“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne.” The silver-haired gentleman in jacket and tie stepped forward, introducing himself as he previewed another film. He seemed like one of our parents’ friends from childhood we can’t remember not knowing.
His absence from the Turner Classic Movie channel will be difficult for many, as he passed away this month at 84. An actor for a short time, he appeared in the pilot for the Beverly Hillbillies in the early 1960s. While he worked for Desilu, Lucille Ball encouraged him to begin writing, and he authored many articles on the history of film including a classic book about the Academy Awards.
Always tasteful, always a class act, Robert was trusted equally by actors. coworkers and audiences. In 1994 he joined TCM and quickly became its anchor, accumulating interviews of movie stars from the golden age of film. He preserved for posterity Private Screening spots with Betty Hutton, Mickey Rooney, Robert Mitchum, Ann Miller and many more.
I remember one time, perhaps before Singing in the Rain was shown, he revealed he’d been on the set the last day Gene Kelley was in front of the camera. It was for That’s Entertainment II, and the famous dancer wasn’t feeling well, but you wouldn’t know it because he carried on like he always had, with finesse.
Mr. Osborne had just as much finesse. We identified with him and he with us. He was interested in the viewers, as shown by his willingness to invite them to his program from time to time to help host their favorites.
He was the Dean of Movie Watchers; he was warm and gentle, and funny too. A recent 20th anniversary special showcased outtakes that made me laugh out loud. Apparently Olivia DeHaviland enjoyed his conversation, because they spoke on the phone every Sunday evening.
This is a history blog, but entertainment factors into history in a big way. It is both cause and effect in our lives. When Thomas Edison invented moving pictures, the new medium of expression transformed the way the world would be seen from that time on.
I am grateful that Robert Osborne decided to share his experiences with his wide audience. His rules were simple, and he followed them well. Rest in peace.
On March 18 and 19, Turner Classic Movies will air a special tribute to Mr. Osborne.