To many people, especially those younger than we, Robert Osborne — who died Monday at age 84 — was as famous as the movies he introduced on the Turner Classic Movies channel and the stars he befriended.
Osborne was one of those lucky people who figured out what he most wanted in life, and was able to earn a living at it. He flourished as the cinematic maitre d’ at TCM for the last 23 years.
His big smile and amiable countenance transformed scores of star interviews into warm, almost intimate conversations. His remarks before and after film showings were invariably authoritative, highly informative and laced with humor.
Osborne carried his learning lightly. He had earned it, not in the comfy groves of academe but in the Hollywood trenches. His love of classic Hollywood began in 1941 when nine-year-old Robert, born in Washington state, became entranced with a copy of Modern Screen magazine his mother had given him. A 20-year-old Lana Turner was pictured on the cover.
After graduation from the Univ. of Washington, Osborne migrated to Hollywood, rolling the dice on an acting career. Over the years he amassed four credits as a writer, one as a cinematographer and only 11 as an actor. He appeared uncredited in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and as a guard in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. Mostly, it was television that provided the work — among other credits, The Beverly Hillbillies in 1962 and Death Valley Days in the mid Fifties.
More important, Osborne made fast and durable friendships with a host of classic movie stars: including Debbie Reynolds, Eva Marie Saint, Gene Tierney, Kim Novak, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Hedy Lamarr, whom he befriended during a particularly trying period in her personal life.
According to The New York Times, Olivia DeHavilland and Osborne began a 40-year friendship that featured regular telephone exchanges each Sunday. At the suggestion of one his closest confidantes, Lucille Ball, Osborne turned towards writing, landing a birth as critic and columnist at trade journal The Hollywood Reporter. A subsequent move to New York City expanded his purview to the theater. His The Rambling Reporter column ran in THR for 25 years.
Then came TCM.
I get stopped on the street all the time, Osborne told The New York Times in 2014. People say: ‘You got me through cancer last year. You got me past unemployment. You take me away from my troubles.’ That, Osborne added, was exactly what movies did in the ’30s and ’40s.
R.I.P Robert Osborne.