Robert Osborne, who died Monday at the age of 84, had been part of the Turner Classics Movie channel since its launch in 1994. In tribute to this long-time fan favorite, TCM is devoting the weekend of March 18 and 19 to replaying some of his highlights as an interviewer.
Among these will be episodes of “Private Screenings” with Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Norman Jewison and Betty Hutton. Also featured will be the interview that his pal Alec Baldwin did with him on the occasion of the channel’s 20th anniversary in 2014.
Osborne also oversaw the annual TCM Classic Film Festival beginning in 2010 and TCM will air many of the interviews that he conducted there including those with Oscar winners Eva Marie Saint, Luise Rainer and Alan Arkin as well as honorary recipient Peter O’Toole.
When we interviewed him in connection with the 2013 edition of the festival, he spoke vividly of his life-long love affair with the movies, starting with the first one he saw. “I remember it had to do with a horse race and gangsters. I remember covering my face with my hand most of the time, because I was watching the race and felt so badly for the horses who were trying to win and were losing.” He readily admitted, “I was fascinated by films: I thought somehow they were papers dolls, like the ones my sister had, being maneuvered, and I couldn’t imagine how they could make them look round like people, instead of flat.”
Osborne said then that being a host on TCM was his dream job. “I wanted to be apart of it; I just didn’t know where I fit in. I knew I couldn’t sing, I knew I couldn’t dance. I just lived in a small farm town in the Northwest. I didn’t know where I fit in. I was happy that Ted Turner started a channel and I got to be the guy. That was my great luck.”
And while he was pleased to be welcomed into people’s homes nightly, he was even more delighted to be able to present movies as they were meant to be seen. “We recognize the fact that we’re really pleased to bring all these films that for years were in a vault, hidden away, to people through television. But the only way to really see a movie is on a big screen, with an audience. There’s no lack of that in Los Angeles, or in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco with revival houses. But there’s a lot of people who don’t have access to these movies on a big screen.”
“To see ‘Casablanca’ (1942) on a big screen with an audience of 2,500 other people, with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart three stories tall, is a totally different experience than watching it on a television screen in a room on a couch by yourself,” he continues. “It’s very important because that’s the way they were made to be seen.”