Remembering Robert Osborne

ESSENTIALS, THE

This week we bid farewell to the patron saint of classic film, the venerable Robert Osborne. News of his death hit hard amongst the classic film community and beyond. Although he had been dealing with health issues in recent years and had taken an extended leave of absence from his hosting duties on TCM, many fans, myself included, hoped Osborne would eventually return in some capacity. While TCM has done a marvelous job of bringing in excellent new hosts and programming, the network won’t be the same without him; we will never hear those beautiful words “Hi, I’m Robert Osborne” again. I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly happy about living in a world without Robert Osborne in it. His passing has left a giant hole in the heart of the classic film community. Fortunately, we have many beautiful stories of Osborne’s kindness and generosity in addition to interviews, books and articles featuring his knowledge and first-hand accounts of Hollywood legend and lore.

Robert was one of the last direct connections we had to glamorous old Hollywood. At the start of his acting career and later on with his writing, Osborne became close friends with many actors, including: Lucille Ball, Olivia De Havilland, Jane Darwell, Roddy McDowell, Robert Wagner and Bette Davis. It was under the guidance and advice of his friend and mentor, Lucille Ball, that Osborne abandoned acting for a career as an author and entertainment writer. This move proved to be the right one for Osborne, and his fact-based approach to writing about film landed him the coveted position of official historian for the Academy Awards. When Osborne helped kick off the launch of TCM in 1994, he not only brought his vast encyclopedic knowledge of film (who needs IMDb when you’ve got an Osborne!), but he also had a wealth of anecdotes and personal interactions with those movie stars of old Hollywood that were truly unique.

PRIVATE SCREENINGS

While Robert Osborne was long the face of TCM, he was so much more to his fans. He was like a member of the family. He was a teacher, mentor, counselor and friend. Ask any staff member at TCM about Robert Osborne, and you’ll quickly learn that he was loved by all; a loyal friend and extremely generous with both his time and talents. Viewers of TCM owe a lot to Osborne and his years of hosting, both on the network and at live events. Over the years I’ve heard stories how he and TCM helped someone during an illness, mourning the death of a loved one or maybe the loss of employment. In these hard times, many turned to classic film as an escape. Some found respite in the familiar sights and sounds of their favorite films, others embarked on new territory, never having seen a classic film or even knowing much about its stars, like Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. Welcoming Robert Osborne into our living rooms was an honor and a privilege; it was comforting to hear his voice and learn from his commentary. He shared his favorite films with us; introduced us to hidden gems and “lost” films; rang in the new year in a tux with a glass of bubbly; and interviewed numerous actors who normally wouldn’t grant such interviews, but gladly obliged because of Robert. He is also responsible for introducing classic film to a new generation. Each year at the TCM Classic Film Festival, I am filled with pure joy over the number of attendees in their 20s and 30s. In a time where instant gratification and obsession with the vapid celebrity are front and center, it’s incredible to see people who instead make the conscious decision to learn more about classic film, old Hollywood and its origins.

ESSENTIALS, THE

Robert Osborne made classic film accessible. Diehard cinephiles sometimes have a tendency to act elitist and snobby, which can be terribly off-putting to someone who doesn’t know much about classic film but would like to learn more. Robert Osborne opened the door and welcomed everyone to enjoy movies; there was never any condescension. For those who didn’t know Humphrey Bogart, or didn’t know that Marilyn Monroe actually made movies, or viewed Joan Crawford only as Faye Dunaway’s portrayal in Mommie Dearest (1981), Osborne was especially welcoming. Any chance to introduce these classic films, actors and the stories surrounding them was another shot at keeping them alive for the next generation.

