Turner Classic Movies
Osborne, Robert - Interview
Written by Diana Saenger   

Robert Osborne, film historian and host of TV's Turner Classic Movies, is no stranger to classic movie fans. With an assuring and informative manner, Osborne reels in movie fans before every TCM movie. His presence before and during breaks in the film often is as enjoyable as the movie itself. Osborne was gracious enough to participate in an interview where we discussed his early interest in films, his career, and his work with classics movies.


Robert Joline Osborne was born May 3, 1932 in Colfax, Washington. In a climat condussive to cold weather, it stands to reason movie watching would become an expected pastime.

"I've always been interested in old movies," said Osborne. "I grew up in a small town, and movies were the great escape. The more I found out about movies, the more interesting I found them, and that was long before VHS's."

Osborne graduated from the University of Washington's School of Journalism, and it was while doing a play in Seattle that he got an invite to Hollywood.

"There was a talent scout there who gave me his name and said if I came to California to look him up," explained Osborne. "Lucy Arnaz was putting together a contract group - she wanted to do for young actors what some had done for her when she was starting out. So I went to California."


Osborne was signed to a contract for Desilu Productions, jointly owned by American actors Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. "It was a great idea, the only problem was that unlike the studios in those days, Lucy and & Desi didn't own 100 percent of their properties," said Osborne. "They only owned percentages of their shows done at Desilu, except the I Love Lucy shows, which at that time were hour formats, and there weren't many roles for young kids. So they never really got the contract stable going because other producers on the lot said, €˜Yeah, we'll look at your kids, but why should we sign them? We'll get the people we want.'"

Lucille Ball became somewhat of a mentor to Osborne, steering him in a different direction than he had anticipated following. "She liked that I was interested in old films and liked to write about them," said Osborne. "She knew that I was a journalism major in school and said I should really pursue that and not acting. She told me, €˜I don't think acting will make you happy. I don't think you have the right personality for it or are street smart enough to compete with other actors. We have enough actors. We don't have enough writers.' Because I respected her so much, I listened to her and it was absolutely the right course for me."

From the late 1950s until now, Osborne has made a few acting appearances on television shows, sometimes appearing as himself. Over the years, he's gotten to know first hand many Hollywood personalities, both personally and professionally. So does he have a favorite?

"A lot of favorites," said Osborne with a warm laugh. "I loved Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn. I knew them both well and had great times with them. I think admire Bette Davis the most. She was so professional in everything she did, and she was a terrific person to be around until the time she got sick and then she was impossible. I loved that she could go to a party and didn't have to be the center of attention. She always brought something to the party, just as she did when she was on a talk show. A host didn't have to dig answers out of her. Even when I would interview her, and I knew her well, she would always bring something interesting to the interview, and it made a great show."

Osborne found work as the on-air entertainment reporter for Los Angeles' KTTV's nightly news in 1982, signed by CBS in 1987 to make daily appearances on the CBS Morning Program, and from 1986-1993, was also a regular host of The Movie Channel cable network.

He might have been a contender as an actor, but Osborne followed up on Ball's advice when she told him to write a book, any book. "She said it doesn't have to be good, just write it and people will look at you differently. So I based on her advice once again, I did just that."


In 1965 Osborne published what would be the first of many books about the Academy Awards, Academy Awards Illustrated. "It was a home made thing, pasted up in my living room, and it's still my favorite book because it came out at a time when there was not a lot of Hollywood books," said Osborne. "It did open a lot of doors for me, and also struck a chord with readers. I still get people coming up to me to sign it and who say how much they treasure that book."

From that experience Osborne landed a job writing for The Hollywood Reporter and also became the official historian of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he did his share of reviewing movies. "When I considered the amount of time I spent in screening rooms, driving back and forth and writing about them, I perceived it was not a valuable way to spend my time," admitted Osborne. "It's very tough to be a film critic today."

You've been writing your column, "Rambling Reporter," for The Hollywood Reporter for more than 20 years, what's that experience like?

"My column runs once a week in the Tuesday edition and there's always lots of things to cover. I'm a rambling reporter, so it could be a film or play review, an observation at a party, or whatever I feel is pertinent, and as with most products, there's never enough space to talk about the things I want to."

In 2003, Osborne wrote and Abbeville Press published, 75 Years of the Oscar ®: The Official History of the Academy Awards ®, a book that details the history of the Academy Awards. Inside is an amazing look at the glamour, history and influence this organization has had on the world. There are wonderuful quotes from Oscar winners that classic movie fans will apprecite such as - "...It is the one time in my life when I had such happiness I couldn't even share it with another human being. I ducked the party, lost the crowds and took a walk. Just me and Oscar."-Frank Sinatra.

In March, 2006, Osborne, along with Molly Haskell, co-host of TCM's The Essentials series and Turner Classic Movies, penned Leading Ladies about legendary actresses who left an indelible mark in film history.

For another 2006 release, Osborne wrote the introduction to In The Cut, Chronicle and Turner Classic Movie's book of movie stills with an emphasis on the photographer who took them. "I didn't have a lot of input into that book," said Osborne, "but I had some editorial approval or disapproval. I think it came out nicely. I love the paper it's done on, and the reproduction of the photos are great."


