Remembering TCM Host Robert Osborne (1932-2017)
My 2009 Interview with a Hollywood Legend
Back in May of 2009 I had the marvelous good fortune to briefly sit down with Turner Classic Movies host and cinephile extraordinaire Robert Osborne. It was a wonderful ten minutes, a joyous unexpected gift that came out of the blue like an early summer Christmas present delivered to me by the good folks running that year’s Seattle International Film Festival. In all honesty, as short as our chat was, this little interview is one of the most cherished moments I’ve ever had as a professional film critic, sitting there with Osborne reminding me just how much I love this job as well as how amazingly lucky I am that I have the opportunity to do it.
So, unsurprisingly, it admittedly hit me like a ton of bricks this morning when I read of the legendary TCM host’s passing at the age of 84. I honestly loved this man, and even though I only met him twice, first in 2009 and the second time while he was doing a press tour with Eva Marie Saint a couple of years later, Osborne had this miraculous ability to make me feel like I was the most important person in the room and that he was just as pleased to be chatting with me as I was with him.
The following is a reprint of a column I wrote documenting my conversation with Osborne during the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. It’s very short, but I think his quotes showcase that gracious warmth, enchanting intelligence and spellbinding cinematic knowledge that helped make him such an icon. Make no mistake, Osborne was an industry titan and one of the last of his ilk, and to say he will be missed is as massive an understatement as any I’ll likely state throughout the remainder of 2017.
The following article is reprinted from May 22, 2009:
First thing this morning I received a call from one of the SIFF publicists asking if I could be at their office within the hour as she had a brief window for an interview she knew I’d be interested in. It was with Robert Osborne, the well-respected primetime host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and to say I was showered, changed and out the door faster than the Road Runner wouldn’t be stretching things one little bit.
No one who loves and cherishes the art of film could refuse the opportunity, no matter how brief, to sit and chat with Osborne. Considered the official biographer of Oscar, this University of Washington alum and former Colfax, WA native (roughly 60 miles from Spokane, my hometown) is a titan as far as I’m concerned, sitting with him a ten minute cinema class no college or university could ever hope to equal.
If I sound a bit like a gushing schoolgirl I guess I am. TCM has supplied me more hours of enjoyment and edification than I can even begin to relate, Osborne leading me to films I’d probably never have watched had he not spoken so highly of them. Every time I hear his voice I can’t help but feel safe and comforted, secure in the knowledge that, for right now at least, someone out there has a passion and a love for the medium that maybe surpasses my own.
But enough of this. While our window was brief, Osborne had plenty of interest to say, and instead of dolling it out piecemeal I’m just going to let his words speak for themselves.
On the strengths of Turner Classic Movies: “We just got a Peabody Award calling [TCM] the ‘American Cinematheque,’ and I love that. One thing I love about the channel and the people doing the programming and the people behind it are all people who really do know film and the really know aspects of [it]. It’s not just Clint Eastwood films that we’re showing, not just Jack Lemmon films, it’s everything. We have our Silent Mondays so you get some of the [Greta] Garbo films, and we run some of the more obscure foreign films and we’ll find some of the lesser known films and show those as well.”
“We’ll show things like 1933’s When Ladies Meet with Myrna Loy. Not a lot of people are going to want to see it or like to see it, but if they’re people like you, people who want to learn about the history of film, see these old pictures the way they were meant to be seen, you’ll get your chance, and I think that’s great. I’m very proud of that fact.”
On trying to watch films with commercial interruptions: “I love that we show out films without interruptions. Films aren’t supposed to be cut, not for any reason.”
“You know what’s always confused me, when television first began TV needed film more than film needed television. I don’t know why that they just didn’t then have a law or write into the contracts saying, we’ll sell the films, but they have to be shown uncut. That would have made it start right at the very beginning that when films were shown there would be commercials at the beginning and at the end, but not in the middle. If they had done that they would probably still being [broadcasting] them in that fashion today. They should have forced it to happen, and I don’t know why they weren’t adamant about that because [commercials] really destroy their films. You take a Hitchcock movie like Rear Window or Rebecca or Psycho and you put commercials in there, that whole movie is lost.”
On growing up in small town Washington State and imagining he’d ever have a career like this one: “Of course, not, no, but there are certain things that I got to do because of my passion for film, like going to Los Angeles and getting the chance to associate with these people like Lucille Ball right off the bat. I remember one time being at Lucy’s house and she was showing Funny Face. It was not a new film then, but Kate Thompson was there and – it was the strangest group, actually – Joseph Cotton, Janet Gaynor, Roger Edens, Chuck Walters, Kate Thompson and couple of other people, were all their to watch the move. You went into the living room and she pushes a button and the painting goes up, she pushes another butting and the screen comes down, picks up the phone and tells the projector he could start the film, the film rolls and we’re suddenly watching Funny Face.”
“So, the movie is going on and that number between Kate Thompson and Audrey Hepurn on, ‘how to be lovely,’ comes on, and Kate stands up and actually starts doing the number. I’m sitting there thinking, this is where I’m supposed to be. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“I have to say that, by desire I programmed myself so much that I would be doing this that now it doesn’t come as that big of a surprise to me that all this has come to pass. Now, I know that is stupid. This is fantasy come true. But I was so strong about that fantasy that it hasn’t come as a surprise that it has happened. What I can never stop thinking is how lucky I am that I’m the one who got to do it.”