For me personally, Robert Osborne is very dear. During a particularly difficult time in my life he kept me sane and gave me something to focus upon. Although I wasn’t a classic film “newbie,” I still had much to learn. After each film I watched, I would research the actors, directors and stories behind each production. Robert introduced me to Fredric March, an actor I was not incredibly familiar with, and didn’t care for initially because of a character he played in a film later in his career (Loren Shaw in Executive Suite [1954]). And then, thanks to Osborne, I saw March in some of his early work with Paramount. It was like I had been struck by lightning. I had to see everything starring March, and I had to know more about his career. During that initial search I realized that I wanted to do more than just learn about March, I wanted to research his career and write about him. Now I am several years into my passion project, something that gives me great joy and provides a much-needed creative outlet, and I have Robert Osborne to thank for that. I then discovered there were others like me, people who watch TCM and write about their favorite films and new discoveries. Over the years I made many friends within the online film community, some I hold very close. I was also very fortunate to meet Robert in person (including a visit to his set in 2012, written about here), as well as see him introduce many films at various screenings and festivals. He was approachable and extremely warm, treating me like an old friend.

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

So what do we do now that Robert Osborne is gone? While he can never be replaced, we can carry on his love of classic film and help keep it alive. With my six year old daughter, Ellie, I’ve been introducing her to classic film (including a recent viewing of Chaplin’s The Kid). She’s been around it since day one, with a wall full of posters in our living room and an extensive library of books and movies, and my slightly-obsessive collection of Fredric March-related original photos, posters, letters and other random ephemera. I am committed to seeing that she has a strong appreciation for classic film and knows how to view it through a modern lens. I know that Robert Osborne (who is lovingly referred to as “Grandpapa Robert” in our home) would be very happy to know that Ellie regularly asks to watch a silent film, or The Best Years of Our Lives (which she calls “the airplane movie”) or a Judy Garland performance, or listen to an album of Fred Astaire’s songs from his RKO days. I will continue to keep Robert’s memory alive by sharing these films with my daughter in hopes that one day she will pass her love onto her own friends and family. Share your love of classic film with your friends and family. Pass it along to your children, nieces and nephews. Doing so is the greatest gift we can give to Robert Osborne and the incredible legacy he’s left behind. We owe him that much. Let’s come together to keep his memory and life’s work alive for generations to come.

Jill Blake

42 Responses Remembering Robert Osborne
Posted By Jack : March 11, 2017 12:50 am

All that secrecy surrounding his absence. I was certain he would be back good as new once he recovered from whatever surgery or ailment he was suffering from. No one, not any report, ever alluded to anything as dire as this. Really sad. We who love the golden age of the movies always think that everything will have a Hollywood ending, and that the magic of the movies will triumph over reality. But life isn’t like that, is it? Gosh! I missed that man lo these very long months. Now I’ll never see that handsome, patrician face again; never hear that cultivated, assuring voice again; never again benefit from from his encyclopedic knowledge of the Motion Picture industry and the movies it brought us. He gave us all a better understanding and appreciation of the movies and its special art. Now it’s no longer missing — but mourning the man we couldn’t wait to see as much as the movie he was introducing. Rest in peace, Mr. Osborne, you touched us all.

Posted By LD : March 11, 2017 5:31 am

Thank you Jill for this tribute to Robert Osborne. He was indeed a treasure, “one of the last direct connections we had to glamorous old Hollywood”. Because of his many contributions he is now a part of the history of what he obviously loved so much.

Posted By esme cullen : March 11, 2017 6:46 am

I think it would be a wonderful tribute if you would put all of the special features you are going to air on Robert Osborne in a box set of dvds so they can be purchased and we can enjoy them forever. I’m sure it would go over well he was adored by so many of his loyal fans.

Posted By Marjorie J. Birch : March 11, 2017 10:44 am

RIGHT ON! RIGHT ON!

There are people I’ve never met and never will and I regret it.

Robert Osborne is one of them.

TCM is the only reason I bother with cable television.

Posted By Hal : March 11, 2017 11:30 am

Goodbye, Robert. Now I’ll have to find you in the shadowy corners at Rick’s.

It’ll be easy.