Great books, interesting columns and a wealth of knowledge about Hollywood's Golden Era are all assets Osborne brings as the host of Turner Classic Movies.

As a classic film guide people are always asking me to define what constitutes a classic film. So I asked Robert Osborne the same question.

"A classic is something that lives well with you," he said. "You can see it many times and still be entertained by it. It's films I've seen many times, but they're like old friends. One thing I love about classic movies is that you can go anywhere in world where there's a TV, turn it on and you're never lonely. Audrey Hepburn is there, and it makes us comfortable no matter where we are.

"I would never have known that Ferris Bueller's Day Off would be a classic, but it is now. People see it, love it, and it makes them laugh. So a classic can be any kind of a film whether something heavy like Third Man or a Hitchcock film or a Wizard of Oz, as long as it wears well. A classic is something you would take to that desert island if that were the only company you can have.

"I also think it takes time to find out what a classic is," Osborne added. "There are films that I've seen and I say, oh, that's great, I love that film. Then I see it years later, and I think I don't know what I saw in that, it sometimes changes, or the opposite, you think okay, then years later you see it and realize it's wonderful, and you want to go buy the DVD."

Osborne's voice, manner and unending story details about film and actors, all convey sincerity and a hint of enjoyment ahead for those who tune in. "That wasn't planned," he said with a hint of gratification in his voice. "It just kind of happened, but I'm enthusiastic. If you have a Casablanca or a Singin' In The Rain you don't have to sell it to people. But there are films that may not be the greatest but are worth seeing for one reason or another. If one of them comes on the air, and you know something about it or when it came into a star's career or what was going on at the studio at that time or in the life of the actor, it can make the whole movie a very enjoyable experience.

"I got that from my own background. The more I learned about these films, the more fascinating they were to me. It didn't have to be a great film for me to like it if I knew how it fit into the world and or the whole Hollywood structure. So it's my job to make people want to watch the films that maybe they haven't heard of or that is maybe not the greatest film ever made."

TCM, Paramount, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., Disney and Fox are all enriching the home movie experience by re-releasing the classics in wonderful remastered versions with enhanced visuals and sound quality and incredible extra features.

"Certainly, and I think the older films have such value," said Osborne. "They're well written by great writers like John Steinbeck, William Falkner and other writers who were working on scripts at that time. For so many years many of these movies kind of set on shelves and almost disappeared, or were broadcast on television and cut with commercials, which is no way to see a movie."

According to Susan Ievoli, TCM's Public Relations Manager, Turner Classic Movies has a marketing department that chooses home video partners based on network programming tie-ins and if it is a compelling collection or release on DVD.

"I think the newer releases are wonderful," said Osborne, "because TCM knows the gems in the library and they're getting them out quickly. I also like all the box sets that the studios are putting out, like a second Bette Davis Collection, MGM's Dream Factory Musicals with the Ziegfeld Follies. You get a box set of Grabo's, say, and maybe there's a few in there you wouldn't go buy, so when you see them, you're glad."


With his wealth of classic film history and vast stores about the Golden Era and its participants, it's fitting that Osborne is often asked to speak at events. A few years ago he became involved in what is now the   htttp:// Osborne Classic Film Festival every March at the University of Georgia.

"It started about three or four years ago when Nate Kohn, a professor who had put together the Roger Ebert's overlooked film fest in Illinois moved to the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia," explained Osborne. "His festival had been successful, and now he had access to this huge theater they call the Classic theater, it's basically not set up for movies but it adapts to movies very well. So he thought he'd should show some classic films there, got me involved and it turned out to be really fun.

"It gives people a chance to see classic films on a big screen - although we're grateful for television that allows us to see these films, there's something to be said in seeing Lawrence of Arabia or Casablanca on a big screen versus a television screen, so the festival endeavors to show different films from eight different decades, some in black & white some in Technicolor. When possible we get people affiliated with the film to come.

"This past March we did Breakfast at Tiffany's, and both Mickey Rooney and Patricia Neil came and talked about it. We showed the Third Man and Angela Allen, who was the script supervisor, came and talked about that, and the shooting in Vienna after the war was over. Mike Fenton, the casting director on Raiders of Lost Ark talked about how Tom Selleck was supposed to star in the film, why he didn't and why Harrison Ford did. So it's great for the people to get some insight into those kinds of things but also to see the movies on the big screen.

"Ann Rutherford came for Gone with the Wind, and to see that movie with 1500 people watching it at the some time, it's an experience those of us at a certain age had in movie theaters but don't have anymore. Today people talk, eat noisily and answer their cell phones. At the Osborne Classic Film Festival we're trying to recreate that experience every year at least for four days."


Robert Osborne ©Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ®
From 1981-83, Osborne served as president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA). He won a Golden Mike for excellence (for a TV special he wrote, produced and hosted titled Lana Turner Today). Osborne was nominated twice for a CableAce award for his "Osborne Report" segments for The Movie Channel; and was nominated for an Emmy Award as Best Host Moderator. Osborne is also the winner of the 1984 Press Award from the Publicists Guild of America.

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies endless efforts to keep the classic film alive and people like Robert Osborne who give back so much of their expertise and enthusiasm, classic films will continue to enjoy years of their favorite films.




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