Robert Osborne, host of TCM, dies at 84

Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Robert Osborne, who displayed an encyclopedic knowledge — and love — of films and film history as the primary host of Turner Classic Movies, has died in New York, the network said Monday. He was 84.
Osborne was a former longtime columnist for the Hollywood Reporter and the author of the official history of the Academy Awards. The genial, silver-haired and dapper Osborne was a bonafide movie connoisseur, who displayed his wide knowledge of films on TCM since the 24-hour commercial-free cable network's launch in 1994.
"Hi, I'm Robert Osborne," he'd cordially greet viewers from a stylish living room set and quickly begin serving up fascinating information and insider trivia about the movie that was about to be shown.
At the end of each film, the man Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales dubbed "an avatar of erudition" offered his closing remarks.
With an extensive library of films spanning the decades, Osborne was clearly in his element.
"For anyone who loves movies like I do, Turner Classic Movies will be like falling into paradise," he told the Hollywood Reporter in 1994 when he was named host of TCM.
Osborne never lost his enthusiasm for either the classics or the more obscure movies that aired on the cable channel.
"I do love it," he told the Washington Post in 2010, "and the feedback we get from viewers is part of it, from young and old — viewers who say they never knew this or that film existed, or talk about what they had missed until they discovered TCM.
"We show movies from all different eras, not just 'old movies,' but I've often quoted something that Lauren Bacall said years ago: 'If you've never seen "Brief Encounter," then it's not an old movie to you.'"
A resident of New York City since the late 1980s, he'd generally fly to Atlanta once a month to shoot a series of opening and closing segments for upcoming films.
Viewers looked forward to hearing his comments on each movie.
"You feel like it's not just a guy up there reading copy that people prepared for him to read," film critic and historian Richard Schickel told the Post in 2005. "That's a good quality and increasingly rare in the television climate of our times. He's something a lot more than just a talking head."
Osborne had more than his share of movie star fans in Hollywood.
Besides hosting movies seven evenings a week, Osborne hosted special one-on-one "Private Screening" interviews with stars such as Tony Curtis, Esther Williams and Robert Mitchum — as well as directors, including Sidney Lumet, Stanley Donen and Norman Jewison.
He also co-hosted films considered "The Essentials," most recently with actress Drew Barrymore. And he co-hosted the "Guest Programmer" series, with guests such as Mia Farrow, Buck Henry and Hugh Hefner.
Off the air, Osborne served as the main host of the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and shared his knowledge of film history with fellow passengers on the annual TCM Film Cruise.
Osborne took over veteran Variety columnist Army Archerd's role as red carpet celebrity greeter at the Oscar ceremony in 2006, the same year Osborne received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dubbed the "official biographer" of Oscar, Osborne wrote a series of books chronicling the annual Academy Awards. The most recent updated edition, "85 Years of the Oscar," was published in 2013.
Among his other books are "Hollywood Legends: The Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo" (1967) and a string of other Oscar-related books.
Making a living off writing and talking about movies — not to mention being satirized on "Saturday Night Live" by Darrell Hammond and Jason Sudeikis and having a bobblehead made in his image — was a dream come true for Osborne.
He was born May 3, 1932, in Colfax, Washington, a small farming town, where he found escape at the movies.
"I'd see Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney in 'Laura' and Bette Davis in 'All About Eve,' and I'd think, 'Those people are so much more interesting than what I'm living around in this town,'" he recalled in a 2006 interview with The New York Times.
Osborne majored in journalism at the University of Washington and then spent two years in the Air Force. While stationed in Seattle, he began acting in local theater in his spare time. At the suggestion of Oscar-winning actress Jane Darwell, with whom he appeared in a play, he headed to Hollywood after completing the service in the late '50s.
In Hollywood, Osborne quickly landed a six-month contract at 20th Century Fox and then joined a new contract-player group at Desilu studios under Lucille Ball's personal supervision.
Osborne had small parts in TV series such as "The Californians," "The Whirlybirds" and "Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond," as well as playing banker Drysdale's young assistant in the pilot episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies" in 1962.
He became close friends with Ball, who was impressed with both his education and his knowledge of movie history. But she ultimately advised him not to stick with acting.
Osborne's first book, "Academy Awards Illustrated," was published in 1965.

Robert Osborn, host of Turner Classic Movies and the author of the official history of the Oscars, poses for a portrait on Oct. 30, 2013 in New York, N.Y. Osborn died in New York at age 84. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)