Watching last weekend’s 48 hour tribute to Robert Osborne on the Turner Classic Movie channel, which featured a number of his famous private screening interviews with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars, I couldn’t help but think that TCM really does not have to let Robert Osborne’s presence disappear. In his more than 23 years on TCM, Osborne filmed countless introductions to virtually all genres of movies featured on the channel. These introductions are as timeless as the movies themselves: as he used to quip, “If you have not seen the movie before, it’s not an old movie.” Same is true with these introductions — they will never be dated.
What TCM should do in my opinion, is to continue to use these introductions: either drop them in occasionally, or devote, say, one night a month to just Robert Osborne introductions. Those of us who remember April 14, 1994, when Osborne introduced TCM’s very first showing, “Gone with the Wind,” and faithfully stuck with him until his recent passing, would be most grateful. Osborne died in his New York home March 6, 2017 at the age of 84.
By his own account, Osborne lived a charmed life. Whether by good fortune or destiny (he sometimes explained it in both ways) a series of coincidences led him to his cherished role on Turner.
Born in rural Washington, Osborne fell in love with movies and movie history early on – he even worked at the local theater, where he once broke both arms after falling off a ladder while adjusting the theater’s marquee.
Osborne graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Washington in 1954 and quickly landed in Hollywood as a fledgling actor. His first mentor was Lucile Ball, who eventually suggested that he give up acting and begin writing about actors. Which he did, most prominently as the lead columnist for The Hollywood Reporter from April, 1983 until June, 2009. In this position he was able to cultivate meaningful relationships with many of the stars he later interviewed on Turner Classic.
After moving to New York in 1987, Osborne went on to appear on the CBS morning program and The Movie Channel before accepting the position at the launch of TCM.
Stars trusted him: he wasn’t out to embarrass them with the latest bit of scandal, he was really just interested in understanding them. They also knew that he was thoroughly acquainted, in an almost encyclopedic way, with the history of film. For example, Angela Lansbury picked Osborne to introduce her when she received her honorary Oscar in 2013 because she believed him to be the only person who really knew her early work.
My favorite bit of trivia about Robert Osborne is that he made a bit appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.
RIP, Robert Osborne – hope to see him a continuing role on the network he is so identified with, Turner Classic Movies.
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