Be forewarned: The operative word here is "favorite." It's repeated often - by both the interviewer and the interviewed.
TCM’s Robert Osborne loves Gene Tierney.
“She’s the one star who appeals to me the most,” he offered during a recent chat about Turner’s on-going Summer Under the Stars series, airing throughout the month.
“I’m a great Gene Tierney fan. There is something about her looks and her style and her coolness that always attracted to me.”
Cary Grant, too, although he was not a particular favorite when Osborne was growing up. “Alan Ladd actually appealed to me more back then. But as I aged, I grew to see how good Grant was, how seamless he was in so many things. I would have to say now that he’s my favorite. But other prime favorites are Claude Rains and William Holden. Holden is so underrated. Incidentally, I’ll be programming Claude Raines for our Summer under the Stars next year.”
This year, Osborne personally pergrammed Turner’s day devoted to Mary Astor (scheduled for Wednesday, August 29th). “I can’t say enough about her. Great, great actress – and in just about everything. I always liked her. It has a lot to do with when you were born and who introduced you to movies.”
Osborne is inarguably the face of TCM. You can’t avoid him. He seems to work all the time and his work is always precise and balanced. He’s definitely the channel’s on-screen star. But he also makes contributions behind the scenes, such as programming the Mary Astor schedule. “They’re great about that here,” he declares. “They’ll ask for my imput and also act on my suggestions.
When Osborne asked about my favorite stars, without hesitation, I blurted out the names of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Sentimental favorites. But if I had to pick those screen performers who I think of as all-time greats, that would be Jimmy Stewart and Ginger Rogers. Both are so versatile with filmographies that are truly variend.
“Ginger Rogers is like Mary Astor,” Osborne concurred, “one of the great unheralded stars. And Stewart’s body of work is amazing.
Coming up on Turner on Monday, August 13th is a day devoted to June Allyson. “We’re including my Private Screenings interview with her, which is one of my favorites. She was adorable. Odd though. She made a lot great movies but never had a great June Allyson film, if you know what I mean. Most stars do, but not June. But to her credit, she became a great star without that one great showcase movie. It also says a lot about the audience, her fans.
“The one she should have done, that would have showcased her, is ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ She would have been wonderful as Annie Oakley. But she was a team player and when you were under contract then, you did what your bosses told you to do. June Allyson was like that.’
Rosalind Russell, one of my favorites, gets her Turner day on Monday, August 20th. “We’re showing ‘Roughly Speaking,’ one of her best, most underrated films,” Osborne opined. “I liked her personally, too. She was full of energy. I didn’t do any major interviews with her, but I talked to her for the Hollywood Reporter. Like most people from that era, she knew how to talk to the press, bringing in fascinating tidbits. The press and stars worked together in days. And Roz was very bright, from a good family from the east. She was a delight.”
When I bring up “Gypsy,” my favorite film musical, Osborne volunteered that while he liked both Russell and Natalie Wood in the film, he was disappointed that Russell didn’t do most of her own singing, dubbed for most of the songs by Lisa Kirk. “You know, it was a singing role and they didn’t hire a singer to do it. I have the same problem with Audrey Hepburn in ‘My Fair Lady.’
But, you know, Rita Hayworth was a musical star who never sang her own songs, and neither did Cyd Charisse, but I didn’t know that. So it didn’t get in the way. When Roz made ‘Gypsy,’ there was a lot of publicity about the singing and the dubbing. Too much. That can taint your opinion. You get distracted by it and focus on the wrong things. You don’t concentrate on the movie and the performances.”
Osborne is clearly a movie fan, but not one burdened with a sense of blind loyalty. He will often offer a dissenting point of view, but ever so gently – such as when he pointed out during a session of The Essentials that George Cukor’s “stodgy direction” hindered “My Fair Lady.” “Cukor was a great director, but I think Minnelli would have been better for the material. Look at how fluid ‘Gigi’ is."
My problem with “My Fair Lady” isn’t so much the direction but the script. Alan Jay Lerner adapted it and he was way too close to the material to make objective decisions about it. “It seems like they couldn’t decide if they were filming a stage play or making a movie,” Osborne adds.
“I’ve been really lucky. I got to meet Bergman. I got to meet Roz Russell. I came to Hollywood at the right time. These stars weren’t working much any more and were available. But the one star I haven’t met is Deanna Durbin. I would love to meet her.”
Note in Passing: You might want to check out my previous musings on Robert Osborne by going to The Importance of Being Robert, which was posted May 31st.
(Artwork: The face of Turner Classics, Robert Osborne; Rosalind Russell profiled in Newsweek for "Auntie Mame," at a time when the stars and press worked together)
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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com