The writer of “Silver Screen Reflections” remembers film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, who died this morning at the age of 84.
Born on May 3, 1932 in the town of Colfax, Washington; Osborne would discover the art of motion pictures at an early age. He majored in the field of journalism at the University of Washington, he graduated in 1954. He would spend two years in the United States Air Force, serving as a lieutenant.
Osborne in Hollywood
Shortly after his stint in the Air Force, Osborne decided to pursue an acting career. According to Mike Barnes’ retrospective on Osborne in The Hollywood Reporter, he appeared in a regional stage production of “The Night Must Fall” with veteran actress Jane Darwell. Darwell encouraged Osborne to pursue his acting career in Hollywood.
He was then signed to Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu in 1959. That same year, he appeared in “The Desilu Revue,” which was part of the “Westinghouse-Desilu Playhouse” anthology series.
Osborne would also have a bit role in the pilot episode of the Filmways-produced sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Impressed with the young actor’s knowledge of vintage film along with his education from the University of Washington, Lucille Ball suggested to Osborne that he should stick to journalism for the film industry, rather than acting (according to Dennis McLellan’s article in The Los Angeles Times). Both Ball and Osborne would remain friends until her death in 1989.
Academy Awards Illustrated and columnist for The Hollywood Reporter
According to Erik Pedersen’s piece on Robert Osborne for Deadline.com, Osborne would publish his first book, “Academy Awards Illustrated,” which was a historical retrospective of past Oscar ceremonies in 1965. In 1989, Osborne wrote “The Official History of the Academy Awards,” which would be updated every five years (Osborne’s book was last published in 2013 for the 85th anniversary of the awards ceremony).
In 1977, he would join the staff of the entertainment industry publication, The Hollywood Reporter, where he reviewed then-upcoming stage productions and film releases. In addition to his reviews, he wrote a daily column for the publication, titled “Rambling Reporter” from 1982-2009.
According to his official website, Osborne would make appearances as a guest on Dinah Shore’s syndicated talks show, “Dinah!” He also served as an entertainment critic and reporter for KTTV in Los Angeles from 1982-1986. Osborne also had a short stint entertainment reporter for CBS’ morning news program in 1987.
From 1986-1993, Osborne would be the on-air host of the cable television premium film service, “The Movie Channel” (according to Carmel Dagan’s article in Variety). This would help pave the way Osborne’s best-known classic movie hosting gig.
Primetime host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
In 1993, Robert Osborne was hired as the primetime host for Ted Turner’s new 24-hour classic movie cable outlet, Turner Classic Movies (which was originally launched to compete with American Movie Classics). Turner launched the channel on April 14, 1994 (originally launched as a competitor to AMC, then-known as American Movie Classics) and Osborne hosted the first film on TCM, the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind.”
During Osborne’s time with TCM, not only would he provide fun and interesting facts about the films being shown during primetime, he would help introduce newer generations to cult and classic motion pictures that they may have never seen before. He also hosted “Private Screenings” on the network (from 1995 to 2010), which included interviews with Jane Powell, Lauren Bacall, Robert Mitchum, Angela Lansbury, Debbie Reynolds, James Garner, Betty Hutton and numerous others.
Over the years, he also had many celebrities as guest co-hosts on TCM from time-to-time, which included Carrie Fisher, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, and Sally Field (for the network’s “Essentials” series) – just to name a few. Osborne also provided the interactive “how to play” instructions on the Turner Classic Movies edition of the DVD-based board game, “Scene It?” in 2005.
In 2006, Osborne was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He accepted the 2008 Peabody Award for Turner Classic Movies.
Osborne is survived by his longtime partner, David Staller.
“Silver Screen Reflections” remembers Robert Osborne (1932-2017).
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz has written a tribute piece on Robert Osborne in The Hollywood Reporter. TCM host Tiffany Vazquez has also written a tribute piece on Robert Osborne in Slate.
Update (March 7): On Sat., March 18 and Sun., March 19, Turner Classic Movies will honor the life and legacy of Robert Osborne with a two-day tribute to the iconic host of the network’s primetime schedule and film historian. Select episodes of Osborne’s “Private Screenings” series will be shown, along with segments from past TCM Classic Film Festivals and a 2014 “Robert Osborne 20th Anniversary Tribute” special (which originally aired in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies). The network’s full Robert Osborne tribute schedule is available (via Turner Broadcasting’s press release, which came out today).