A Portrait of a Bold & the Beautiful Artist as a Man

Jack Forrestel, The Bold and the Beautiful, CBS,
“The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.”
― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Some artists know their calling and begin toiling in their art very early in life, others go in search of a path until they ultimately arrive where they were meant to be, sometimes thanks to a little help from mom.

The world of The Bold and the Beautiful has entranced millions of viewers for over 28 years. And, Jack Forrestel has been there every step of the way, first as art director and then production designer.

Forrestel has enthralled viewers with the interiors of private jets, Beverly Hills mansions, beautiful boudoirs and sweeping landscapes of the lavish world that the Bold & the Beautiful play around in five days a week. It’s no wonder that the man has won six Daytime Emmy Awards, and been nominated for many more.

But, his journey to creating the stunning environments of one of the top rated Daytime television shows is a long and unlikely one. Like Joyce’s semi-autobiographical character, Stephen Dedalus, Jack Forrestel experienced a lot of restlessness, indecision and inner conflict in his youth. A not so uncommon experience shared by many of his contemporaries, it was the 60s after all.

He took off from home during his senior year in high school. “I hitchhiked across the country in 1969. So, I got to experience firsthand what it was like to be free in the 60s,” he said. His excursion caused more than a bit of grief for his Irish Catholic mother. “I was basically a runaway. She was terrified. She was terrified! She didn’t know where I was for weeks at a time. I finally called her, I think from West Virginia. Then the next time I called her, I called from Albuquerque. Then I called her from Baton Rouge. I was all over the country.”

He finally returned home that summer and discovered he’d completely missed out on Woodstock. The following year he finished high school and did something that would seem out of character for someone with a free and wandering spirit. He just wasn’t sure what he was meant to do.

It was 1970, and right in the middle of the Vietnam War, “I volunteered. I was 18 years old. I left my crowded Philadelphia neighborhood,” Forrestel recalled. “I knew that I wasn’t ready for college and probably wouldn’t have done well, if I had gone to college at that time. It was good for me, the Navy allowed me to grow up.”

He joined the Navy as a Fireman apprentice on an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf and the South China Sea, not as a soldier in combat. So, despite the fact that he was there during the heaviest bombing of the Vietnam War, the experience for him was exciting and surreal more than it was scary.

“I ended up being on the abstract end of the greatest bombardment since WWII. That’s why I say it was so surreal. The captain would come on at night, about 8 o’clock every night, and he would give combat reports. ‘What happened today.’ And he would talk about ‘Commander Clark’ was last seen running on the ground firing his .45, being chased by a group of North Vietnamese Regulars through the jungle,” Forrestel said.

Shipmates were lost in combat, 24 aircraft lost in one 12 month period with 12 pilots also lost, and a plane crashed on deck, yet Forrestel felt relatively safe on board the carrier. Even though one of his duties was to climb down into massive oil tanks with a rope tied around his body and oxygen hose keeping him alive.

“I felt no physical threat to me. Although, everyone had a dangerous job, I mean living on an aircraft carrier is not a safe place to live. It’s an exciting place to live,” Forrestel admitted. Only in hindsight did he realize that his duties in the oil tanks were considered so dangerous that the top ranking officers of his division were required to supervise and anchor his rope.

“We worked very long, very hard hours. And we were very young. And we formed this bond. These were the closest friends I ever made in my life,” Forrestel said. “And, still to this day of one of them calls me there’s a connection, and we haven’t seen each other in 30 years.”

He had left home to join the Navy as a Fireman Apprentice, and lived many adventures out in the world. After four years in the Navy, he returned home as a 3rd class Petty Officer, but life had almost stood still in the time he’d been away.

Live back at home wasn’t inspiring; in the time that Forrestel had been gone some of his friends hadn’t found worked at all, while others had settled for far less than desirable jobs. The prospects weren’t good. “When I got out of the Navy I had nothing to do. I went home, my mother was feeding me. I was not sure what to do next. There weren’t a lot of jobs,” Forrestel said.

Forrestel’s mother saw disillusionment and lack of direction in her son’s life after he returned from Vietnam. He needed to do something, so Mrs. Forrestel took a chance and appealed to her son’s artist talents.

“My mother one day gave me a box of pastels and a pad of paper. She bought it for me and she said ‘Here, you used to like to draw.’ And, so I took it and started doing some drawings. And, then I went to Art School. My mother encouraged me to go to art school. I didn’t know what to do,” Forrestel said.

He admits that he didn’t know what to do, but he knew he liked to draw, so he just went with it and went to art school where he really got serious about art. During his senior year, he began studying classic plays and made drawings based on what came to him from scripts.

