John Forsythe: Bachelor Father

There is much I know about John Forsythe (Jacob Freund, 1918-2010) that would not tempt me to write a blogpost about him. For example, he was the voice of Charlie on the original Charlie’s Angels (1976-81), he was the lead in Aaron Spelling’s nightime soap Dynasty (1981-89), and he was the lead in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s least characteristic and least beloved films The Trouble with Harry (1955) and Topaz (1969). Forsythe was also in such things as Kitten with a Whip (1964) with Ann-Margret, Madame X (1966) with Lana Turner, and Truman Capote’s (1967) In Cold Blood with Robert Blake and Scott Wilson. But I’ve already written about most of that stuff and none of it is as interesting to me as the fact that for six years he starred in the long-running hit sitcom Bachelor Father (1957-1962).

After My Little Margie (1952-55), Bachelor Father was one of the first and better remembered of the “single parent” sitcoms, predating such later fare as My Three Sons (1960-72), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963 movie, 1969-72 series), Gidget (1965-66), and Family Affair (1966-72). The provocative title was something of a misnomer. Wealthy attorney Bentley Gregg (Forsythe) was the uncle of his adopted niece (Noreen Corcoran), thrust into a father role when her parents are killed in a car crash. Adding to the comedy is that it is set in Beverly Hills, and Forsythe’s character is a bit of a swinger. He’s always bringing around hot dates, played by the likes of Barbara Eden (later of I Dream of Jeannie) and Donna Douglas (later of The Beverly Hillbillies). The fact that Corcoran’s character was a teenager was also one of the shows selling points, making it akin to later hits such as The Patty Duke Show. Low comedy on the series was provided by Gregg’s Asian manservant Peter, played by comedian Sammee Tong. This character’s friends and relatives all factored into stories in a manner unlike Eddie Anderson’s Rochester from The Jack Benny Program. Interestingly, Anderson guest starred on Bachelor Father once as Rochester! Another interesting fact about Bachelor Father is that it was the only primetime show to run on all three broadcast networks (in succession, not simultaneously).

When Bachelor Father ended, Forsythe went on to the short-lived The John Forsythe Show (1965-66), in which he played a bachelor who inherits an all-girls school. Regulars included Elsa Lanchester and Ann B. Davis, later of The Brady Bunch. Corcoran, a child actress from a young age, retired from performing in 1966. Sadly, Sammee Tong committed suicide in 1964, as we chronicled here.

One of the most surprising things to me about Forsythe is that the eminently WASPish actor was actually Jewish and raised in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was as an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, by virtue of that excellent voice. His Broadway career had begun in 1942 and included such things as Winged Victory (1943), the original production of All My Sons (as a replacement, 1947), and the original production of Teahouse of the August Moon (1953-56). His first speaking role in a film was in Destination Tokyo (1943).