Tag Archives: robert osborne

Remembering Robert Osborne

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The classic film world has lost a monumental force, one of our preeminent modern film historians and certainly among the most visible. Robert Osborne, the beloved host of Turner Classic Movies since 1994, died on Monday at the age of 84.

Osborne had been on a long hiatus from TCM due to illness, and was absent from the past few TCM festivals in Hollywood. His death hit the classic film world hard, with posts and tributes written almost immediately and emotions running high.

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TCM has a unique fan base, and Osborne was the face of the network. Many of us grew up with him, his soothing voice becoming synonymous with evenings in front of the television watching a classic movie. More than just a representative of TCM, however, Osborne transcended the network. His knowledge of movie history, and of the stars and directors who made it, was staggeringly detailed, nuanced, and deep. Always polished and dapper on air, Osborne’s presence on the network was representative of a different era of television–one that seems to have otherwise disappeared. His sophistication and elegance harkened back to the news programs of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, as he informed us respectfully, intelligently, and passionately, about the movies he loved as we did.

Osborne began his career as an actor with Desilu, and it was Lucille Ball, in her infinite wisdom, who first noticed Osborne’s talent for journalism when he was still a young actor. He published his first book in 1965, then became a longstanding columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. Osborne enjoyed relating the story of his first major interview, for which his subject was Natalie Wood. Osborne told of the incident in an article for a Natalie Wood tribute on TCM:

By the time I met her in 1965, she was already a Hollywood veteran at the age of 27. And along with her determination and brilliance, she also turned out to be incredibly kind, especially to an admittedly novice journalist like me. She was, in fact, my first major celebrity interview and when I arrived at her home, with those beautiful brown eyes looking at me, waiting for me to begin, I realized just how much of a beginner I was. My questions had no rhythm to them, and my notes were, I realized too late, completely disorganized. Looking back, she could have stopped that interview then and there, or quickly answered my questions and ended it almost as soon as it had begun. But she didn’t. Instead, Natalie ended up sitting down on the floor with me and giving me suggestions on how to best organize the interview to get the most interesting story.

That day she became my mentor and, more importantly, my friend.

He went on to be one of the great classic Hollywood interviewers and the author of several books, including a series on the Academy Awards. The series began in 1965 with The Academy Awards Illustrated, and culminated in 85 Years of the Oscar, published in 2013. He was a respected and sought-after co-author, with credits on a seemingly endless list of classic film books.

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Osborne was a dear friend of many classic Hollywood stars, including Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, and particularly Olivia de Havilland, with whom Osborne spoke every Sunday. It was de Havilland who introduced him to Bette Davis, and the two became fast friends. When he was looking for an apartment in Manhattan in the late 1980s and had finally found one he liked, he called Bette Davis to come see it with him, to get her opinion. Davis liked it, and Osborne took it. The building, serendipitously enough, was called the Osborne, and he lived there for the rest of his life.

I had the great fortune to meet Robert Osborne at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2012. It wasn’t a very formal meeting, but it was incredibly memorable for me. I related to him my love of Rita Hayworth, and we chatted for a few minutes about her. I feel so fortunate to have met a scholar and man of his stature, and to be able to talk about a mutual love.

Here he is introducing Cover Girl, one of his favorite Rita Hayworth movies. Robert Osborne’s loss is immeasurable, and will be felt forever in the classic film community. He is and will continue to be greatly missed.

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TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL UPDATE: Get well soon, Robert Osborne!

The TCM Classic Film Festival, going on its sixth consecutive year later this month, is known for its devoted following and a large, dedicated staff that keeps a monumental event running seamlessly from start to finish. Classic Hollywood guests, behind-the-scenes film programmers and prominent on-air talent bring life to the festival, giving it the vitality that has come to define this event over these past six years. This year, a major component of past festivals will be missing. The legendary Robert Osborne, the face of TCM and a tour-de-force within the film industry, is undergoing surgery the week of the festival and will be unable to appear at the event.

Osborne, approaching his 83rd birthday, still plays an essential and active role in turning the wheels that keep TCM operating. Though he has increasingly delegated hosting duties to Ben Mankiewicz in recent months, he remains a veritable powerhouse on the channel and has achieved the status of a near-deity within the community of classic film aficionados. He will be greatly missed at the festival this year, and Backlots certainly wishes him a speedy recovery.

I have met Robert Osborne a number of times, but I must say that my favorite moment with him was when he asked about my favorite film at the festival. This was a year when they had shown Cover Girl, a movie that I knew was a mutual favorite. We discussed Cover Girl and Rita Hayworth for several minutes, and I walked away thinking “I just talked to Robert Osborne about Rita Hayworth. What a story I have!” So Robert, here’s to your successful surgery–and make way for tomorrow!

