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Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies maven, dies at 84

This was posted Monday, March 6, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Film historian Robert Osborne, the congenial, impeccably dressed host of Turner Classic Movies for more than two decades, died Monday in New York, the network announced today. He was 84. The network did not specify what his health issues were.

"Robert was embraced by devoted fans who saw him as a trusted expert and friend," TCM general manager Jennifer Dorian said in a statement. "His calming presence, gentlemanly style, encyclopedic knowledge of film history, fervent support of film preservation and highly personal interviewing style all combined to make him a truly world-class host."

Osborne was the face of the network from its inception April 15, 1994, the 100th anniversary of the first motion picture. On that day, he introduced TCM's first film "Gone With the Wind." From there, he would tape more than 50,000 intros about classic films, providing factoids and anecdotes for the network, flying every few weeks from New York City to Turner studios in Midtown. He frequently sat in a signature red leather chair in a faux living room set.

For many years, on his show "Private Screenings," he interviewed old-time greats such as Lauren Bacall, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis, Charlton Heston and Debbie Reynolds. He co-hosted "The Essentials" with actors such as Carrie Fisher, Rose McGowan and Alec Baldwin.

During an interview with former AJC Peach Buzz columnist Richard Eldredge in 2008, Osborne noted, "People come up and tell me that TCM is like an oasis for them.What a wonderful compliment." (Eldredge's remembrance of the man here.)

He began his career For 25 years, he wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter until 2009. He was considered the unofficial biographer of the Academy Awards and has written several Oscar-related books.

Osborne told Eldredge in 2008 how much he loved his job. "We never repeat a script so it's important to find a different slant or present new information on even well-known films like 'The Philadelphia Story, ' " he explained. "Some people tell us watching TCM is like going to film school. That's nice to hear but our approach is to make it a little more informal and conversational."

His workload in recent years was eased back as unspecified health problems took their toll. A couple of years ago, he began doing his intros from New York. He hasn't really done any on-air work the past y ear. He missed the past two TCM Classic Film Festival. Over time, Ben Mankiewicz took more of his on-air duties.

Born in 1932, he worked as a contract actor for Lucille Ball's studio before becoming an entertainment writer and author on a recommendation from Ball herself.

The concept of the network was a way for then owner Ted Turner to leverage his huge library of old films and unlike most cable networks, it has kept to its original spirit, focusing on films from before 1980 and remaining commercial free.

Today's schedule, for instance, features films from 1934 ("Babbitt") to 1955 ("Prince of Players').

It competed with what was then known as American Movie Classics, which has since morphed into something very different as ACM. It now is home to "The Walking Dead" and other original scripted programs, plus films of more recent vintage such as "Erin Brockovich," "Titanic" and "Avatar."

TCM, which is available in more than 80 million households, now holds special TCM film festivals, film tours, cruises and even a wine club.


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.