For those of us who eat, sleep, and breathe anything Turner Classic Movies, yesterday was an especially sad day. TCM host Robert Osborne passed away at the age of 84.
I’ve been reading many of the obituaries and tributes that have been published in the past 24 hours or so (including an especially nice piece in the Los Angeles Times that includes quotes from his long-time partner, David Staller) – and there is definitely a through line. He seemed to have been just what we saw on the air – a kind, friendly, sophisticated, urbane gentleman with a passion for classic film.
I was lucky enough to have met Robert Osborne once years ago, and I have to say that my experience mirrors what I’ve been reading in his tributes. He could not have been more kind and generous with his time. He seemed to truly enjoy talking with us – and I truly loved the conversation we had. It was at a special event held at The Grove in Los Angeles. TCM was trying out a retail store, and they opened a large splashy space for the holidays in 2004. (It really was a great store – I guess the concept didn’t work out as well as they had expected, but I thought it was fantastic!) One of the events they held was a meet and greet with Robert Osborne and Jane Russell. They were selling copies of a book that TCM had just published, and had other memorabilia there as well. My husband, Nick, and I bought a copy and a reproduction of the movie poster for “The Outlaw”. To our surprise, there were a lot of people standing around on the perimeter, but not that many waiting to actually meet them (maybe it was because it was basically a book signing, and not that many people wanted to shell out for the book?). But we were thrilled to be able to have them both sign the book (and Jane signed our poster as well), and because it wasn’t very busy, we chatted for a bit with them. Robert asked us a couple of questions about who we were, and what brought us there. And I tried to explain to Jane that I had just finished a film about a famous photographer who had taken some fantastic (and very famous) photographs of her back in the late 40’s – she didn’t really seem to remember, but Robert knew what I was talking about and jumped in to bail me out of the conversation. We chatted for a little bit – and I remember thinking how truly nice he was. He was just a regular guy – that friend you enjoyed talking to about your mutual obsession for the movies. And he seemed almost as interested to meet us and talk with us, as we were with him. It was definitely a memorable experience.
I have been lucky to have attended many screenings over the subsequent years at the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood that Robert Osborne hosted. I especially loved the interviews – Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau for “North By Northwest”; Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner for “Imitation Of Life” – including an extraordinarily awkward moment with Lana Turner’s daughter that Robert handled with ease and grace; and my favorite… his hilarious interview with Maureen O’Hara at the last festival he attended in 2014 (if you haven’t seen it, check it out on YouTube!). And as fortunate as I feel for having had the opportunity to attend these events and more, none will ever top the first time when I felt that I got the chance to converse, even for just a few minutes, with one of my idols.
TCM will never quite be the same. He will be missed.