Sunday, March 19, 2017

Remembering Robert Osborne: A Collection of Tributes

Film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne died on March 6 2017 at the age of 84. He was survived by his partner, stage director and producer David Staller; his family; his friends; and a legion of adoring fans. Robert Osborne was something special, both to those who knew him personally and the many who only knew him as the host of Turner Classic Movies. His importance to the classic film community cannot be overestimated. With the perfect combination of charm, class, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of film history, Robert Osborne not only ensured that Turner Classic Movies would be a success, but he introduced an entire new generation to classic film. Those who knew him personally always had the same thing to say of Robert Osborne, that he was a consummate gentleman. No one ever heard a bad word said of Robert Osborne. He was known not only for his class and charm, but for his kindness, his warmth, his respect for others, and his integrity.

In honour of Robert Osborne I thought I would put together a small collection of tributes to him from my fellow classic film buffs, as well as links to the many tributes to him that have been published since his death.

K.C. of A Classic Movie Blog:

When Robert Osborne interviewed classic film stars, he served as a sort of surrogate for his audience. Our love for these legends flowed through him. He was so courtly and kind, especially with the ladies, who are always held up to so much more scrutiny in their later years. With the added difficulties of age, from frailty to fading memories or hearing, he always managed to read the emotions of his subjects, calibrating his tone and approach perfectly. He seemed incapable of being offensive or inappropriate. I think he had inherent charm.

Osborne had a taste of the acting life, and devoted his career to entertainment and the history of cinema. It gave him more compassion. He understood when a much-desired interview subject, having already given so much to the public, no longer saw the benefit in traveling to a film festival or a television studio to give more. For that reason he was adored and trusted.

Paula Guthat of Paula's Cinema Club, Founder of TCM Party and Co-Founder of Cinema Detroit:
My memory has been pretty sketchy lately, and I have not much to fall back on since my MacBookPro failed last week. But I do remember most vividly some of the few times I saw Robert Osborne in person at the 2013 TCMFF, and his extraordinary grace and unflappability.

The first time occurred at the media call. It was my first time going to the festival and I was so in awe of him. I was actually nervous to be in the same room with him. He strolled out and spoke for a little while and then took questions. He didn't shy away from opinions. I remember specifically that he defended the studio system, and said the Production Code actually produced some really creative filmmaking, and that explicitness doesn't guarantee sexiness or humor -- in fact it sometimes destroyed both. "Having a cap on some of that stuff so that people had to sneak around it made it a little more clever.”

He alluded the darker side of Old Hollywood with a reference to the "5 o'clock girls," one of whom he said Marilyn Monroe had been. He was a bridge to the studio era, he knew everyone, or someone who had known them. He was a total authority, but he carried it lightly; he had this way of disagreeing with or correcting people that was so smooth you barely noticed it.

He absolutely knew what I was just starting to understand: he and TCM were important, and that he, as the channel's standard bearer and most important face, was helping viewers through unemployment, illness, grief, divorce, family issues...whatever was going on. He and TCM were also bringing people together on- and off-line, and he got that too. He knew about TCM Party, the live tweet of TCM I started, and I was just shocked and delighted to hear him mention it.

Later I saw him in the lobby of the hotel, and I feared for his safety. No, seriously. To say he was mobbed would be an understatement. I always thought the first thing I'd ask him was whether he needed security on the TCM Cruise. There's not much place to hide on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

One of 2013's hot tickets was The General at Grauman's. Robert introduced it and mentioned that that particular screening was one of the last before they remodeled it. It turned out that the remodel was fairly respectful, but at the time no one truly knew what was going to happen with it. People booed, actually booed, him! He didn't even flinch. "Don’t throw anything," he said. "Well, if you do, throw a Porsche.”

Next year, I said. Next year I'll talk to him. I was too afraid this year, but next year, I'll definitely go right up to him and talk to him.

But it didn't happen. By the time the TCMFF 2014 rolled around, my husband and I had a movie theatre of our own, and I had this idea that if I programmed some classics, people would show up. This idea was wrong, as it turned out, but to my eternal regret, I stuck to the multiplex, checking out possible bookings, during what is now the de facto farewell to Mr. Osborne, the surprise tribute at the Montalban Theatre. In my defense, it was listed as a Q & A in the schedule, and it was a total surprise, even to him apparently.

In retrospect, he seemed in very good health in 2014, but he missed the 2015 fest, and was seen so infrequently on the channel itself, that by the time the 2016 fest rolled around, I wasn't really expecting him to be there, and he wasn't.

So I missed out meeting and chatting with him on this plane of existence. I hope there is a classic movie section of Heaven, maybe I can finally meet him there.

I can't help but think it's a shame that he never wrote a tell-all. Robert Osborne had forgotten more about Hollywood and its denizens than most anyone else ever knew. The changes in society and the industry he witnessed in his lifetime were massive and so was the institutional knowledge of Old Hollywood that went with him. But that wasn't his style. He epitomized elegance and discretion, and we'll never see his like again.

Will McKinley of Cinematically Insane, Freelance Social Media & Copywriting at getTV, Video Producer/Director at Red Thread, and Freelance Writer/Producer:

Over the years I often saw interviews with Robert Osborne where he talked about comforting fans during times of illness. He didn’t visit them in person, of course, but he did come into their homes (or hospital rooms) three or four times every night, thanks to his job as host of Turner Classic Movies.

It makes sense. For those of us who grew up loving them, old movies are comfort food. They’re the best pick-me-up, tranquilizer, insomnia treatment, companion, family heirloom. Whatever you need it to be tonight, that’s what a classic film is. And Robert was like that friend who can always be counted on to bring flowers when you’re under the weather. Except his bouquet was filled with movies.

I always figured, “How nice it is for the older folks, that they have Robert when they’re ill.” And then I got sick. It wasn’t planned, of course; these things never are. But it happened, and there I was in the hospital for weeks on end. It was December, cold and dark, and I was scared. But there was Robert Osborne on TCM every night, excited to show me a film I had never seen, or seen a million times.

Years later, I met him. I shook his hand. He smiled warmly, like he had waited his whole life to meet me.
“Thank you,” I said. “For all you do for classic film fans. We appreciate it more than you know.”  

Links to Various Tributes:

"Farewell, Our Silver Fox" by Brandie Ashe at True Classics

"Farewell Robert O" by Andy Ross at The Loafer

"Farewell to Robert Osborne" by Laura at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"How Turner Classic Movies Is Helping One of Its Hosts Grieve Robert Osborne’s Death" by Tiffany Vazquez from Slate

"The Late Great Robert Osborne" by Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts

"My Memories of Robert Osborne" by Raquel Stecher at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog

"Remembering Robert Osborne" by  Lara Gabrielle Fowler at Backlots

"Remembering Robert Osborne, a Friend to All Classic Film Fans" by Jessica Pickens at Comet Over Hollywood

"Remembering Robert Osborne" by Beth Ann Gallagher at Spellbound

"Remembering Robert Osborne" by Jill Blake at Streamline, the Filmstruck Blog

"Robert Osborne - Requiescat in Pace" by Jacqueline T. Lynch at Another Old Movie Blog

"TCM's Ben Mankiewicz Remembers Robert Osborne: 'The Signature Face of a Network Unlike Any Other'" by Ben Makiewicz at The Hollywood Reporter

"You're Welcome Here Anytime--Remembering Robert Osborne" by Jill Blake from The Retro Set


Paula said...

Thank you for putting this together, Terry. I really appreciate being asked.

KC said...

This turned out nice Terry! Thanks for having me. So many nice tributes.