Steve Forrest: US actor who made his mark in The Baron and as Lt 'Hondo' Harrelson in S.W.A.T.


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The Independent Online

A prominent actor in film and television for 60 years, handsome and square-jawed Steve Forrest only occasionally played leading roles, notably starring opposite Anne Baxter in the baroque thriller Bedevilled. But he was a popular player who made an impression in such supporting parts as Jane Wyman's son in So Big (1953), for which he won a Golden Globe as best newcomer of the year, and Elvis Presley's brother in Flaming Star (1960). He never attained the stature of his brother, Dana Andrews, who was 16 years older and starred in several film classics.

Forrest achieved his biggest popularity on television, first when he starred in the British crime series The Baron (1966) and later when he played Lt Hondo Harrelson in the series S.W.A.T. Although it ran for only two seasons (1975-76), the show made a strong impression and is fondly remembered. Featuring the adventures of the Special Weapons and Tactics unit of the police force, it gave Forrest his own catchphrase, "Let's roll", as he drove his team of five sharp-shooters to their latest assignment.

The 12th of 13 children of a Baptist minister, he was born William Forrest Andrews in Huntsville, Texas, in 1925, and he made his screen debut (as William Andrews) playing a young sailor in a film featuring his brother, Crash Dive (1943). After military service during the Second World War – during which he fought in the Battle of the Bulge – he attended UCLA, gaining a bachelor's degree in theatre arts. He then acquired experience working as a stage hand at the La Jolla Playhouse outside San Diego, where he was spotted by actor Gregory Peck, who cast him in a production he was directing and recommended him for a screen test at MGM.

In 1952, he was billed as Steve Forrest for the first time when he played the part of a movie actor supporting an aspiring actress (Lana Turner) in a screen test, in Vincente Minnelli's brilliant movie about Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful. The following year, he had small roles in Battle Circus and Dream Wife – and played his award-winning role in a film version of Edna Ferber's novel So Big, as the son who disappoints his self-sacrificing mother to pursue money instead of ideals.

After playing the murdered brother of a corrupt cop in Rogue Cop (1954), and a professor suspected of murders actually committed by an ape in Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), Forrest was given his first top-billed role as a would-be priest who is on his way to take his vows when he meets and falls in love with a murderess (Anne Baxter), in Mitchell Leisen's heady thriller Bedevilled (1955). The film's failure and that of his next starring vehicle, The Living Idol (1957), the story of a jaguar possibly harbouring a sacrificed Aztec soul, did not help his career.

A trained singer, he tried Broadway, playing a prizefighter in The Body Beautiful (1958), the first musical with songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, but its run was short. He returned to Hollywood to play a reporter helping small-town girl Doris Day defeat big business in the Capra-esque comedy It Happened to Jane (1959). He had a good role as a gunslinger in love with a travelling player (Sophia Loren) in George Cukor's aimless tale of a troupe touring the Wild West, Heller in Pink Tights (1960), though Cukor confessed, "There was never a story, but the subject attracted me." In Don Siegel's Flaming Star (1960), one of Elvis Presley's finest films and an uncompromising view of racial prejudice, Forrest persuasively played the brother of Presley, whose mother was a native American.

He was a rancher wooing widow Debbie Reynolds in the mild romance The Second Time Around (1961), and then played a Captain taking part in the D-Day Normandy landings in what was to be his final major movie, The Longest Day (1962).

Forrest began playing prominent guest roles in such TV series as The Twilight Zone, The Virginian, Rawhide and The Fugitive. He relocated with his family to the UK for the two-season run of the ITV series The Baron, in which he starred as an antiques dealer who is secretly an espionage agent. It was one of the first colour series on British television, and made him a well-known figure.

He returned to the US in 1967 to feature in such shows as Gunsmoke – in which he played one of the few men who could outdraw hero Matt Dillon – The High Chaparral, Mission Impossible, Bonanza, Alias Smith and Jones, The Streets of San Francisco and Cannon. In 1975 he starred in the series S.W.A.T.

He stated at the time that both he and his brother owed their acting zeal to their father. "The awe and respect and excitement he generated putting across his Biblical exhortations exhilarated me," he remembered. When a feature-length version of the show was made in 2003, starring Samuel L Jackson as Hondo, Forrest was given a cameo role as a driver.

He had earlier returned to the cinema screen to play the lawyer and lover of Joan Crawford in the notorious biography Mommie Dearest (1981). In 1986 he joined the cast of Dallas when he was cast as Wes Parmalee, an impostor claiming to be Jock Ewing. Though the character had been devised in order to become a permanent replacement, viewers did not care for the storyline, and the character was dropped.

An adept golfer who played in major tournaments, he was also a keen beekeeper. He married his wife, Christine, a college sweetheart at UCLA, in 1948, and they had three sons.

Steve Forrest, actor: born Huntsville, Texas 29 September 1925; married Christine 1948 (three sons); died Thousand Oaks, California 18 May 2013.