Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fond Farewell: TCM Host Robert Osborne

The film community was dealt a crushing blow yesterday, March 6th, 2017, when Robert Osborne, longtime host of the cable channel Turner Classic Movies, was taken from us at age eighty-four. A genial, familiar face to anyone who watched TCM since its inception, he is irreplaceable as not only a host, but as a resource - an endless wellspring of information - for anything cinema related.
Born in Colfax, Washington on May 3rd, 1932, Osborne (an obsessed movie fan) dreamed of a career in acting while pursuing a degree in journalism. As seen here, he worked on stage in "Night Must Fall" with no less a name than Jane Darwell (one of many key ladies who changed the course of his life), who encouraged him to continue.
After moving to New York, Osborne became a busy, familiar face in TV commercials. (His looks weren't all that dissimilar to those of singing Broadway star Robert Goulet.)
Many of the commercials he appeared in were for cigarettes, beer or coffee. They made him comfortable in front of a camera and lent him valuable experience.
The lean, handsome young man was eventually brought to Lucille Ball's attention, who placed him in her workshop theatre group and also put him to work in Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (1959.) As a personal friend of Ball's, he gained introductions to many famous Hollywood names, which taught him to be at ease amongst big name personalities.
He even found himself signed to the pilot of The Beverly Hillbillies (1962) as a sidekick to Mr. Drysdale (and his secretary Miss Hathaway), but opted out of the series once it was picked up. He continued to act, however, appearing on the daytime serial The Young Marrieds (1964.)
On the advice of Lucille Ball, Osborne began to shift from acting to writing. Seen here with Hedy Lamarr, he eventually wrote a landmark reference book Academy Awards Illustrated, first published in 1965. He next began writing in any and all ways, in time becoming a celebrity interviewer for a minor publication (his first celeb? Natalie Wood, who proved quite helpful to the fledgling reporter.)
Another key lady in Osborne's life was Miss Olivia de Havilland, who liked him enough to invite him to be her escort for the American Film Institute tribute to Bette Davis, a televised event which saw him seated at the head table and even kissing Ms. Davis' hand upon their first meeting, leading to another long friendship.
Now having moved up to a regular column in The Hollywood Reporter, Osborne was the go-to guy for any story relating to the golden age of the movies and any of its stars. He wrote, among others, another well-received book called 50 Golden Years of Oscar, which he would update every five years (after first doing so ten years following initial publication.)
His reference book, an exhausting, heavily-researched record, had the daring duty of disputing Shelley Winters' claim that she'd been Oscar-nominated for A Double Life (1947) when she hadn't been (!), something he broke to her on a 1978 episode of Dinah!
Beginning in 1982, Osborne was the entertainment reporter for KTTV and, as such, was on the scene for the first notable AIDS fundraiser, a stage production of Women Behind Bars, which had many veteran actresses of women's prison pictures on hand as invited honored guests.
In this capacity, he continued to come face-to-face with iconic Hollywood names such as his own idol Lana Turner (another one of his cherished stars was Gene Tierney.) In 1984, he began to introduce films on the premium cable station The Movie Channel. This would come as expert training for a job he had never even dreamed of at this point.
Tapped to become the daytime host of American Movie Classics (AMC), it happened that Ted Turner was about to develop a channel of his own called Turner Classic Movies (TCM) that offered a different library of spellbinding older films and Osborne instead accepted a position there as the host, introducing four movies per night, seven days a week.
So it was that on April 14th, 1994 at 6:00pm Eastern Time, Robert Osborne stepped forward for the first time to introduce TCM's very first classic movie broadcast, Ted Turner's own favorite Gone with the Wind (1939.)
From that fateful day on, Osborne delivered fun facts, trivia and unparalleled historical perspective for one film after another over the course of more than 20 years. Never pretentious, always respectful without being stuffy, he helped make TCM THE place to go for commercial free, unedited, uninterrupted movies from the glory days of Hollywood. AMC in time began to break up its films with commercials and veer away from the initial direction which had inspired TCM.
He also held irregular specials called Private Screenings, in which he offered in-depth interviews with such movie legends as Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Lauren Bacall, Rod Steiger and, as shown here, Liza Minnelli and Mickey Rooney (among quite a few others.)
So significant was his contribution to the mythology of Hollywood that ultimately he was awarded a star of his own on the Walk of Fame, joining permanently with all the great names he'd cherished throughout his more than 50-year career.
There won't ever be anyone else like Robert Osborne. He didn't just know about the movies and the stars. He knew the stars themselves, intimately, and had a lifelong passion for everything associated with them. His blood must have had a small strain of silver nitrate running through it!
One of my cherished Underworld pals recently said, "I bet there are old movies in heaven." If there aren't, you can keep the place for yourself! Farewell to one of the movies' very special personalities.


hsc said...

