No Longer Just Dana Andrews' Kid Brother, Steve Forrest Is the New Sultan of 's.w.a.t.'
No one could blame Steve Forrest for having a big-brother complex. When he was still a shaver chopping cotton in Madisonville, Tex., his glamorous older sibling, by 17 years, Dana Andrews, was shooting movies in Hollywood. World War II brought brighter stardom to Dana, with The Best Years of Our Lives, but all Steve got was shrapnel in the Battle of the Bulge. Steve tried acting, too, but insisted on making it on his own, declining casting breaks from Dana and even dropping the family name. (He was born William Forrest Andrews.) So, except for a brief fling with a British-made TV series, The Baron, Steve languished mostly as a heavy in Grade-B westerns—though he was the most gifted actor of the family.
Then this February Forrest was, at 49, finally struck—or more precisely, S.W.A.T.-ed—by blue lightning. The acronym stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, a real-life L.A. police squad (PEOPLE, Nov. 25), but on the Monday-night ABC-TV idealization it might as well stand for Simplistic, Warlike and Totalitarian. As the flinty-faced Hondo Harrelson, Steve commands an elitist, five-macho, sharpshooter team which could take out Cher’s belly button from 100 yards. That is, in effect, what it has done in the ratings. S. W.A. T. is far and away the favorite mid-season replacement on TV, and the beleaguered ABC network’s only series to crack the top 10 all season. It has had equally dramatic impact for Forrest, who acknowledges, “I needed this success in my career.”
“Steve’s a very talented young fellow,” says an unjealous Dana, now 66 and concentrating on stage appearances after his successful struggle against alcoholism. Forrest attributes their acting zeal to pulpit-envy of their dad, a Southern Baptist preacher who fathered 13 children and filled them with the fear of God. “The awe and respect and excitement he generated putting across his Biblical exhortations exhilarated me,” Steve recalls. He will never forget one occasion in his youth when he chucked a pitcher of lemonade through a plate-glass window. “Well, the sheriff came up to me and he said, ‘Billy Andrews, do you want me to turn you over to your father or take you to jail?’ I told him take me to jail—anything but face my father.” Dana likewise remembers, “Our father was very stern. Authority is something you need in this business, and Steve has it.”
Steve understands S.W.A.T.’s appeal to an uptight TV audience. “People like us because we’re in control of the situation,” he explains. “You can say it’s simpleminded or unfair, but we do solve problems. We don’t raise questions we can’t answer or that might disturb people.” Despite its heavy artillery and overkill, Steve argues that the show features no “sheep-gut, blood-bag, exploding violence” and says that his own teenage kids love it. “For the first time in a long time the people they’re admiring are the police,” he observes, “not the killers.”
For all his Hemingwayesque tough-talk on the air, Steve, an affable 6’3″, is most at home bottling honey from his five beehives or reading up on archaeology with his wife, Christine, a college sweetheart from UCLA he married 26 years ago. “Temperamentally I wouldn’t be qualified to be a S.W.A.T. leader,” he admits. “Joy is easier for me to handle than pain. I’m a lover, not a killer.”