1991 the cast reunited for a special reunion movie which once again featured Blake in a pivotal role. John Forsythe appeared in al 220 episodes of Dynasty – the only actor/actress to do so.
Following the Dynasty reunion in 1991 Forsythe continued to act appearing in the short-lived television series The Powers That Be between 1992 and 1993 appearing in 21 episodes of the series. He reunited with his former Dynasty co-stars in 2006 for the CBS reunion Dynasty: Catfights and Caviar. In 2005 the actor was played by Bartholomew John for the ABC drama Dynasty: The Making of a Guilty Pleasure. The drama looked at the behind-the-scenes antics that went on while producing Dynasty and also starred Alice Krige as Joan Collins and Melora Hardin as Linda Evans.Dynasty: The Making of a Guilty Pleasure was heavily criticised by fans and the actors who worked on Dynasty with several issuing separate statements dismissing events that were portrayed in the drama.
John Forsythe died at the age of 92 on April 1st 2010 following a battle with cancer. A versatile actor with a wide range of credits to his name John Forsythe truly was an icon of the screen.