Posted By EricJ : March 11, 2017 11:37 am

I’d blogged in defense of Boston’s local Dana Hershey, of WCVB and WSBK’s “Movie Loft”, ( http://movieactivist.blogspot.com/2016/07/july-18-late-hour-comforts-of-movie.html), and there’s an entire era we’ve lost when movies used to be INTRODUCED on local independent stations, or on local affiliates after the network programming retired for the night, as the main presentation of the evening.
It surrounded the film like the theatrical ritual of finding your seat and getting your popcorn, or even the stage-theater ritual of a stage show or 60′s-Roadshow movie.
Nowadays, we’re too used to the idea of movies just being -there-, on Netflix or tablet, but when TCM started, the idea of a host to give us a few words of “why” we should bother watching the movie was just common to watching any movie on TV–It wasn’t such a “common” deal back then. (I can dimly remember when 70′s HBO used to have a host who would introduce the movies premiering that night, when was the last time you saw THAT on premium cable?…Outside of TCM, of course.)

TCM is the last refuge of quality treatment of movies on TV, or in fact ANY movies on tier-cable TV, and even if we have Ben Mankewicz to carry the torch now, it’s not one we should see extinguished.

Posted By Leticia Lacson MD : March 11, 2017 11:44 am

Have been watching TCM since I retired in 2002. I have grown to love the introductions & comments before and after a classic film
especially if Bob did them.
I especially watch the movies I missed while growing up & will
continue to do so .Will be missing him a lot.

Posted By Jack : March 11, 2017 12:39 pm

TCM is the safest and most sane place to be on television. No talking heads that simply wont stop. No commercials and their irritating jibber-jabber. No “Breaking News” that is nothing more than “Heart-Breaking News” No. Nothing but movies, unreeling from a 24-hour time machine that take you out of this mostly vulgar, mostly horrible world — if only momentarily, Everyone needs a respite from his cares and daily woes. And what better way than with Chaplin, Lubitsch, Capra, Ford, Minnelli, and others? *I’ll even forgive all those pitches for pairing wine with movies. C’mon Turner!

Posted By Angie Ward : March 11, 2017 1:01 pm

Ohhhh how sad I am to have lost you,dear Robert !!!!

I love you Robert,I am 74 yrs young and will miss you so very much , and due to the love of the golden years in Cinema you have brought so much joy daily to my life for so many years .
Just your smile alone made me smile.
Your kind voice made me feel calm on my bad days.
You will be missed always………..

I know Father God has build a special Mansion for you.

Rest in peace dear Robert

Angie Ward

Posted By Robert Wilson : March 11, 2017 1:38 pm

Love to watch the pictures on TCM from the 30′s 40′s and 50′s Robert Osborn’s introductions of these movies was something I always looked forward to. I know I will miss him along with quite a few others who enjoy TCM on a regular basis. Thank you Robert for all the interesting information you provided on all those old movies that brought me such great entertainment.

Posted By MDR : March 11, 2017 2:13 pm

Great summary of the man and why we loved him Jill! Thanks for being the first to recognize Robert Osborne since his death on this blog.

I had the privilege of meeting him during one of his week’s in Atlanta twelve years ago this month. Was fortunate enough to spend a day watching the taping of his intros and outgoes for the following month’s TCM schedule. This was 18 months before the moviemorlocks blog debuted (no one knew at that time there would even be one, or that I’d be lucky enough to be one of its original contributors).

Suffering from a mild case of laryngitis at the time, Robert made me feel welcome. I’d accidentally sat in his director chair and (during a break) when I started to get up he stopped me and took another seat for himself. A very kind and humble gentleman he was.

In fact, even though initially he’d sat at another table during lunch to rest his voice for that afternoon’s work, he couldn’t resist joining us. He then proceeded to engage me (the only person he didn’t already know) in conversation. He seemed genuinely interested in who I was, and how I came to love classic movies etc.

Robert Osborne was an authentic man – that friendly person you saw on the channel and welcomed into your living room to explain why you should love a particular movie is who he really was … and we’ll all miss him dearly.

