At home with John Forsythe.
"i was 22 years old at the time and had done some announcing for the Dodgers--but no real acting. Yet it interested me. I said to my father, 'Acting really is very appealing, you know.' There was a long silence, which seemed endless, though it was probably only ten minutes or less; and then he looked at me and said, 'I'm worried about your sister. And I've worried about your brother, but until now, I never worried about you. I've always thought that whatever happened, you would wind up O.K.'
"I responded, 'Well, I'm really very grateful for your saying that.' I realized, however, that he had said 'until now.' So I asked, 'What makes you feel differently today?' He said, 'What makes you think you can be an actor?' I told him, 'OH, I don't know for sure. I'd just like to try ti instead of going into Wall Street, where you are.' I hesitated, then added, 'Aren't you confident about me any more?' He also hesitated before replying, 'I'm one of your biggest fans, John. But you just do not look like an actor.' I asked him what an actor looked like. His reply was one I'll never forget: 'They're jaunty, flamboyant. They've got deep voices. And you don't dress like an actor. You don't wear your coat over your shoulders and have your hat tipped.'"
In retrospect, Forsythe believes his father's grudging attitude was helpful. "I have to say about him that he never tried to force his viewpoint upon me. One of the great things he did for me was to support me, whatever I might decide. He allowed me to be a self-sufficient human being."
Forsythe smiles warmly as he adds, "You know, my father kept worrying about me for the longest while, but he lived enough years after that to see me do very well on the stage in New York City and the early years of television."
The actor had a somewhat smoother relationship with his mother. "My mother was never less than reassuring and sensitive. Anything that I wanted was perfectly all right as far as she was concerned. Everybody in the world loved her. She was one of the most generous women ever--not a mean bone in her body."
John Forsythe's parents are gone now. Sadly, his brother and his sister are also dead. "I am the only family member left," he says simply. "My brother and sister smoked a great deal. It destroyed their bodies."
"But I now have a new family, and I don't allow my sorrow to overwhelm me. I'm quite sure that my father, my mother, my brother and my sister are, as we speak, living a life that is, in the final analysis, far better, far more serene, far more beautiful than this one of mortality.
"I said that we should make the best we can of the years we have left here. I do believe that fully. Filling out this life is terribly important--doing good things; living constructively; loving; caring--we must treat our fellow human beings decently and, yes, hope that we will be treated that way in return."
If John Forsythe is bitter, it is toward those who promote the habit of smoking. "The smoking industry has been perpetrating a cruel hoax on countless millions of people, fostering the notion of smoking's social acceptability and desirability," he says. "This does nothing but get me angry."
John does much more than merely siet back and fume. He is a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. He does public-service announcements on television and radio and appears at functions around the country--even, as he did some months ago, before a congressional subcommittee.
"I quit smoking 30 years ago," he says. "I did this because it was all so ridiculous and harmful. I was having circulation problems at the time. My doctor commented that smoking cigarettes was aggravating the situation. Most smokers have circulatory difficulties anyway, because smoking constricts the arteries of the body.
"The whole habit is so insidious. After you get the nicotine out of your system, then you have to deal with something so simple, and yet so annoying, as what to do with your hands. For nearly two years after I quit, I found myself fighting at the dinner table," he said.
And he has seen a number of his friends become quite ill due to their own compulsive smoking.
"A character actor came to the set recently; I hadn't seen him for ages. And I was shocked when I did. He weighed more than 300 pounds and had to breathe through the aid of a portable respirator. He was a shell of what he once had been. I doubt that he will be with us much longer--and those remaining days will be increasingly tormented."
Although at nearly 66 he appears robust, his face tanned, his voice vibrant, Forsythe has legitimate concerns about his own health.
"Becoming used to the probability of diminishing physical health as you get older takes a great deal of adjustment," he says. "You perhaps try to kid yourself that you are in as good shape as you ever were--but this ignores the biological truths that affect us all."
In John's case, the reality of diminishing physical health became particularly vivid three years ago.
"I had what is called a congenital heart problem," he continues. "You see, I was born with very small coronary arteries, inadequate for the supply of blood my body needed. Over recent years, I had been experiencing increasing fatigue. When I was younger, my health was better and my system could fight off the effects more readily.
"But then after a trip to Africa for my 'World of Survival' series, I felt especially bad. The doctors put me through some tests--and arrived at the conclusions that I needed a heart-bypass operation."
As is the case with many successful men, John had gone along through the decades with the growing conviction that, while he was certainly not immortal, his strength and vigor nevertheless would hold through anything.
"I didn't even go to the doctors as much as I should have," he admits. "To be brought face-to-face with the nature of my condition proved to be a traumatic moment.
"But my wife, Julie, and I knew that something had to be done, either through surgery or through an altered lifestyle. Rather than have a heart attack while I was playing tennis or working late at night on a show as we sometimes have to do, we decided it was best for me to submit to the operation."
