Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Godspeed Bob Dorian

Ten years before Turner Classic Movies launched, there was another cable channel that showed classic movies. American Movie Classics (AMC) launched on October 1 1984, and it specialised in movies made before the Fifties. In many ways AMC paved the way for TCM. Like TCM, AMC would sometimes show marathons of related movies (for example, the Marx Brothers films). In 1993 AMC started holding an annual Film Preservation Festival coordinated alongside the Film Foundation. And like TCM, AMC had its own congenial hosts who introduced movies. While Gene Klavan and Nick Clooney would later introduce movies that aired during the daytime, the host most closely associated with American Movie Classics was Bob Dorian. Bob Dorian was the host of primetime movies on AMC for well over a decade. Sadly, Bob Dorian died on June 15 2019 at the age of 85.

Bob Dorian was born Robert Vierengel on April 19 1934 in Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Dorian was a movie buff even as a child. He would often spend Saturdays watching three or more movies all for the price of a dime. He would later work as a movie usher. He began acting when he was 14 and over the years he would hold a number of different jobs. He did stand-up comedy for a short time, as well as trapeze catching in a circus. He played bass in a New York City based jazz group called Four Dimensions. Prior to working as the host of AMC, his greatest claim to fame may have been as a magician. He used the stage name "the Amazing Dorian." He was a member of the Magic Castle. Mr. Dorian appeared on the 1976 television special Magic at the Roxy alongside Carl Ballantine and David Copperfield.

As an actor Bob Dorian's most famous role would come with The Evil Dead (1981), on which he was the voice of an archaeologist on a tape recorder that triggers the events in the film. It would be an acting job that would lead directly to becoming the host of American Movie Classics. In the early Eighties he appeared as Dracula in a commercial for a video game. The shoot lasted two days and he wound up talking about old movies a good deal with the producer on the commercial, Norm Blumenthal. When Norm Blumenthal helped launch AMC, he remembered Bob Dorian and asked if he would be interested in hosting the new cable channel. The job was originally meant to last only six months. Ultimately Mr. Dorian was a host on AMC from its launch in 1984 to 2000. He left the channel not long before it shifted its format so that it no longer showed classics exclusively, but also aired commercials as well (originally movies were shown uninterrupted on AMC).

In addition to hosting AMC, he had a recurring role on the channel's first original series, Remember WENN. After leaving AMC he guest starred on the TV show Ed and appeared in the movies The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Hollywood Ending (2002), Strike the Tent (2005), and Mnemonica (2009).

Bob Dorian also worked as an actor on stage, most notably appearing in a touring production of the stage version of The Wizard of Oz. With Dorothy Curley he wrote the book Bob Dorian's Classic Movies: Behind the Scenes of 100 Great Movies from Hollywood's Golden Years, published in 1990.

In many ways Bob Dorian was the perfect host for AMC. He was always careful to emphasise that he was not a film historian, but merely an actor and a fan. That having been said, Mr. Dorian was more knowledgeable than the average fan, with a wealth of stories upon which to draw. He also displayed a remarkable enthusiasm for movies. It was clear watching Mr. Dorian that he loved movies, whether he was introducing a classic such as Citizen Kane (1941) or a not-so-classic such as Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952). Bob Dorian's love for movies continued well after he left AMC. In a 2009 interview with the web site Go Fatherhood, he said that he watched six to eight movies a week (mostly on TCM).

Of course, it must be kept in mind that Bob Dorian was not only a host on AMC, but he was also a well-respected magician. He was a long standing member of the Magic Castle and continued his magic career even after he had become a host on American Movie Classics.

Over the years many young people have been introduced to classic movies through Turner Classic Movies. Before TCM, however, there were many introduced to classic movies by American Movie Classics. Bob Dorian played a large role in the early success of AMC. He provided a friendly, avuncular presence that often made the introductions more entertaining than the films being shown.

No comments: