On my desk next to a picture of my dog is a Robert Osborne bobblehead. Strange as that may sound, it makes sense to me. Both make me smile every time I look at them and both speak to things I cherish and are part of my daily life: my dog and my love of classic movies.
Osborne, the longtime host of Turner Classic Movies, died Monday at the age of 84. When I look at the bobblehead it reminds me that though Osborne was noted for being poised, refined and the epitome of a gentleman, he also had a twinkle in his eye. We saw it as he shared memories of his good friends like Olivia DeHavilland and Lucille Ball. We heard it in his stories of old Hollywood. We observed it in his easy rapport with guests. Always, he spoke in a soothing voice. And we listened.
Osborne was the personification of classic movies for me and countless others around the world. As a fixture on Turner Classic Movies since its debut in 1994, he brought these movies to life for us.
And there was something else about Osborne that made him so endearing to TCM viewers: He was one of us. He wasn't a paid talking head reading words written by others. He knew these movies. He lived these movies. He loved these movies.
That was never clearer than when I had the great opportunity to interview Osborne for a story about classic Hollywood actresses related to the TCM book "Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era." Osborne wrote the intro and also helped pick the 50 actresses. His well-known encyclopedic knowledge of classic films came at me swiftly and immediately. I could have asked him about any of those 50 actresses and he would have a story to tell. He rattled off their names, sharing his recollections. He called Susan Hayward "fiery and unique" and Gene Tierney "luminous."
Osborne made sure to discuss actresses who weren't as well-known or who he thought were underappreciated, like Ann Sheridan. "A real down-to-earth dame," he called her. There was that twinkle again.
I received a short master class in film history during that phone conversation – I hesitate to call it an interview. It was the same watching him on TCM every night. He taught us about these old films, often things we couldn't learn in books. We gained an appreciation for stars and directors we didn't know and saw familiar movies in a new light. That was his gift.
"He got us excited and reawakened to the greatest stories ever told with the most charismatic stars in the world," director Steven Spielberg said in a statement about Osborne's death.
Osborne was a conduit into a time many of us didn't live through but are passionate about. He was the reason a television network grew an extraordinary relationship with its viewers. You can't say Turner Classic Movies without thinking of Robert Osborne.
In sharing news of his death, TCM General Manager Jennifer Dorian understood that. "His contributions made TCM stand for something more than a TV channel," she wrote. "Robert's face, his voice, his charm and his curiosity forged a profound link to movie lovers, a visceral sense of connection to our history, to our parents and grandparents."
We will best honor his legacy by continuing to watch the movies he made his life's work, introduce them to others and find new ones for ourselves to enjoy. "If you haven't gone into this movie world, you're missing something," Osborne said during our conversation.
"It's like having a great book out there you haven't read," he added. "You're denying yourself something that is wonderful to enjoy."