He was on the operating table for more than five hours. "It was a harrowing time, to be sure. They had to replace or repair four arteries. But everything turned out well. Apparently, I was a very good candidate for the operation. I went in with minimal risk. A day and a half afterwards, I was walking around and doing crossword puzzles because I was bored to death. They took me out of intensive care after two days and put me in a separate room. I walked around the room almost immediately, and a day or so later I was in the halls and talking to everybody. I went home after eight days. And I was back playing tennis in two months.
"I was walking a mile or two each day just eight days after the operation. I played tennis somewhat awkwardly at first because I couldn't serve or reach up very high, since lifting my arm very much was impossible due to the wire holding the flesh on my chest together."
He pauses, then adds, "I am amazed at how well I recuperated. I often think that the strain on my loved ones was worse than for me, particularly during that five-hour-plus period as my wife and daughters sat in the waiting room, wondering what was going to happen."
Then, with great intentness, he says, "But it all wasn't a rosy picture by any means. If I had not been in the basically good shape I was, the aftermath could have been much more severe. It wasn't the physical that seemed to suffer the most, but the emotional, the psychological."
Another actor, Rod Steiger, has stated he suffered from near suicidal tendencies for a year after a similar operation. Instead of being glad that he was alive, Steiger had been brought face-to-face with the precariousness of a body's health at any given moment; and the threat of death, the closeness of it, plunged him into a disastrous mental state.
"My depression certainly wasn't as severe as that," John says. "But it was there in any event.
"It takes a long time for you to begin to feel as you thought you might. I was talking about this with the surgeon who performed the operation. He made an observation that I will never forget. He said, 'I didn't cure your condition; I corrected it.' And that condition could reoccur if I weren't careful with myself."
Being careful involves a combination of diet and exercise.
"I don't eat meat; I eat fish and chicken. Unfortunately, I am absolutely passionate about cheese. My idea of heaven i to sit with an apple and a piece of cheese and gnaw at them," he says.
The Forsythes live rather quietly in their Bel Air home, which looks out on a spectacular view. John and Julie's marriage has lasted nearly 40 years--close to a record in Hollywood, though they yield first place to the Ricardo Montalbans, who have been married for several years longer. (John's first marriage lasted only a brief time and ended in divorce.)
"With the inestimable help of my wife, I have raised two wonderful children," says john. "They give as much joy to me as I try to return to them. Julie's talent as an interior decorator fills every inch of this house with the colors and designs that make it so pleasing."
Outside, the landscaping on the Forsythe property gives it an estate-like look-understated, dignified: rather the impression that John himself projects.
"I remember so vividly how we almost lost all this some 20 years ago during the Bel Air Fire, which we all suspected was probably caused by a careless smoker," he said. "It was some miracle that anything in this areas survived intact. But you know what?" he added. "The memory isn't all bad. The fact was, the people got together and helped one another. People who, until then, hardly even knew each other came together in a central community that I will remember for the rest of my life."
Forsythe can call on many other pleasant memories of his 40-odd years in show business. Following the aforementioned stint as an Ebbets' Field announcer for the old Brooklyn Dodgers, he firstf showed up in the movies in Winged Victory (1944). At war's end, it was back to the New York area, training at the Actor's Studio, where, he said, he was "known as the Brooks Brothers Bohemian" (perhaps translatable into today's jargon as the "preppy hippy"). Whatever form John's lifestyle took at that time, it seemed to work, as he moved upward in the Broadway hierachy: a role in All My Sons; replacement for Henry Fonda in Mr. Roberts; and finally his very own lead in Teahouse of the August Moon.
But it's not Forsythe's Broadway work for which that younger, dark-haired actor is best remembered. Ask a Blake Carrington fan today, and he'll tell you that his hero's most notable previous role was in the doo-wop, American Graffiti days of "Bachelor Father," a sitcom in which John played the wise-head-of-household role so often seen in those days in shows such as "Leave It to Beaver," "My Three Sons," and "FAther Knows Best."
Times have changed in the past quarter-century. In his current hit "Dynasty," Forstythe still plays the fatherly figure--but he's surrounded by a bevy of sultry starlets rather than the wholesome teenagers of yore. Week after week, he interacts with the likes of Linda Evans, Joan Collins an dPamela Sue MArtin.
The character Forsythe plays has changed a bit, too. The avuncular bachelor of the '50s is now a rutheless businessman, twice-married, with three chilren by his first wife.
But Forsythe takes his changing persona in stride. Despite his father's early misgivings, despit the fact he never become "jaunty and flamboyant," Forsythe more than content with his role in life.
"With 'Dynasty,' I am enjoying great success at an advanced age. And I get to work with some of the most talented, most beautiful pepole on television," he said. "There isn't a moment that I couldn't fill with some meaningful activity if I wanted to keep busy all the time. I get to indulge some favorite pastimes, such as travel, tennis and raising horses. Really it does seem that nothing, nothing at all is missing in this life of mine."
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|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1984|
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