James Farentino, Prolific Television Actor for Four Decades
In addition to dozens of guest roles, Farentino was a regular on Dynasty and earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.
James Farentino, an actor whose career included acclaimed theater performances, award-winning feature film work and dozens of familiar television credits, died January 24, 2012, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 73.
According to news reports, the cause was heart failure.
Handsome, with a thick brown hair, Farentino resembled a conventional leading man, but his work often defied such reductive categorization.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, where he was born on February 24, 1938, Farentino was a high school dropout when he began studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. An early break came in 1961, when he was cast as one of Bette Davis’s Mexican beach boys in a Broadway production of the Tennessee William play The Night of the Iguana.
After a moved to Los Angeles, he was under contract with Universal Pictures. When he declined roles the studio wanted him to play, he was suspended a reported 10 times.
Favorable attention came in 1967, when he won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for his performance in the comedy The Pad and How to Use It. Two years later he starred opposite Patty Duke in the film Me, Natalie.
Other movies of note included the 1980 science-fiction drama The Final Countdown, in which he co-starred with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.
Farentino’s lengthy television career began in the 1960s. An early success came in 1966 with a TV adaptation of the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman, in which he played Happy Loman, son of Willy Loman, played by Lee J. Cobb. Nine years later, Farentino appeared in a Broadway production of the play, this time as the other Loman son, Biff.
In the ’60s he also had roles in episodes of such series as The Defenders, Route 66, 77 Sunset Strip, Ben Casey, The FBI, The Fugitive and many others. Over the ensuing years his other guest appearances included such shows as Marcus Welby, MD, Love, American Style and Police Story.
His recurring series roles included The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, Melrose Place and ER, in which he played George Clooney’s father.
He was also a regular on several series, including Cool Million, Insight, Dynasty, Blue Thunder, Julie, starring Julie Andrews, and Mary, starring Mary Tyler Moore.
In 1972 he received strong reviews for the television movie The Family Rico, and in 1981, for his performance as Argentine leader Juan Perón in the miniseries Evita Perón, which starred Faye Dunaway in the title role.
In 1978 Farentino earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special for his performance as Simon Peter in the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.
In 1994 Farentino pleaded no contest to stalking his former girlfriend, Tina Sinatra, the daughter of Frank Sinatra. He was placed on six months’ probation.
Farentino married four times. Three of his marriages — to actresses Elizabeth Ashley, Michele Lee and Deborah Mullowney Farentino — ended in divorce.
He is survived by his fourth wife, Stella; their son, Saverio; and another son, David, with Michele Lee.