Not all Seattle channel surfers are aware, happening onto an old TCM classic late at night, that Robert Osborne has strong Northwest ties. Certainly I was not, but my ignorance was swiftly, politely corrected when the host of Turner Classic Movies and I sat down earlier today to talk about his Saturday and Sunday appearances at SIFF (details after the jump).
"My family all lives either around Seattle or Spokane," says Osborne in his unmistakably smooth, broadcast veteran's voice. "I grew up in the State of Washington. Lived in Colfax. Lived in Longview for a while, and then back to Colfax. Then Everett, graduated from high school there. The University of Washington. And then I worked for KING television for a year, and went off to California."
Now based in New York, Osborne has hosted the TCM repertory program since its launch in 1994. That was after bouncing around Hollywood as a young actor in the '50s, then transitioning to journalism and book writing. But he recalls of his early broadcast experience at KING, then owned by the Bullitt family, "We had a cooking show. A kid's show in the late afternoon. All day was practically original programming in the daytime. That went on for quite a while. It gave people in the local area an opportunity to shine without moving to New York or Los Angeles."
All of which prepared him for hosting on TCM, now a part of Warner Communications, and for introducing four SIFF repertory titles at the Harvard Exit: The Adventures of Robin Hood (11 a.m.) and Sunset Boulevard (1:30 p.m.) on Sunday; and The Third Man (11 a.m.) and Dodsworth (1:30 p.m.) on Sunday.
The 1938 Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn in the title role, might now seem a timely choice. Like robbing from the rich--perhaps, say, Bernie Madoff--to give to the poor? Does Osborne see Robin Hood as a Depression movie? Not exactly.
"That period between the Depression and the second world war was the great period to live in Hollywood," he says. "The studios were in full control. People were making a lot of money, when things didn't cost a lot. It was a glorious time. But it was also factory days, but those factories were wonderful at what they did."
Outside Hollywood, where things weren't so great, Osborne says "everybody went to the movies at least two or three times a week. It didn't cost much to go to the movies. [Robin Hood] did what moves were supposed to do then. It took people away from their everyday lives and entertained them, royally."
"It's not like a Gone With the Wind--how you survive calamity. That's a film that had much more social meaning to audiences, whether they realized it or not, than with Robin Hood."
Here I note that Ridley Scott is directing a new Robin Hood with Russell Crowe in the title role. That film's release, set for next year, will likely bring new attention to the 1938 version. Are TCM tie-ins being planned?
"I'm certainly not, no," says Osborne. "That doesn't really enter into my world"
Then there's the 1949 The Third Man, always a favorite. Does Osborne believe, as many have suggested that star Orson Welles wrested control away from director Carol Reed?
"I think that is wrong. Orson Welles, he was a smart enough man. He needed the money. He was busy working on his Othello. But [The Third Man] is a great example of Orson Welles. He's in it very little. He's such a force of nature. He always sucked all the air of the room. Noël Coward and some of the others they talked to about [to play Harry Lime] ... wouldn't have had such an impact."
Osborne will be back in the Northwest for this September's Port Townsend Film Festival, which he helped establish in 1999 with his former UW fraternity brother Peter Simpson, who abruptly died last month. "I'm a part-owner of the Rose Theatre," Osborne explains. While no programming decisions have yet been set, he'll be meeting with Simpson's widow to discuss the festival.
"I think the festival's going to turn into a salute to Peter," concludes his old friend.