TCM is set to celebrate their 20th anniversary and their Private Screenings series, hosted by TCM’s resident historian/host/granddad/awesome person ever, Robert Osborne has run for about as long as the network’s been in existence. It’s almost ridiculous to watch Osborne finally receive his own episode of Private Screenings in 2014, but it is worth the wait. All the Private Screenings episodes I’ve been fortunate to catch are wonderful, but this is about the story of a man who could be any number of us who appreciate and watch classic movies.
This 90-minute installment of Private Screenings puts host Robert Osborne into the interview seat as he discusses his career in movies (both acting and as a writer), his eventual career with TCM, and his life in general. Knowing absolutely nothing other than the fact Osborne’s introduced movies on TCM for 20 years, everything featured in the special was fascinating to me (the man did a soap opera!). Osborne attributes much of his success to luck, whether it’s meeting people at the right time or turning down a certain opportunity for another. The man’s certainly paid his dues – working as a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, acting on television, and working as part of the crew at Desilu studios are just a few things Osborne did before writing his book on the Academy Awards – and yet he never comes off as a dilettante. He’s humble about his career and remains infatuated with the movies and people he’s worked with. At the end, host Alec Baldwin asks Robert a series of questions about his favorite stars and movies and the joy on Osborne’s face puts a smile on yours.
I mentioned during my review of the William Castle documentary how comforting it is to hear others wax rhapsodic about a person, and while you don’t expect anyone to say anything disparaging during the interview, all the praise sounds genuine. Various actors are interviewed, from Liza Minnelli to an almost tearful Gene Wilder, and their admiration and love for Osborne is palpable. A hilarious story about meeting Bette Davis during an AFI tribute turns tender when a clip of him kissing the famous actress’ hand is played; even a kiss comes off as Osborne paying homage to the people he loves. Osborne is a down-to-Earth person, and during the opening much is made about the amount of young people who love classic films (of which I’m pleased to include myself), and Private Screenings reminds us why we love old movies. Robert Osborne started out like us; a fan who realized there wasn’t enough information about his favorite stars and thus sought out to discover it for himself. Even as the host of TCM, an icon to classic film fans the world over, he remains humble about his position and thankful people are happy to meet him.
With the focus squarely on the movies, there isn’t a lot of time devoted to Osborne’s personal life. He refers to a rebellious sister and an absent father, but regards his childhood as unremarkable and predominately spent watching movies. It’s understandable he wants to keep his private life private, but it lacks the well-rounded interview of past episodes. The standout is a rapid fire question and answer session where Osborne looks at the camera and talks about his favorites like his favorite snack (cheese) to favorite star (Gene Tierney). There’s also a brief foray into TCM history – there’s a documentary worth directing! -featuring some of the best, and worst, episodes of Private Screenings. The two more embarrassing ones for Osborne include Robert Mitchum’s stubborn refusal to answer questions and Mickey Rooney getting overexcited while retelling a story. Having only watched a few episodes of Private Screenings, I was floored to realize the amount of classic stars featured on the show, many of whom are no longer with us.
Private Screenings: Robert Osborne is about Osborne as well as the network which brought him into our homes. No matter how iconic he becomes, Osborne perceives himself as a guy who just got lucky. The interview with Alec Baldwin is informative, and the conversation is one between two men who are just great friends. (As much as I hate Baldwin as a person, he’s a damn fine presence on TCM whenever he appears). It’s a must-watch for fans of the man who brings us such joy on the TCM network.