Posted By Jane E Driscoll : March 11, 2017 4:01 pm

I never met Mr Osborne. I would have liked to. I can’t imagine TCM without him at the helm in the beginning. The current hosts are very good but, not seeing Robert on the screen the past few weeks has left a hole that isn’t filling up quite yet.

I will miss him and his enormous history of film, his presentation, and his care for the actors and film itself.

Good-bye, enjoy being with those who have gone before you, and Godspeed.

Jane

Posted By Navin J. : March 11, 2017 5:27 pm

Well said, JB.

Grandpapa Robert would be proud.

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 5:33 pm

Thank you all for such lovely comments. If there is to be any silver lining from Robert’s passing, it’s that so many people have shared their personal stories about him.

What a beautiful person he was.

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 5:36 pm

MDR–

What a wonderful story! Have you written more about your visit to the set? If so, I’d love to read it. I don’t know if you saw, but in this piece I linked to an article I wrote on a site I co-own about a visit to the set back in 2012.

How lucky we are to have witnessed Robert Osborne behind the scenes!

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 5:40 pm

Navin J.–

I really wish Ellie had the chance to see him introduce a film. Well, at least she was sort of there for that screening of STEAMBOAT BILL JR. in Athens… I’m convinced that’s why she was born on Buster’s birthday.

Posted By swac44 : March 11, 2017 5:58 pm

Lovely tribute, and it’s nice to see Streamline acknowledge TCM’s existence, a rare occurrence since the changeover from Movie Morlocks. So sad that it took the passing of Mr. Osborne for that to happen, but I hope that occasionally there’ll be nods to TCM programming for those of us in Filmstruck-less corners of the world.

There was an outpouring of affection for Mr. Osborne over on the Nitrateville classic movie message board (drop by for a visit, we won’t bite!), where someone posted a link to an older piece he’d written for The Daily Beast, listing his favourite overlooked movies. Most will be familiar to diehard film buffs, but there were a couple of obscurities that I’m sure have eluded the best of us, and it was somewhat comforting to read his words and hear that avuncular voice in my head one more time.

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 6:02 pm

Swac44–

I have to thank my editor, Christian Pierce, for allowing me to write this tribute to Robert.

I love that Daily Beast article.

Posted By Bennie : March 11, 2017 6:05 pm

Robert was awesome and the best ever. Jennifer is AWFUL. ANY PLANS TO GET RID OR HER?

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 6:23 pm

Bennie– I’m not sure who you’re referring to here, but this is a tribute piece honoring the late Robert Osborne. Let’s please keep the comments positive. Thank you.

Posted By mdr : March 11, 2017 7:11 pm

Jill,

great article on your visit to TCM; our experiences were quite similar. Yes, I wrote about it on my classicfilmguide website back in 2005, but kept that particular content for myself when I sold it a few years ago. I would be happy to send it to you if you’ll send me your email address.

highhurdler aka path40a

Posted By kitty : March 11, 2017 7:52 pm

this is to the writer of this blog’
First i’m also devastated by the loss of RO… it’s an empty feeling that will never be replaced. that calming voice on my tv screen and especially at Christmastime it just will never be the same without him, i’m sorry he was ill like he was… i’ll never forget him as long as I live.
ok
Fredrich March…. Did you see him in a rare film aired on TCM called THE DOCTORS ?
I was never a fan of March until I saw that very film, and also THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES… if you haven’t seen The Doctors, filmed around 1962… SEE IT… He was just at his greatest still after being in the biz since the 30′s… it also has Ben Gazerra but if you haven’t seen it YOU MUST SEE… it makes me cry though when I watch it… I had to buy the film when I finally found it from some obscure seller online…
March was Fantastic in this movie, and so were all the other actors… I just want everyone in the world to see it… Please do

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 8:03 pm

Oh, that would be great. Sending you my email address now.

