As classic movie fans descended on Hollywood Boulevard for the 8th annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, feelings of excitement, love, and anticipation filled the air. The Hollywood Roosevelt, the main headquarters of the festival, is decked out in the warm hues of this year’s banner images claiming this section of Hollywood and Vine as “TCM town” for the weekend. It all adds to the anticipation of the next three days yet there is an empty feeling all of us are trying to shake: this is the first festival since the passing of Robert Osborne.
The first official TCMFF event I attended was “Remembering Robert” a panel featuring long-time colleagues sharing stories about the man all of us loved but many of us never even met. I’ll admit I was hesitant to attend simply for the fact that I did not want to be a sobbing mess but then I realized this was the chance to learn about the man Robert Osborne was by the work family who knew him best.
Sean Cameron, Vice President of production at Turner, Gary Freedman, a TCM producer, Ann Wilson, Osborne’s longtime director and producer, actress and longtime friend Diane Baker, and Charlie Tabesh, TCM’s head of programming who worked with Osborne for over 20 years. Each of them shared beautiful stories about Robert that humanized him in ways I didn’t expect. I learned the Robert Osborne you saw on tv was even more warm, thoughtful, and caring in real life. “He was always considering the other person, all the years I knew him, ” Diane Baker said. We learned Robert was in ill health in his final weeks of life but made a point to reach out to those he loved to say goodbye. One of the last things he told Baker was, “No sad songs for me. I’ve had a great life. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful life so don’t be sad.” It’s inspiring to hear Robert Osborne lived life on his terms and was able to fulfill his dreams, a sentiment he passed on to his friends, colleagues, and even us fans. Robert Osborne died the way he lived with the utmost dignity. He had control over his life and left on his terms. He took producer Gary Freedman under his wing and became a mentor. Freedman told us the best advice he ever received came from Robert when he told him, “Grow where you’re planted.”
As a colleague, Robert was a man who helped lift everyone up. He may have been the face of TCM but he didn’t act like it. Programmer Charlie Tabesh shared how he treated everyone with respect.
“Robert had a monthly ‘Bob’s Picks’ (block) that we worked with him every month to get his collections. For the most part, and really to his credit, he knew so much more about classic movies than we all did but he didn’t really interfere for programming. He took what was programmed and was respected it,” Tabesh said.
As TCM fans, we expect nothing less from Robert. On the channel you saw his compassion and interest in everyone he interviewed from Hollywood legends like Shirley MacLaine to even Kermit the Frog. We did learn that one person actually ‘intimidated’ him and it’s someone you may not expect. It was Judge Judy. Robert was a big fan of her show. And while interviewing Hollywood legends was his job, he was just a fan like the rest of us. Legendary French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo was a guest at one of the earliest TCM Film Festivals. One of Robert’s colleagues told us that after the interview, Robert was giddy as a kid exclaiming, “I can’t believe we got Jean-Paul Belmondo!!” Classic movie historians, they’re just the rest of us!
I express my deepest condolences to Robert’s colleagues and Diane Baker. Despite this tragedy, it’s beautiful to see how they are following his example. Even during this difficult time, they are sharing their love of film and Robert with all of us this weekend. Every staffer I’ve spoken with has been unbelievably warm and friendly. Robert would be so proud.