Robert Forster as Banyon in the 1972 TV show Banyon .
Bettmann Prolific character actor Robert Forster, who died Oct. 11, belied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 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 1989’s Satan’s Princess . That is, until Quentin Tarantino cast him in his Oscar-nominated role as bail bondsman Max Cherry, who becomes in thrall to Pam Grier’s 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.”
Forster’s 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, ‘That’s how I’m 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 Wexler’s 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 he’s 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 Disney’s 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 didn’t want to do it… I was broke, my agent had lent me money. He said, ‘You’re 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). Until Jackie Brown pulled me out of the fire.”
Most Popular When Will Hollywood Actually Tackle Climate Change? By Richard Lawson How Joker Handled Its Press-Less Hollywood Premiere By Yohana Desta The Epstein Case Is Spawning a Wave of Media and Hollywood Projects By Joe Pompeo Advertisement Forster recalled in the same interview meeting Tarantino when both were dining in the same restaurant. Tarantino told him he was working on adapting Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch and suggested to Forster that he read the book. Six months later at the same restaurant, Tarantino presented him with the script. “My career by then was dead,” Forster said. “No agent, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing… I could not believe that he was talking about the Max Cherry role (for me).” Over another breakfast, Forster told the director, “Look, I appreciate it, but I don’t think they’ll let you hire me.” Tarantino replied, “I hire anybody I want.” Tarantino, he said, “gave me a gift, the size of which cannot be exaggerated.”
In a tweet , Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz said that Forster’s career could be divided into two periods, pre-Tarantino and post-Tarantino. In recent years he memorably co-starred in the Twin Peaks reboot for David Lynch, had a recurring role as Tim Allen’s father on the sitcom Last Man Standing and earned critical acclaim in the ensemble drama What They Had (2018) as a devoted husband whose wife is succumbing to Alzheimer’s. “A stunning Oscar-worthy turn,” according to The Los Angeles Times .
To quote Forster in his Tribune interview, his career could be summed up by a promise the fledgling actor made to John Huston when he did his screen test for Reflections in a Golden Eye . “If you hire me,” he told the legendary director, “I’ll give you your money’s worth.”