“I did a series of etchings on Macbeth, I still have them. They’re not set designs, they’re works of art, but I began to think ‘this would really be fun. I think I would really like to do this. I just got obsessed with these things. I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do this for a living, to go design sets for a living?” Forrestel said. “That was kind of my calling, to find that.”

But, the decision to pursue scenic design had its draw backs, Forrestel said, “I very quickly realized that I couldn’t make a living designing theatre.”

The director Israel Hicks hired Forrestel to design sets, and taught about the theatre, about what was important to get on stage or in the frame.

“’There’s this wonderful guy that I worked with, Sy Tomashoff. You have to meet him,’” a teacher at Temple [University] said to Forrestel, when they learned of his interest in television. Forrestel had only heard of the name, but no real idea who he was.

Arrangements were made and Forrestel went up to New York to meet Tomashoff, but they never connected. By the time Forrestel arrived at ABC in New York he learned that Tomashoff had just been fired.

Shortly thereafter, Forrestel received an offer to do an internship in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t certain it was the best move. But, Hicks was certain that it was exactly what Forrestel should do. “Israel encouraged me to come to Los Angeles where there was a voluminous amount of work for a young designer. It took him at his word, and he was right. I came to L.A. and never looked back,” Forrestel said.

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Forrestel had been working on a very intense show, when destiny intervened and brought him to work for Tomashoff who was the production designer for a show not yet on the air, The Bold and the Beautiful. “I had worked for a guy who was very difficult, and then I came to work for the sweetest man on earth. It changed everything about me. I probably would have had a stroke if I had stayed with the other show,” Forrestel said.

The Bold and the Beautiful premiered on March 23, 1987. With the show on the air, Forrestel figured he’d be off to get another new show off the ground. He never planned to run a show, but “Sy said, ‘Stay here with me. Let’s just do this show. You worked hard, you deserve it,’’’ Forrestel said.

Forrestel did stay on as art director, and eventually he inherited the art department from his mentor and friend. He’s been the show’s production designer for over 15 years now.

“We had a great relationship,” Forrestel said. “Sy was the greatest mentor that a person could have. I really enjoyed working with him, I mean he had done shows that when I was a kid growing up, I watched his shows, long before I knew I wanted to be an art director. He’s 30 years older than me, exactly,” Forrestel said. “He got married the same weekend that I was born, like one day different from my birthday.”

In addition to an artistic talent, organization, imagination and a flair for reinvention are crucial to the success of an art director. Sets are often earmarked for specific characters and storylines, but once a character “exits” or a storyline ends, it is all up for grabs to repurpose, combine and transform into a new enchanting location.

“The most exciting, the most important thing that we do is we create the world of the show in a 100 by 100 square foot space. We go out on location, but we don’t do it a lot, and there’s something kind of magical about that” Forrestel said. “We walk into a big empty ‘whareshousey’ type of space and we bring everything into it and we create magic, and on the screen what the audience views is the world, the world of The Bold and the Beautiful. That’s the fun thing, we create that world.”

Yes indeed, it is the object of the artist to create the beautiful, as Joyce puts it, but the writer decides “what the beautiful is” or in this case what The Bold and the Beautiful is.

“I have a great respect for writers. I have the greatest respect for the writers who write our show,” Forrestel said. “How in the hell do you write something that never ends for 28 years?! And, keep people coming back to it on a daily basis?! That’s a gift!”

Forrestel’s respect for writers is due in large part to his own dabbles in writing. He shared that growing up in Philadelphia he was never encouraged to write by teachers or family, so that fact that he pursues writing at all is pretty remarkable.

“I love writing because it’s the most creative thing I do. There’s nothing like creating a character and then giving him a background and a life and words to say. And, I know this because I know my boss; Brad [Bell] loves that about his job,” Forrestel said.

He’s written two novels, and a collection of short stories and poems that range in subject from early childhood memories, his Irish Catholic background to his obsession with Vietnam, PTSD and the loss of a beloved father figure. He’s currently collaborating on a top secret screenplay about the life of his friend’s father.

Forrestel credits daytime television for his ability to maintain a long and happy career, and balance the demands of being a father and husband. “Today I have a good life. I have my kids, I have Tina, my wife,” Forrestel said. “What The Bold and the Beautiful has done for me is afford me the opportunity to have a normal life, and to go home every night, and wake up every morning with my kids. That’s huge. That’s why I’m here.”

The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Award nominations will be announced on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. We wish Jack Forrestel and everyone at The Bold and the Beautiful lots of luck!!!

The Bold and the Beautiful airs weekdays at 12:30 pm PST on CBS.
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