by Julian Spivey
Longtime Turner Classic Movies host and film historian Robert Osborne died at age 84 on Monday (March 6).
One could argue that Osborne was the most important person in the media when it came to educating the world – particularly young movie watchers – on the medium of classic film. He was essentially a classic film professor to all of us who enjoyed watching his entertaining and incredibly informative film introductions during TCM’s primetime programming.
Osborne played a vital role in my love of classic film. Growing up I naturally watched movies, but I didn’t have a love for them like I did for sports and music, the medium was just something that helped me pass the time. But, somehow during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school something clicked. I started paying attention to the “classics” – almost completely through TCM, truly the only good television network for films older than 25 years of age – and watched more than 50 great films that summer. Osborne’s introductions to the movies I watched that summer helped me realize and understand why these classics were so vital and helped me familiarize myself with the directors and actors who created these timeless films and performances. I was hooked fast and I think both Osborne’s nerd-like infectiousness for the genre of classic film and the knowledge he effused played as big of a role in getting hooked on classic film as the films and the performances did themselves.
The great thing about Osborne is he did this for many a classic film lover. There have been articles and social media posts since news of his death first appeared talking about how Osborne led to them developing a love for films that frankly could’ve been long forgotten had it not been for TCM and Osborne’s love of the medium. All of us classic film lovers owe a debt of gratitude to Osborne for that.
I know that TCM won’t ever be the same, because nobody could ever replace Osborne. However, I also know the network is still in capable hands with Ben Mankiewicz, longtime TCM weekend host and grandson of Herman J. Mankiewicz who co-write “Citizen Kane” with Orson Welles, who learned well from Osborne and will likely take over as the network’s primetime programming host.
Mankiewicz wrote a beautiful piece about Osborne, who he called “the signature face of a network unlike any other,” for The Hollywood Reporter.
A few years ago, my wife, Aprille, bought me a Robert Osborne bobblehead doll for either my birthday or Christmas because she knew how much I admired him and loved his film introductions. He truly had one of my “dream jobs.” I’ve never taken the bobblehead out of the packaging, because I’m one of those people, but maybe I should now. Maybe I should prop that bobblehead up by my television so that every time I watch a classic movie Osborne will be right there watching it with me shaking his head up and down in approval.