Posted By Jill Blake : March 11, 2017 8:13 pm

Kitty-

I have seen THE DOCTORS. March had such a fascinating and unique career, and he wasn’t afraid to take on a supporting role. While I prefer much of his work in the 1930s and up to BEST YEARS, two of my favorite performances of his came in later films: SEVEN DAYS IN MAY and MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

Posted By Charles Berger : March 11, 2017 9:35 pm

Jill………………Thanks for the wonderful tribute to Robert Osborne. Although I never met him, I felt like he was a friend.
As a movie buff myself, I loved listening to him and his insight
into the numerous films shown on TCM.
There will never be another like him as there will never be another Gable, Flynn, Tracy, Bogart, Garbo, Davis and Hepburn.

Posted By kitty : March 12, 2017 10:03 am

Jill,

i’m glad to know that someone else has seen the film, i’m the only one I know… I thought he was just marvelous in that support role, if not for TCM’s Robert O, I never would have known the film existed, and TBYOOL is in a class by itself in greatness… They knew how to make films back in those days, and I think we all know we’ll never see the likes of again… so I have my little collection that I am happy to share with anyone who has an interest

Posted By Ollie Kinsey : March 12, 2017 5:09 pm

Hi folks I was stunned when I heard the news. OMG! Robert Osborne is Turner Classic Movies, Okay. Such a kind, gentle man. He knew all there was to know about the stars and the movies, he was in my living room every night. I quickly changed my cable company because they briefly stopped showing TCM. I didn’t wait to see how long the wait would be. Although I will always watch TCM and still enjoy the wonderful hosts, I shall never forget Robert, he was like a dear friend.

Posted By Mary Luck : March 12, 2017 6:08 pm

It has helped reading the wonderful tributes to Mr.Osborne. I share the tremdous feeling of loss, and was really concerned by his absense on TCM. I have been a classic movie lover for over 50 years (my God, so long). Finding TCM.and Robert Osborne was like finding an old friend. I’m really glad we still have Ben Mankowitz, such a witty man!

Posted By Susan Kaplan : March 18, 2017 4:39 pm

We TCM fans feel such a great sense of loss at the passing of our beloved Robert Osborne. He and TCM meant so much to each of us. I’ve loved classic movies all my life (none of my friends do though), so TCM, Robert Osborne and all the classic movie fans became my friends even though we never met.

Posted By Shaka : March 19, 2017 9:24 am

Words fail me at this loss: Robert Osborne was one of the best people to talk about movies along with Elwy Yost (father of the famous screenwriter), who hosted Saturday Night at the Movies here in Toronto, Ontario on the TV Ontario channel. I loved seeing Robert introduce movies (much like an MTV VJ) on TCM and though that he brought a wealth of info to what he did, as well as a touch of class, just like Elwy. Now he’s gone, and a light has gone out, one that shined its illumination onto older movies for older (and younger) generations.

All else I can say is: Rest in peace, Robert, Ben (and others) have got this, and will carry one what you did.

Posted By Eric Davison : March 19, 2017 1:38 pm

I grew up in the 1960’s, perhaps what I consider to be the tail-end of the classic movie era. I recall when “The Great Escape” made its television debut and was shown over 2 nights. I recall seeing a number of John Wayne movies in the local drive-ins in and around the City of Montreal, such as “The Longest Day”, “Rio Lobo” and “The Green Berets”.

When I started working at the age of 17, I subscribed to a movie network. But I could see that movies were changing from the types of films they were showing in the 1960’s. I felt let down in many cases, until I’d seen my first James Cagney movie, “Each Dawn I Die”. I loved it. But this movie channel very rarely showed classic films and I had a thirst for more. One of the PBS stations in my viewing area would show classic movies on Sundays. It was there that I would see Alfred Hitchcock marathons as well as some other wonderful movies like “Casablanca”.

Unfortunately when I moved to Alberta, Even in 2000, neither Montreal or Edmonton offered TCM and I had lost my link to what was available in Montreal. But by that time, had had built up a collection of over 200 classic films on VHS.