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival, Day 1: Press Roundtable, Red Carpet Coverage, THE HEIRESS (1949)

Readers, I apologize for the delay in this post–I returned from a screening of The Heiress last night to find that my internet had taken a holiday of its own and was on the blink. Unable to post online but determined to get you the coverage you expect from me, I started writing on my phone but it had been such a long day that I fell asleep before the post could be entirely written. Hopefully that won’t be happening again and my internet will behave for the duration of the festival.

Yesterday was the opening day of the TCM Classic Film Festival, and what a day it was! Normally the TCM press events happen the Wednesday before the festival, but due to conflicting events at the Roosevelt Hotel, the powers that be decided to move the press day to Thursday, and into the TCL Chinese 6 theater, upstairs in the Hollywood and Highland mall complex on Hollywood Boulevard. We heard from Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy (the latter two work in network programming), and we heard a slew of fantastic questions and fascinating answers. Robert Osborne answered questions about his associations with Lucille Ball and Jane Darwell (“She wasn’t funny,” he said of Lucy, referring to her offscreen demeanor, “but she could BE funny”) as well as a question about what TCM’s greatest gift to him has been. He answered that the TCM family has been a great gift–the fact that there are so many knowledgeable people at the network, as opposed to the staff at previous jobs he has worked–and hearing from fans. He noted that TCM often gets letters from fans who say that the network has helped them through unemployment, hospital stays, and cancer treatments, and that he never realized that part of his job would be that of nurse. Ben Mankiewicz echoed Osborne’s sentiments that the TCM family has been a great gift to him, and added a bit about his own illustrious family having given him the boost that he may have needed to attain the job that has “changed the direction of [his] life.”

Robert Osborne answers questions.

Robert Osborne answers questions.

My question was posed to Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy, and it related to original programming. I am a big fan of TCM’s programming, and especially love the documentaries that they have produced in the past. I referenced the beautiful Clara Bow documentary that was done many years ago, and asked if there was anything other documentaries on the horizon. They responded that there is a separate department for original programming, and that there are indeed some things on the table, but it was good to hear that there is interest in these documentaries because it spurs action on their part. They said they would pass on my words to the department, so hopefully in the future we will be seeing more of TCM’s beautiful original work.

Notably, during Robert Osborne’s time to speak, he also referred to the Private Screenings interview with Olivia de Havilland that was supposed to have taken place last October. There has been some buzz online that it didn’t happen, and Osborne confirmed that it unfortunately did not. 97-year-old Olivia had taken ill with pneumonia shortly after they arrived in Paris, and was not able to do the interview. Extremely apologetic, she said that she would come to New York and do one–but when that was scheduled, she had another flare-up of pneumonia and ended up in the hospital again. “It’s not meant to be,” said Osborne.

On my end, I had heard that Olivia had been ill and in the hospital with a lung infection, and thus wondered if there was truth to the rumor that the interview did not happen. Obviously, pneumonia at 97 years old is quite serious. Certainly, a Private Screenings with Olivia de Havilland would be a major coup for TCM, but Olivia’s health needs to come first and Backlots sends her great healing wishes.

Next on the agenda was coverage of the red carpet. It was great fun to watch stars such as Shirley Jones and Margaret O’Brien walk down the carpet into the screening of Oklahoma! at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Unfortunately I didn’t get to talk to anyone (save a rather awkward exchange with Leonard Maltin, who caught me off guard and for whom I didn’t have any legitimate questions), but I got some fantastic pictures.

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My view.

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Shirley Jones on the red carpet.

After a brief rest following the red carpet, I headed out to see a screening of The Heiress, meeting up with fellow blogger Kristen from Journeys in Classic Film, her friend Michelle, and also TCM notable Lawrence Carter-Long (you may remember him from the marvelous series on disability in film that aired on TCM last year). The Heiress is a movie that I have seen literally dozens of times, but never on the big screen, and seeing it this way was a truly thrilling experience. The audience was laughing and gasping at parts that I had never paid particular attention to, and I heard witty dialogue that simply disappears when one sees the movie on a small screen. Olivia de Havilland’s performance in the magnificent final scene was all the more powerful when viewed on a huge scale, and the expressions on her face magnified to create a grand perspective. The Heiress is a gorgeous film in any size, but like anything else, it is meant to be seen on a screen of these dimensions.

Click here to read my analysis and discussion of the final scene of The Heiress.

Today is a full day, and hopefully my internet will be working when I get home so that I can give you the scoop while it’s still hot!