Robert Forster and the Remarkable Second Act of His Hollywood Life

 vanityfair.com  10/12/2019 17:04:25 

Robert Forster as Banyon in the 1972 TV show Banyon.

Bettmann

Prolific character actor Robert Forster, who died Oct. 11, belied F. Scott Fitzgeralds observation that there are no second acts in American lives. After working steadily in films and television for 30 years, his career had bottomed out with the likes of 1989s Satans Princess. That is, until Quentin Tarantino cast him in his Oscar-nominated role as bail bondsman Max Cherry, who becomes in thrall to Pam Griers title character in Jackie Brown.

Forster died of brain cancer at the age of 78 at his Los Angeles home, according to his publicist. A lovely man and a consummate actor, Breaking Bad co-star Bryan Cranston mourned on Twitter. I met him on Alligator 40 years ago, and then again on BB. I never forgot how kind and generous he was to a young kid just starting out in Hollywood. Jackie Brown costar Samuel Jackson called him A truly class act/Actor.

Forsters first film was the controversial Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) directed by John Huston and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. His most recent project, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, was released on Netflix Friday, the day of his death. His IMDB page lists nearly 200 acting credits.

Forster was born July 13, 1941 in Rochester, NY. His father trained elephants for Barnum & Bailey Circus. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Forster recalled how his plans for a law career were derailed by a beautiful woman he noticed in his senior year at the University of Rochester. He followed her into an auditorium where auditions were being held for the musical Bye Bye Birdie. I said, Thats how Im gonna meet the girl! he said. He was cast in the chorus. He later married the girl, June Provenzano, and the couple had three daughters before their divorce in 1975.

He moved to New York to pursue acting and made his Broadway debut in the 1965 play Mrs. Dally Has a Lover starring Ralph Meeker and Arlene Francis. That got him noticed and following a screen test was put under contract at 20th Century Fox.

Forster was a solid screen presence, what Roger Ebert called a plausible professional in his Jackie Brown review. In his breakout role in Haskell Wexlers Medium Cool (1969), he portrayed a conflicted news cameraman torn between objectively recording the chaos of 1968 Chicago during the Democratic convention and becoming emotionally involved with the events hes filming. He portrayed the lead roles in two NBC TV series, the 1930s private eye Banyon and a Native-American detective in Nakia. Both series were cancelled after one season.

Over the course of his career, Forster worked steadily but to diminishing returns (Point of Seduction: Body Chemistry III). Forster did not quit. He told an interviewer of an epiphany he had: You're not dead yet, Bob. You can win it in the late innings. Never quit.
Notable films during this time include Disneys The Black Hole (1979), a box office disappointment that has since earned a cult following; Alligator (1980) a B-movie gem produced by Roger Corman with a script by John Sayles; and Delta Force, in which he played a terrorist who goes up against Chuck Norris. The latter is the very definition of a guilty pleasure, although not to Forster. First time I ever played a bad guy, he told AV/Club in 2011. I didnt want to do it& I was broke, my agent had lent me money. He said, Youre going to have to go to Israel and play the bad guy. Which I did. And I got stuck for 13 (years playing bad guys). UntilJackie Brownpulled me out of the fire.

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