Film his­to­rian shared trivia as Turner Clas­sic Movies host

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - By Dennis McLel­lan Los An­ge­les Times

Robert Os­borne, who dis­played an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge — and love — of films and film his­tory as the pri­mary host of Turner Clas­sic Movies, has died in New York, the net­work said Mon­day. He was 84.

Os­borne was a for­mer longtime colum­nist for the Hol­ly­wood Reporter and the au­thor of the of­fi­cial his­tory of the Acad­emy Awards. The ge­nial, sil­ver-haired and dap­per Os­borne was a bonafide movie con­nois­seur, who dis­played his wide knowl­edge of films on TCM since the 24-hour com­mer­cial-free ca­ble net­work’s launch in 1994.

“Hi, I’m Robert Os­borne,” he’d cor­dially greet view­ers from a stylish liv­ing room set and quickly be­gin serv­ing up fas­ci­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion and in­sider trivia about the movie that was about to be shown.

At the end of each film, the man Wash­ing­ton Post TV critic Tom Shales dubbed “an avatar of eru­di­tion” of­fered his clos­ing re­marks.

With an ex­ten­sive li­brary of films span­ning the decades, Os­borne was clearly in his el­e­ment. “For any­one who loves movies like I do, Turner Clas­sic Movies will be like fall­ing into par­adise,” he told the Hol­ly­wood Reporter in 1994 when he was named host of TCM.

A res­i­dent of New York City since the late 1980s, Os­borne would gen­er­ally fly to At­lanta once a month to shoot a se­ries of open­ing and clos­ing seg­ments for up­com­ing films.

View­ers looked for­ward to hear­ing his com­ments on each movie.

“You feel like it’s not just a guy up there read­ing copy that peo­ple pre­pared for him to read,” film critic and his­to­rian Richard Schickel told the Post in 2005. “That’s a good qual­ity and in­creas­ingly rare in the tele­vi­sion cli­mate of our times. He’s some­thing a lot more than just a talk­ing head.”

Os­borne had more than his share of movie star fans in Hol­ly­wood.

Be­sides host­ing movies seven evenings a week, Os­borne hosted spe­cial oneon-one “Pri­vate Screen­ing” in­ter­views with stars such as Tony Cur­tis, Es­ther Wil­liams and Robert Mitchum — as well as di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Sid­ney Lumet, Stan­ley Do­nen and Nor­man Jewi­son.

He also co-hosted films con­sid­ered “The Es­sen­tials,” most recently with ac­tress Drew Barrymore. And he co-hosted the “Guest Pro­gram­mer” se­ries, with guests such as Mia Far­row, Buck Henry and Hugh Hefner.

Off the air, Os­borne served as the main host of the TCM Clas­sic Film Fes­ti­val in Hol­ly­wood and shared his knowl­edge of film his­tory with fel­low pas­sen­gers on the an­nual TCM Film Cruise.

Os­borne took over veteran Va­ri­ety colum­nist Army Archerd’s role as red car­pet celebrity greeter at the Os­car cer­e­mony in 2006, the same year Os­borne re­ceived a star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame.

Dubbed the “of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­pher” of Os­car, Os­borne wrote a se­ries of books chron­i­cling the an­nual Acad­emy Awards. The most re­cent up­dated edi­tion, “85 Years of the Os­car,” was pub­lished in 2013.

Os­borne was born May 3, 1932, in Col­fax, Wash., a small farm­ing town, where he found es­cape at the movies.

Os­borne ma­jored in jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton and then spent two years in the Air Force. While sta­tioned in Seat­tle, he be­gan act­ing in lo­cal the­ater in his spare time. At the sug­ges­tion of Os­car-winning ac­tress Jane Dar­well, with whom he ap­peared in a play, he headed to Hol­ly­wood af­ter com­plet­ing the ser­vice in the late ’50s.

In Hol­ly­wood, Os­borne quickly landed a six-month con­tract at 20th Cen­tury Fox and then joined a new con­tract-player group at De­silu stu­dios un­der Lu­cille Ball.

Os­borne had small parts in TV se­ries such as “The Cal­i­for­ni­ans,” and “The Whirly­birds” and played banker Drys­dale’s young as­sis­tant in the pi­lot episode of “The Bev­erly Hill­bil­lies” in 1962.

Ball, im­pressed with both his ed­u­ca­tion and his knowl­edge of movie his­tory, ul­ti­mately ad­vised him not to stick with act­ing.

Os­borne’s first book, “Acad­emy Awards Il­lus­trated,” was pub­lished in 1965.


Robert Os­borne had dis­played his wide knowl­edge of films on Turner Clas­sic Movies since the 24-hour com­mer­cial-free ca­ble net­work’s launch in 1994. From a liv­ing room set, he served up in­for­ma­tion and trivia about the movie that was about to be shown.

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