Monday, April 21, 2014

TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 - Press Conference with Robert Osborne

"I didn't know being a nurse was going to be part of the job." Robert Osborne

Here are some highlights from the press conference with Robert Osborne at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. Note that this is paraphrasing and not direct quotation.

On how TCM has affected his life - TCM has given him a great life. and it's given him a job he was born to do. The job didn't exist before and was created for him. What he didn't realize with this job and with TCM is that they would be a nurse to so many people. TCM is a "place" where people can be cheered up or be involved in something other than their own problems.

On TCM as family - Osborne reflected on being very close with the staff at TCM, many of whom he's worked with for 20 years. He's worked at other companies before where people don't get along. Osborne worked at a movie channel where there was a staff member who didn't even like movies. At TCM, everyone loves movies and is knowledgeable about them and that makes a big difference.

On movies - Movies are a necessity and they really add something to our lives.

On Lucille Ball and Maureen O'Hara - Maureen O'Hara was Lucille Ball's biggest competition. They were both red-heads and O'Hara was more traditionally beautiful but Lucille Ball had a lot to offer too. They were both under contract at RKO at the same time and when O'Hara showed up Ball thought of herself as "chopped liver".

On Lucille Ball being funny - Osborne shared with us that the real Lucille Ball wasn't a funny person. She didn't act funny and she didn't say funny things. Someone like Carole Burnett was naturally funny but Ball wasn't like that at all. But Lucille Ball could be funny on screen because she was that talented as an actress. Lucille Ball had a tough life. She was the main breadwinner for her family at a very young age. She went to New York to become a model at the tender age of 15. She was beautiful but up against many other beautiful young women. She couldn't tap dance like Eleanor Powell. She couldn't sing like Barbra Streisand. Her genius was that she was so talented at making people laugh.

On Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz - They had a tough marriage because she was so successful and he wasn't quite at the same level. Osborne also jokes that Arnaz was Cuban and had a wandering eye. After Lucille and Desi separated permanently, they remained close friends. Osborne remembers when Lucille Ball was performing on stage, Arnaz threw an opening night party for her even though at that point they were divorced and married to other people. Ball visited Arnaz at the end of his life and was with him when he died.

On Jane Darwell - Osborne met Darwell in Seattle when he was doing a play. Darwell advised him to not go to New York to do theatre but to go to California instead. Osborne didn't know anyone in California and stayed with Darwell. She got him an agent and he got a contract with 20th Century Fox. Osborne got the opportunity to watch actors like Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper and Orson Welles perform. Darwell was instrumental in Osborne meeting Lucille Ball, who was a big influence in Osborne's life and career, especially since Ball was fascinated with Darwell and intrigued by Osborne's connection with her.

On character actors  - TCM loves character actors and the staff were talking recently about how to do more programming on the channel with them as the highlight. It's difficult to do a Star of the Month with a character actor because you need a few films in which they have a significant role in order for the month long highlight to work.

On his wardrobe - Robert Osborne confesses that he has no style or taste in fashion at all. His stylist Holly Hadesty is responsible for putting together all of his outfits. Hadesty is very young and has a great eye for colors and patterns. It's her full-time job to get all of his outfits ready, to label them by day and time of day and to ship them off to locations where Osborne will be making public appearances. His personal style is just okay and a lot of what he wears he bases off of what's been given to him which makes putting together outfits easy. His wardrobe is such a part of his job that it really requires someone's time and effort to make sure he looks good and that he represents the channel properly.

On TCM's audience of young people - Osborne says he doesn't know how TCM acquired their audience of young people and was surprised how many young folks attend the TCM Classic Film Festival and Cruise. At least 50% of people who attend the events are below the age of 30 (he said 25-30). It really pleases Osborne that young people respond to classic films and used Rita Hayworth and Gilda as an example. Osborne thought originally that TCM would be nostalgia for people who remembered the classic films.

On TCM's Festival and Cruise - Osborne is impressed that TCM sells out both the festival and cruise so quickly and they don't need to rely on the announcements of big names or big films in order to draw interest in either. Festival and cruise-goers trust TCM enough that they'll buy tickets without knowing the full schedule.

