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Who Was Charlie in Charlie’s Angels?
The man who played Charles Townsend – he was the never seen answering machine voice – in Charlie’s Angels was John Forsythe. Now he is well into his eighties and enjoying his retirement.
John Lincoln Freund was born in Penns Grove, New Jersey as the first born to Samuel and Blanche Freund in 1918. John was soon joined by a sister and a brother. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, Bronx, New York, when he was still 16 and spent two years at the University of North Carolina. After graduation, he found a job as a sportscaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers, a dream job for the baseball-mad young man. His experience behind the microphone and some work with a children’s theater company made John think about the possibility of taking up acting. His father wasn’t sure about the idea and had always expected John to take a more stable career. However, he intuitively realized that it would be better to support his son rather than reject his choice, even though John himself wasn’t sure if his chosen path would turn out to be the right one. Only time would tell.
John Freund became actor John Forsythe when he took on bit parts off- and on-Broadway and landed roles in radio dramas. While treading the boards, he met his colleague Parker MacCormick and they married in 1939. Around the time of the birth of their son, Dall, in 1941, John Forsythe was noticed by Warner Brothers, who signed him up. Events moved quickly when the Second World War intervened. John was enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he appeared in the show Winged Victory
He went on to play several uncredited film roles for Warner Brothers, including a role in Action in the North Atlantic and another part (a soldier) i Northern Pursuit in 1943. He landed his first credited part later that year in Destination Tokyo, plays a sailor. Now his marriage was over and he had met Julie Warren and they were soon married.
After the war, John was asked to help Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis with the fledgling Actor’s Studio project. One of the students he coached was a very young Joan Collins, who would later play with him in Dynasty. Television was still in its early years, but already it was hungry for acting talent when the first commercial network show was being scheduled on WNBT-TV. This was Kraft TV Theater. John Forsythe was an obvious candidate as he was certainly in the right place at the right time.
These days, it can be hard to imagine how relatively unimportant television was on those days. It was roughly the equivalent of someone doing a webcast about 10 years ago, when most internet connections were far too slow to watch any video, leaving a very limited audience. But the fact that John was in television at such an early stage meant that he had the contacts and the track record that would bring him work in the future. Indeed, his early work on stage, film and television meant that he was always engaged in one of these mediums throughout his career and was never out of work for any length of time. Another string to his bow was the fact that he had a very clear voice with excellent diction. This brought authority and clarity and was excellent for narration, voice-overs and hosting shows. He was in demand in later years as a voice-over artist for corporate videos and was famously cast as Charlie (Charles Townsend), the never-seen subject of the hit TV series Charlie’s Angels.
Most of his career was in television, playing dramatic roles in such shows as i Starlight Theatre, excitement and Studio One. Then, in 1957, came the sitcom series Bachelor dad. Sitcoms were a rarity on television in those days. Comedy was more likely to be found in variety shows. Radio, on the other hand, was familiar territory for sit-coms, and it was a radio scriptwriter who came up with the idea for Bachelor dad. A situation comedy required a situation, preferably an unusual one, that would give rise to misunderstandings and comedic conflict. The situation that screenwriter Everett Freeman pitched for MCA’s Revue Productions, one of American television’s premier production houses, was one in which a wealthy bachelor lawyer is assigned the role of looking after his young niece after her parents are killed in a car accident. The problems start in earnest when the young lady becomes a teenager. This situation was certainly a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. This was a big change for John Forsythe, who was invited to star as Bentley Gregg, the bachelor in town, as this was his first comedy role on television.
Scripts for Bachelor dad were gentle and refined. Bentley Gregg and Kelly, his niece, played by Noreen Corcoran, are friendly people who have a slightly different outlook on life. Bentley is intent on continuing his bachelor lifestyle, while Kelly likes to play matchmaker or inadvertently involve Bentley in a situation that causes him embarrassment. The housekeeper, played by Sammee Tong, provides some more farcical moments to counterbalance the softer comedy of the main characters.
Bachelor Father ran for five seasons in total and covered Kelly’s emergence into womanhood as she dated various suitors until she finally got engaged. Finally is the appropriate word as the show was pulled before there could be a wedding.
Onwards and upwards followed John Forsythe The John Forsythe Show in 1965 with a similar comedy format. He still took on many equal roles on television and some in the theater and on film. In addition to being Charlie to the Angels, he became world famous in the 1980s when he cast Blake Carrington in Dynasty where he came to work with his old student, Joan Collins.
Sadly, his wife of nearly 50 years, Julie Warren, died in 1994. He married Nicole Carter in 2002.
John Forsythe was a pioneer. He was one of the earliest members of the Actor’s Studio and one of the early faces of television. He now lives a very content retired life on his Bel Air ranch, enjoying his horses, his art collection and his family. It seems the choice he made back in 1940 to go into acting was the right one after all.
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