Thursday, December 8, 2022

Just Who Is Austin Pendleton and Why I Am I So Excited to See Him

Wednesday night, for the third time in my life, I saw Austin Pendleton live. 

Some, perhaps many of you, are wondering, who is Austin Pendleton? 

He is an award winning actor, director and playwright. If you’ve seen the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” he played the hapless small town Southern lawyer first engaged to defend two young New Yorkers, played by Ralph Maccio and Stan Rothenstein, accused of murder. 

“Hapless” characterizes many of the roles the 82-year-old Pendleton has played throughout his career. Imagine Woody Allen without one-liners. 

The first time I saw him I was barely 15, sitting in the mezzanine of the Imperial Theatre in late 1964 or early 1965. He portrayed Motel the Tailor in the original Broadway cast of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Fast forward 45 years. As audience members milled about during intermission of a Playwrights Horizons performance, I walked over to shake the hand of a slightly older gentleman not arousing interest from any other theatergoer. As Gilda and our friends Ken and Jane looked on, I told him I had seen him in “Fiddler on the Roof.”Austin Pendleton was grateful for the recognition so many years later, both for his acting and for being recognized and remembered.

Fast forward another decade. Wednesday night at the Helen Hayes Theatre during intermission of “Between Riverside and Crazy,” directed by Pendleton, I walked up to him and related our last encounter. 

He smiled graciously. He asked my name. He said he remembered me. I’m not naive enough to believe that, though he did suggest that “Murray Forseter” is an unusual, unique name. 

His response struck a chord. Among my first year blog postings in 2012 was the story of the only day I cut classes in high school. That day, unknown to anyone in advance, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, and his Power Memorial teammates would scrimmage Erasmus Hall’s basketball team on a neutral court, the gym of my school, the Yeshivah of Flatbush. 

Power Memorial was the top parochial school basketball team in New York. Erasmus was the top ranked public school squad. Erasmus was coached by Bernie Kirsner. Bernie also coached the Flatbush team, so it was easy for him to arrange Flatbush as the neutral site for the faceoff. 

In the blog I wrote Bernie had a keen eye for evaluating player talent. He had rightfully ended my hope of playing for Flatbush. I was, and remained so throughout my basketball playing days, a lousy dribbler. He saw that right away. 

A few months after the blog story ran I received an email from Bernie Kirsner, then enjoying retirement in Florida. His daughter had forwarded the blog to him. 

When I asked how it was that he remembered me, he replied the same way Austin Pendleton did: “A name like Forseter is unique. It’s not like you were a Cohen or a Schwartz.”