Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reflections on My Breakfast with Robert Forster

I first met the late Robert Forster under a marquee on Hollywood Blvd.. We’d both just emerged from the screening of a 2014 documentary called That Man, Dick Miller, a tribute to the diminutive actor who’d spent six decades playing oddball movie roles, mostly for Roger Corman and his famous alumni. Forster was featured in the documentary, talking about a longtime friendship with Miller. Afterwards, I saw him standing alone as well-wishers swirled around Dick and his producer-wife Lainie, and I couldn’t resist introducing myself.

I think Robert liked the fact that I praised not his Oscar-nominated performance as bail bondman Max Cherry in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown but rather his small, crucial role as a grieving father in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (2011). Actors usually appreciate being noticed for their more subtle work. And I think he was pleased that I knew his largely silent but hugely symbolic role as a young soldier who’s the object of Marlon Brando’s unrequited lust in John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye. This film, released back in 1967, was his very first movie: it required him to  look soulful while riding through the countryside, stark naked, on a big white horse. For those who’ve seen this fascinating, exasperating film, Forster (then a chiseled raven-haired Adonis) is not easy to forget. The part led to him playing a cunning Apache hunted down by Gregory Peck in The Stalking Moon and then Haskell Wexler’s cameraman alter-ego on the streets of Mayor Daley’s Chicago in the timely Medium Cool.

I must have made a good impression, because when I told Robert I’d be happy to feature him in a Beverly in Movieland blogpost he invited me to breakfast at his favorite West Hollywood café. With my usual talent for underestimating L.A. traffic, I arrived some fifteen minutes late, while he was happily consuming his daily bacon and eggs special. But he warmly forgave me, and seemed glad to describe for my tape recorder a career that was not short on ups and downs. He’d fallen into acting in college, as a way to get to know an attractive classmate he later ended up marrying (and, years later, divorcing). While riding high, he’d shared scenes with some of  Hollywood’s biggest movie and TV stars. That’s when he found it easy to dream about someday owning a home on the beach in Malibu. Then came a low period, one in which Roger Corman flicks seemed his best hope. (In 1994 he played a featured role in a film I actually worked on in my Corman days, the trashy but enjoyable Body Chemistry 3: Point of Seduction.) Hardly a snob, Robert had fun with this sort of shlock. But three years later, Quentin Tarantino rescued him from the B-movie world with Jackie Brown, and Hollywood discovered all over again how appealing he could be on screen, even now that his once-black hair was fast receding.

When I breakfasted with Robert in late 2014, he was full of gratitude that Jackie Brown had resuscitated his career, leading to important roles in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and on the final episode of TV’s Breaking Bad. The day he died of brain cancer, Netflix broadcast El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, in which he reprised his TV role of Ed Galbraith, enigmatic vacuum repairman. I know such meaty parts brought him a lot of joy. Not that he was still fantasizing a Malibu beach-house. As he told me, he was quite content to know that acting had bought him a West Hollywood condominium.


  1. A beautiful remembrance of one of my very favorite actors. Thank you for sharing it, Ms. G.

  2. Thanks so much, Mr. C. I should add that he gave me two precious gifts -- a stylish stainless-steel letter opener and a kiss on the cheek.

  3. Those letter openers were his personal choice of gift for people he liked. I have heard of them only since his passing. I'm thrilled that you received one. Please treasure it - and if it ever needs to find a new home I can certainly provide one. As for the kiss on the cheek... I'm glad you got that too.

  4. Thanks, Craig . . . but I'm starting to think I'm somehow lethal. Scott Wilson kissed me too, and now they're both gone.