I was thinking a lot about the passing of Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne today. The actor, turned writer, turned host, died at the age of 84.
More than anyone else I can think of, Osborne made me appreciate the art of the cinema.
Growing up, the only thing I liked about a black-and-white movie was the first and last parts of The Wizard of Oz. Usually that was the best part of the film to go refill my popcorn bowl when the classic movie made its one-time-per-year showing.
Give me Star Wars. Give me Raiders of the Lost Ark. Give me Die Hard.
Casablanca? Yawn. Stagecoach? Nah.
But a funny thing happened around 1994, I went to college, and Turner Classic Movies came on the air. I was a 'Telecommunications' major at Bowling Green, so I studied radio, television, and yes, film.
One of the movies we watched was Citizen Kane, the Orson Welles masterpiece from 1941, that I mentioned recently in my Oscars 'do-over' piece. I can remember walking out thinking 'this wasn't too bad' or 'not as boring as I thought.' My interest in these older films was piqued.
Enter Robert Osborne.
As the first host of TCM, Osborne would introduce the films that would come on each and every night. As a newcomer to 'classic films,' I was always mesmerized by the fascinating facts that he would drop in. He never talked down to you, instead he was like a tour guide who would grasp you by the hand and welcome you to the world of great cinema.
'You haven't seen Ben-Hur yet? You're in for a treat!'
Once you learned something from Osborne about a film, or one of its stars, or its director...you couldn't wait to tap into his knowledge some more.
I learned that one of my all-time favorite movies, L.A. Confidential, was in many ways a throwback to great film noir of the past: From Chinatown, to The Third Man, to Double Indemnity.
A Few Good Men had its epic courtroom scenes inspired by The Caine Mutiny.
Before there was Star Wars, or Star Trek, or even 2001: A Space Odyssey, there was Forbidden Planet.
And Casablanca is a really awesome movie by the way. I learned from Robert Osborne that Humphrey Bogart was not the first choice to play Rick. Many of the actors who played the Nazis in the films were actually escaped German Jews. And 'Here's looking at you, kid,' was a line Bogart improvised. Who needed Google or Wikipedia when I could learn such great dynamite drop-ins on TCM?
Ponder this for a moment: Can you think of anyone else who is the 'face' of network the way Robert Osborne was for TCM from 1994 through this day of his passing?
Chris Berman was for ESPN a long time ago, so were Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann for a time.
Bill O'Reilly at Fox News?
Anyone else come to mind?
It's so rare for anyone to be the kind of fixture that Osborne was at TCM, for as long as he was.
I thought Osborne's fellow TCM host Ben Mankiewicz put it so well today in The Hollywood Reporter, "Look, we weren’t the first channel to show classic movies. AMC did it for a time. Local stations across the country did it on Friday nights or Saturday mornings for decades. What made TCM stand out? The answer isn’t hard. It’s Robert Osborne."
From 'The Essentials,' to '31 Days of Oscar,' and everything in between, Osborne made it fun to be a classic movie fan.
And our lives were better because he was our guide.