An excellent tribute! Thank you for posting this.

Donald Satterfield said...

This was so helpful and informative. Thank you.

Roberta Steve said...

Lovely tribute Poseidon. Robert was a gentleman in an age where gentlemen are becoming extinct. I always had a fantasy of Robert Osborne being my seat mate on a long plane ride. We talk movies the entire time. Hopefully I'll get a chance like that in the next world.

HarpoSnarx said...

Thank you for Robert Osborne's "back story." It was just as interesting as his Hollywood film nuggets - they WERE gold. The thing I liked about him was that voice. It was pleasant, humorous, paternal and provided the right tone while sharing his love of the movies. His passing leaves a great void. For some reason I thought of him when I watched Feud: Bette and Joan, and there was Joan Blondell as channeled by Kathy Bates. What a hoot. RIP RO.

Oh one last thought, Poseidon. YOU could do what RO did so well.

Poseidon3 said...

Hsc and Donald, thank you much! I'm glad you enjoyed this and took a moment to mention it to me.

Roberta, I agree about RO completely, of course. Can you imagine getting to drill him for various tidbits about this person or that from Tinseltown's glory years?!

HarpoSnarx, thank you very much for your comments and compliment. I enjoyed Kathy as Joan Blondell, too, but I missed her iconic moles on her left cheek! Those should have been applied in makeup. :-) And you are too kind to say that I could be a TCM host, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think I could meet or exceed what that new weekend daytime chick does with her alternately monotone/sing-song voice and hands that rise up during every sentence as if someone's pulling a string in her back! In short, though, I'd kill to do something like that.

Rick Gould said...

Great tribute, Poseidon!

I know that wherever I lived, turning on TCM and seeing Robert Osborne was like having a friend around. Cher, who is a classic movie fan, once commented that wherever she was working or touring, the first thing she did when she settled into a hotel room was to turn the TV on to TCM and Robert Osborne!

And here's a little treat, that entire Dinah! episode with Shelley and Robert Osborne, plus Olivia DeH and Eva Marie Saint : )
Cheers, Rick


Poseidon3 said...

Rick, thanks for mentioning that Cher tidbit! I recall that now. You know, I came so close to linking that "Dinah!" episode, but opted to just get the post up and move on, so I'm glad you provided it for those who want to see the whole thing (or parts of it.) Osborne helped arrange getting those Oscar-winners together for the show because they all had the same agent and he was looking for a way to tie-in his book. It's a rare and wonderful gathering of ladies and something we see little or none of these days, just acclaimed actresses getting together on one stage to chit-chat and recollect! I miss those types of talk shows versus the ones where a DNA test is required every ten minutes....

Abbe said...

Beautiful! I only spoke with Robert once. I was doing some work for Peter Ford on behalf of his father Glenn receiving an honorary academy award. Debbie Reynolds, Ron Howard and other co-stars wrote the AMPAS Board of Governors on Glenn's behalf. I wanted to get an honest take on AMPAS, and Robert told me. A class act who gave me his time. And we both adored Gene Tierney.

Craig said...

Enjoyed reading this. A nice tribute. Thanks!

Poseidon3 said...

Abbe and Craig, welcome to Poseidon's Underworld and thank you for taking a moment to comment and/or include your own recollections. I appreciate it!

Gingerguy said...

Wow this was great. What a great guy, and I learned so much from him. All your research was fascinating Poseidon, and I like Natalie Wood even more. She helped a lot of people in ancillary show biz careers. He will be missed, I can make do with Ben thank goodness, and all the others who fill in on that channel.

Poseidon3 said...

Ginge, I've grown to like Ben quite a lot, too, even though at the very, very start I wasn't sure. He used to seem to me like he was too cool for the room, but soon morphed into a more comfortable (and comforting) host. As for Natalie, she went so far as to take all the information and questions Osborne had on him, lay it out on the floor of her home and arrange it in the order that would make for the best story. Great tidbit about her. :-)