In July 2002, I moved to Dallas, TX. Soon after, I discovered TMC and Robert Osborne. Just having TCM opened the door to so many more movies, but Robert added so much more to the enjoyment of the movie (as does Ben & other hosts). Now living in Houston, I have near 900 films in my collection on DVD, thanks to TCM and Robert Osborne.

I became so accustomed to seeing Robert, particularly on Saturday nights doing The Essentials, that I got concerned when his absence from the show grew longer and longer. And now we all must deal with his loss. I’ve now seen some of the tribute twice. I, too, hope that it will become available for purchase. Well, I do have a couple movies (and movie collections) with introductions by Robert, but they aren’t quite enough. I cannot say how much I will miss Robert, but I know that I will miss him and I that I wasn’t ready for this class to be dismissed. I feel I could have learned so much more from the master. Rest in peace, Robert.

Posted By Susan Jensen : March 19, 2017 3:17 pm

We need a replacement for Robert so that TCM can continue to be a top notch network. I believe that Alec Baldwin is the right man for the job. He needs to be home with his young family now; he does not need to be running around the planet doing films. Alec had a super relationship with Robert; in my view, he is the only person capable of replacing him. Alec clearly has the brains and stage presence to do the job. I am just one of many TCM viewers who will be missing Robert forever. Please consider my suggestion–I will miss Robert always. SusieQ

Posted By George Harris : March 19, 2017 8:59 pm

I love watching the old movies, they are certainly better than today’s offerings. Robert will be sorely missed, over the years I felt like he became a friend, and his insights to the movies was just so wonderful. Rest In Peace Robert.

Posted By swac44 : March 20, 2017 12:48 pm

Elwy Yost was about as close as Canada got to a Robert Osborne, sadly, I only had fleeting glimpses of TV Ontario programming, since for some reason cable providers on the East Coast never offered it until only recently.

Yost also did a great series of shows where he went to L.A. and interviewed many of its surviving pioneers in the 1970s. I have his shows on Frank Capra and Hal Roach, but would love to see more.

Posted By Jack : March 20, 2017 2:24 pm

I would love to see Dave Kehr of MOMA and the New York Times, and Michael Phillips, Film Critic for the Chicago Tribune, who at one time was a guest host during Osborne’s absence, as TWO possible candidates replacements for the great RO. Their knowledge of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as their on-camera personalities,would truly distinguish the post left vacant by the death of Robert.

Posted By George : March 20, 2017 4:26 pm

Maybe rotating replacements wold work better than a full-time host? I don’t know. My guess is TCM will hire a full-time replacement, on the theory that people like to “bond” with a host.

That said, Karina Longworth (You Must Remember This), Farran Smith Nehme (the Self-Styled Siren), and the woman who blogs as the Nitrate Diva (can’t remember her real name) would all be good fill-ins. They have extensive knowledge of Old Hollywood, and good speaking voices.

Posted By George : March 20, 2017 4:32 pm

Robert Osborne, actor, in the premiere episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1962):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-xQ0xNRMSg

Posted By swac44 : March 20, 2017 5:23 pm

Or hire from within, and give the (ex-)Morlocks some airtime!

Posted By jeanette : March 22, 2017 3:21 pm

I just want to say how much he will be missed. Very classic guy
After watching AMC old black and whites, I had to sit through numerous commercial, bring me back to present time. but with TCM no commercial interruptions I am able to fully enjoy every moment. Also I would like to know if he was ever married?

Posted By teresa : March 25, 2017 11:59 pm

If somebody recognizes the song /sang by woman in such a special way/ after finishing the private screenings of robert osborne with liza minneli or after private screenings with alec baldwin.?

Posted By George : March 27, 2017 6:44 pm

“Also I would like to know if he was ever married?”

According to his L.A. Times obit, Osborne was survived by his partner of 20 years, theater director and producer David Staller. He was not married at the time of his death.

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