James Farentino: Actor whose personal life damaged his career

 

The American actor James Farentino was endowed with the dashing good looks that should have made him a Hollywood leading man, but he might be remembered more for the women in his life than his screen roles. Four times married, he was also close to being four times divorced. At various times, he and his final wife, Stella, started legal action to end the marriage on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences", only to withdraw the petitions.

Before his last marriage he had a five-year relationship with Tina Sinatra, daughter of the legendary crooner Frank. In 1994, after it had ended, he was put on probation and ordered to undergo counselling for stalking her, making harassing phone calls and violating a restraining order. Three years earlier, he had made headlines when he was arrested by police who intercepted a package of cocaine being sent to his Canadian hotel room while he was shooting the television film Miles from Nowhere. Then,in 2010, he was arrested for misdemeanour battery after allegedly trying to remove a man physically from his Hollywood home.

These torrid off-screen antics overshadowed Farentino's acting career and gradually saw it dry up. Before the rot set in, his face was known to worldwide television audiences as Dr Nick Toscanni (1981-82) in the glossy soap Dynasty. In trying to exact revenge on Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) for his role in the death of Nick's brother, the psychiatrist flirted with the oil tycoon's wife, Krystle, and bedded his married daughter, Fallon. Later, the actor was seen in a cameo role as Ray Ross, the estranged father reunited with Dr Doug Ross (George Clooney), in several 1996 episodes of the medical series ER.

Farentino was born in New York in 1938, where his father was a clothing designer. He dropped out of high school and took various jobs before training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His stage début came on Broadway with the role of Pedro in The Night of the Iguana (Royale Theatre, 1961-62). He returned to Broadway in revivals of A Streetcar Named Desire (as Stanley Kowalski, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 1973) and Death of a Salesman (as Biff, Circle in the Square Theatre, 1975).

However, he made his biggest impression on television, first taking one-off character roles in series such as Naked City (1962), The Defenders (1963), Ben Casey (1965) and The Fugitive (1967). Then he was signed up as one of the last contract performers at Universal Studios. He popped up in The Virginian (two roles, 1966, 1970), A Man Called Ironside (1967) and many other programmes, before spending three years as Neil Darrell, one of the trio of lawyers, in The Bold Ones (1969-72). He followed it by playing the globe-trotting private eye Jefferson Keyes in the short-lived Cool Million (1972-73).

Farentino was nominated for aSupporting Actor Emmy for his portrayal of Simon Peter in the epic Anglo-Italian series Jesus of Nazareth (1977). Four years later, he acted Juan Peron in the television film Evita Peron, with Faye Dunaway miscast as the heroine. Then came another starring role, Frank Chaney – alongside a hi-tech policehelicopter – in the crime drama Blue Thunder (1984), but the series was axed after a rival drama, Airwolf, took off to greater heights.

Farentino acted the managing editor Frank DeMarco in Mary (1985-86), but the star, Mary Tyler Moore, asked for the Chicago newspaper sitcom to be taken off after only 13 episodes. His next sitcom co-star, in Julie (1992), was Julie Andrews, who played an actress leaving the bright lights of Broadway for Iowa to marry a vet, but that series was also short-lived.

As television appearances became rarer, Farentino had a short run in the soap Melrose Place as Mr Beck, a shady character seen holding Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear) hostage in a desolate cabin and demanding a multi-million-dollar ransom.

Most of the films in which the actor appeared were totally forgettable, although he won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer for his role in the comedy The Pad and How to Use It (1966) as Ted, who gives his friend Bob (Brian Bedford) moral support on a first date but ends up with the young woman, Doreen (Julie Sommars), himself. Later, Farentino was seen alongside Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen in the time-travel fantasy The Final Countdown (1980).

He had only one screen role in his last 10 years, in the 2006 TV film Drive. "I've got a resumé that could choke a horse," he said, curiously, in 2003. "I'm impressed by it. Producers who are casting people, they're all in their 20s now. You show it to somebody in the motion picture industry or television, they don't know and they don't care."

James Ferrantino (James Farentino), actor: born New York 24 February 1938; married 1962 Elizabeth Ashley (marriage dissolved 1965), 1966 Michele Lee Dusick (one son; marriage dissolved 1982), 1985 Deborah Mullowney (marriage dissolved 1988), 1994 Stella Torres (one son); died Los Angeles 24 January 2012.

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