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Robert Osborne

Robert Osborne was both the historian and the toastmaster of Hollywood. A longtime columnist for the Hollywood Reporter and the author of an authoritative history of the Academy Awards, Osborne was best known as the on-air host for Turner Classic Movies from the time the network made its premiere in 1994. Genial and polished, Osborne was the perfect host to introduce thousands of movies, the stars of which were more often than not his personal friends. Lucille Ball, his earliest mentor, was the one who advised him to switch from acting to writing. Bette Davis asked him to accompany her to at least one Oscar ceremony, and gave him the Sarah Siddons statuette from All About Eve. Every Sunday, he and Olivia de Havilland phoned each other.

Osborne knew the actor's life from a journeyman's viewpoint--as an actor, he never rose higher than guest spots on sitcoms and a few commercials. That knowledge was evident in his interviews with stars such as Jack Lemmon, Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Ernest Borgnine and Angela Lansbury. He understood their lives, and they trusted him implicitly. One can only guess at the secrets he knew. Roddy McDowall, another historian of Hollywood as well as an actor of note, said he would take his friends' secrets to the grave, and that he did. Osborne certainly did the same.

Osborne himself was a very private man. He came of age in the 1950s, and therefore it is no surprise to learn that for 20 years he kept private his love relationship with David Staller, a theater director and expert on the works of Shaw.

Throughout his life, Osborne behaved with dignity and elegance. He spoke often of growing up in a farm town in Washington State, finding joy and identity in the movies that came to his local theater. As another movie-struck gay kid from a small town, I salute him.

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