Wednesday, March 8, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Remembering Robert Osborne

"And ... CUT!" — Robert Osborne and Jane Powell launching the TCM Classic Film Tour in 2013. Photo: Will McKinley.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Remembering the Man Who Really Loved Movies — Robert Osborne.

“WE NEED illusions. That’s why we love movies,” said Italy’s Monica Belluci.

Robert Osborne loved movies, although he had few illusions about the business, the stars and the myth-making machinery of the industry. Robert died yesterday, age 84.  Many knew he’d been ill for a while, and his hosting appearances on Turner Classic Movies — the all-movie-no-commercial network he has represented since 1994 — had become infrequent. 

Osborne began as an actor, but he soon found that his talents were more suited for journalistic observation.  He was a longtime columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, and he wrote a highly regarded book, “50 Years of Oscar” in 1979, which led to numerous updates (the last was “85 Years of Oscar” in 2013.)  By the time his Oscar books were being updated, Robert Osborne was a famous man, the face and voice and sensibility behind Turner Classic Movies.

What attracted viewers by the millions to TCM, was not simply the novelty of great vintage films, shown 24-hours a day, without tiresome mood-shattering commercials.  It was Osborne’s respect for the stars, the hard work, the technical expertise that was often overlooked, that made him so respected and adored. 

He made it his mission to interview as many of the great surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age as he could corral. Few resisted. And not just the “big” stars — character actors, directors, cinematographers, costume designers, all received their respective and enthusiastic due from Robert.  There are hundreds of feet of irreplaceable memories from these people, preserved (we hope!) forever.
Robert — who had such an appealingly cherubic face and ingratiating manner — never stopped improving, expanding, refining TCM.  Devotees of every genre and star had their day, week, month.  Marvelous documentaries (I recall being particularly impressed by films devoted to Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow).  

He made it his mission, from time to time, to help to resuscitate the reputation of stars who seemed unjustly underrated. One of those was the divine Kim Novak, who gave him a remarkable interview, and became part of the TCM family, appearing on the network’s cruises, etc. 
In real life, as genuinely nice as he was, Robert could be wickedly acerbic.  As I said above, no illusions, which made his passion for film, for glamour and for professionalism even more intense.  (I once chided him a bit, saying that TCM rather ignored Marilyn Monroe.  He laughed and put in his head in his hands, “I don’t mean to.  I think she was brilliant in ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘The Prince and the Showgirl.’  But I knew Billy Wilder and George Cukor.  They told me such awful stories about her unprofessionalism — the lateness!  I guess it affected me. I don’t really have anything against her.”)  Robert was always affectionate and funny and good company.
Turner Classic Movies will go on.  Ben Mankiewicz (great-nephew of legendary director Joe Mankiewicz) has already taken over many of Osborne’s duties as host. And he’s fine, and surely he reveres film.  Still, an era has ended. TCM just won’t be quite the same without him.  But, like the great stars and the glorious films he adored — in beautifully shadowed black and white, or blazingly unrealistic Technicolor — Robert Osborne will not be forgotten. 
Ben Mankiewicz has taken over many of Osborne’s duties as host.
He will surely have his very own TCM tributes, and next year, his name and face will be included at the annual Oscar In Memoriam segment.  It will be well-deserved. 

P.S.  It would be peak irony if next year, The Academy also actually decides to finally honor Doris Day.  Mr. Osborne shared this column’s outrage over Miss Day being overlooked.  We spoke of it often.

RIP Mr. O. And I bet the first to greet him up there on that big studio lot in the sky, will be Joan Crawford, a great TCM favorite.

Likely done up in that sequined evening gown she wore into the ocean in “Humoresque” Crawford, will say, in her MGM-created posh tones, “Bless you, Robert.” And he’ll say, “Nice to see you, too, Lucille, but knock it off!”
BY THE way, I am now exhausted by hearing, everywhere I go, that the guy who was on his phone and mistakenly handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope on Oscar night, is, you know, deserving of banishment from the human race.  He’s been humiliated enough, and nobody died.

As far as I am concerned, the man deserves an award of his own for inadvertently goosing up Oscar night as it has never been goosed before. I read some remarks that the best picture snafu “ruined an otherwise stellar” telecast.  I say, as upsetting as it was (for all the well-paid privileged people onstage) it was the only “good” part of a typically soporific show.
ENDQUOTES: From Minnie, in Fort Worth, Texas: “The USA?  It’s as if I went to sleep on the plane and woke up to find that Yosemite Sam is the pilot!”

From Amanda Hess’ article “Click Bait” in the Sunday New York Times magazine:  “Trolls work through abstraction, leveraging the internet and irony to carve out a space between actions and consequences ... trolls are typically outsiders, and sad ones: They don’t fit into the dominant group so they terrorize it from the sidelines.  Part of what makes the current administration so alarming is that the troll sensibility now dominates.  And when that happens, it’s reminiscent of what Sartre described: No reason, no principle, just the pure exercise of power.”
Derek Brahney for The New York Times
And from the big New Yorker article on Russian interference in American politics, this from Alexey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow: “We have to create turbulence inside America itself. A country that is beset by turbulence closes up on itself — and Russia’s hands are freed.”

P.S.  As you know, I sometimes blow hot and cold on MSNBC’s brilliant Rachel Maddow.  She can be too “cutesy” at times for my taste.  But lately she has been doing outstanding work connecting the dots between the current resident of the White House and various shady Russians and inexplicable deal-making. Sobering, mind-bending, stellar reportage. Brava!

Contact Liz here.