My strongest memory of Robert Forster is specific to our common hometown. When I was in high school, and then a few years later when I returned briefly to Rochester (NY), the local newspapers inevitably attached a special prefix to his name until it became automatic for my friends and me to refer to him light-heartedly as “Rochester’s own Robert Forster” in our everyday speech.
I’m not sure why he qualified for this specialized sobriquet because other, more famous, people did not. The papers didn’t always refer to “Rochester’s own Mitch Miller” or Old Hoss Radbourn, Gorilla Monsoon, William Warfield, Cab Calloway, or Susan B Anthony, but every single mention of Forster came with his universal prefix, until it became part of his name.
Part of the reason, I guess, is that Forster was not just passing through. He was born and raised in Rochester and then graduated from the University of Rochester. But his deep roots are not the whole enchilada. Other celebrities had similar backgrounds, but only Forster was always “Rochester’s own.”
I have a theory about the real reason. I speak occasionally with another old Rochester friend who, like me, wandered far from the city, and we once discussed how we always enjoyed watching Forster, but not because of his performances. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. Forster was not really one of those trained, cultured actors who can assume any personality, or hide his origins inside of perfect diction or a pitch-perfect impersonation of some obscure regional dialect. He didn’t play Hamlet or ancient kings or European counts. He was always just a regular schlub with a heavy Rochester accent. Maybe that’s why Forster earned that permanent “Rochester’s own.” Those other people I mentioned above could have been from anywhere, but when any Rochesterian hears Robert Forster’s voice, we hear our own uncles. When we are far away, we hear home.
He was one of ours.
We’ve lost a part of us.