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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published August 26 2012

Eriksmoen: Movie star Michael Forest born in North Dakota

An international movie star was born in North Dakota. For 60 years, Michael Forest has been one of the busiest men in show business and has remained in constant demand to perform in movies, television and the theater.

Forest began in the mid-1950s on television, appearing on the small screen in several hundred episodes. His movie career began in 1957, and he starred in small-budget films in this country before moving to Italy, where he was the lead actor in mythology and western films.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Forest dubbed into English more than 700 Italian and Japanese movies and cartoons. During the same two decades, he was a mainstay on American daytime television serials. In 1995, he found a new career doing voice-overs for video games.

Forest was born Gerald Michael Charlebois on April 17, 1929, in Harvey, N.D., to Dr. Ernest F. and Mary Duffy Charlebois. His father was an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and, as a dentist, had worked with the U.S. Army conducting dentistry training camps at the various military bases in the Upper Midwest. By 1930, the family relocated to Benwah, Idaho, and eventually settled in Seattle, where Forest’s father established his dental practice.

Nicknamed “Jerry,” the young Charlebois had a muscular physique and, at 6 feet, 3 inches, excelled in many sports. After graduating from high school, Jerry enrolled at the University of Washington. One of his friends was an actor with the Seattle Rep Playhouse, and as a favor, Jerry attended one of the performances. “He was totally entranced by the theatrical experience and knew that’s where he wanted to be.”

After completing his sophomore year, Jerry transferred to San Jose State. While at SJS, Jerry majored in English and drama. In 1953, while still a college student, he accepted a supporting role in a television episode of “Death Valley Days.”

After Jerry graduated, he went to Hollywood and began working in the theater. He also studied acting under Jeff Corey at the Professional Actors Workshop. Other students of Corey at the time were Leonard Nimoy and Roger Corman. Jerry played the lead role in a number of Shakespeare’s plays at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and then went on tour to Toronto and Milwaukee.

To further his acting career, he was advised to give up boxing and change his name. In 1957, Jerry became Michael Forest, and Corman gave him a role in a movie he was producing, “Saga of the Viking Women.” Forest also received a major part in the Randolph Scott Western movie “Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend,” which co-starred North Dakota native Angie Dickinson.

In 1959, Gene Corman, Roger’s brother, cast Forest in the starring role of the movie “Beast From Haunted Cave,” and the next year, Roger Corman featured Forest in the movie “Ski Troop Attack.” Because of his well-sculpted, muscular body, Forest played his first role as a mythological hero in the Corman movie “Atlas” in 1961.

During the 1960s, Forest was one of the most active actors on television, appearing in major roles in more than 60 network shows. Most of the shows were Westerns, with Forest often playing Native Americans.

In 1967, Forest co-starred in the movie “Deathwatch,” where he was joined by Nimoy. The two men got together again in 1967, when Forest appeared as an alien named Apollo on an episode of “Star Trek.”

In 1969, Forest went to Spain to appear in the Raquel Welch movie “100 Rifles.” After several movies and television shows in the U.S., he returned to Europe in 1972 to star in the “spaghetti Western” “Death Played the Flute.” Forest moved to Rome, where he lived until 1978. While there, “he made 26 films and dubbed into English over 500 movies.”

Forest returned to Los Angeles and filled in for Brett Hadley in the role of police detective Jim Davis on the daytime television series “The Young and the Restless.” From 1979 to 1980, he played the role of Corley Maxwell on “Days of Our Lives” and then moved to New York, where he played Nick Andropoulos, a major character on “As the World Turns.” When Forest’s character died in 1982, he returned to the stage in the Broadway production “Breakfast With Les and Bes.”

In 1983, the Turner Broadcasting Network created the daytime serial “The Catlins,” and Forest was asked to come to Atlanta to join this new venture. When the series ended in 1985, he moved back to Los Angeles to continue his work in the theater, movies and television. He also provided voices on numerous Japanese and American cartoons.

Forest’s more memorable recent movies have been supporting roles in the Madonna movie “Body of Evidence” and the Tom Hanks film “Cast Away.” He also has attracted a new generation of fans as the voice of Olympius in “Power Ranger” cartoons and movies.

Forest recently summed up his years of acting when he stated, “I look back, and it certainly hasn’t been what you might call a distinguished career, but on the other hand, it hasn’t been bad. Some of the things that I’ve done, I take a great deal of pride in. But, like all actors, you do work in material and situations that are not what you want, and you try to make it the best you can. Acting has its ups and its downs.”

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“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen, of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.