On Osborne's influence on the festival programming - Charles Tabesh handles the programming and Osborne says that he is wonderful about taking suggestions and being open to ideas. Osborne suggested The Great Gatsby (1949) which eventually became part of the 2014 festival schedule. There were some rights issues with that one but they made the screening happen. Osborne remembers it being a good movie but missing a good Daisy.

On Olivia de Havilland - TCM came very close to having Olivia de Havilland at the festival. They were going to do a Private Screenings with her as well as have her attend the festival for the 75th anniversary of Gone with the Wind. De Havilland is 97, turns 98 in July, is as sharp as a tack but has been having health issues that come with being at such an advanced age. She visited her daughter in Malibu a few years ago and the trip was such a strain on her body that it took her a year to recover. She lives in Paris so traveling across the Atlantic and then across the U.S. is very trying on the body. TCM did travel to Paris to do a Private Screenings. They were all set up and ready to go at the famous Hotel George V but it was cancelled when de Havilland contracted pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital to recover. Osborne and de Havilland have a very close relationship and have been friends for many years. De Havilland was very apologetic because she really wanted to do both the festival and the interview however it just didn't work out because of her health. They did discuss having her come to Atlanta but de Havilland refused because of some bad memories. There were definite plans this February to have her come to New York but she had a health flare up and those plans eventually fell through. It wasn't for lack of trying on both the part of de Havilland and TCM but it just didn't happen.

On how movies have changed - There is a distinct difference between films of the studio system era and films of today. Back then there were heroes and actors and actresses were presented as larger than life. Today we want reality and real people. Today's audiences don't want any artifice. Also, so many classic films end on a positive note. Osborne uses the Humphrey Bogart film High Sierra (1941) as an example. Even though the hero dies and we see that his faithful companion, his dog, mourns the loss of his owner, Ida Lupino's character proclaims that the hero is now free. Just the addition of that one scene and a few lines of dialogue changes the ending from negative to positive. The filmmakers didn't want you leaving the theatre depressed. They wanted you to come back next week for a new movie. Osborne then compares it with depressing contemporary films such as No Country for Old Men or 12 Years a Slave.

On his favorite films - His has three big favorites: A Place in the Sun (1951), he saw it in college and is still in awe of the film years later; The Razor's Edge (1946), which he's seen many times; and This is Spinal Tap (1984), which never ceases to lay him on the floor laughing. He also throws in Sunset Blvd.  (1950) as a top favorite. There are very few films he doesn't like. He can find something enjoyable about pretty much every film he watches. His job at TCM is to show you a movie, even if it's an okay movie and not a great movie, that you may not be familiar with but is worth seeing. If you know what was going on in an actors life or what was going on in the world at that time, you'll understand the context and that can make any movie interesting.


  1. Regarding how movies have changed: was "depressing contemporary films" a direct quote from Osborne? I hope he doesn't automatically equate "depressing" - a subjective word - with being of lesser value in some way.

    1. Rich - nothing is a direct quote unless I put it in quotations. I added above that it was paraphrasing.

    2. Also I should add that he wasn't saying that those two films were bad. I think he pointed those out because they are recognized as great contemporary films but are very dark.

  2. Understood. I didn't really believe he felt that way, but I wanted to be sure.

    I'm enjoying reading your posts on the fest. Just thought you should know.

  3. If someone had asked me to guess Robert Osborne's favourite films, I wouldn't have thought of This is Spinal Tap! It is so cool that it is one of his favs, as it is one of my favs too.

  4. Here in Brazil two seasons of The Essentials were broadcasted in 2009 and 2010. I like Robert a lot even with these glimpses, so I imagined how people whowatch him every day like him. I knew he had a connection with Lucy, but not with Jane Darwell - fascinating!
    But I don't agree we want "real people" nowadays in film, because what the industry is offering is much more superhero films or some films with superhuman characters able to survive 1000 explosions. I just wrote an article on Mr deeds Goes to Town and I highlited how this films is about the real, common man, as opposed to today's superheroes.

  5. Really enjoyed your recap of the Robert Osborne discussion and how nicely you broke out the different talking points. Osborne really has had and continues to have an amazing career.


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