Home / General / Robert Osborne, RIP

Robert Osborne, RIP



The much beloved host of Turner Classic Movies is dead at the age of 84. Osborne is the kind of person no one can really say anything bad about. TCM is probably Ted Turner’s second greatest gift to the world (outside of his massive conservation efforts in the West). It’s certainly a better gift than the Wolf Blitzer News Network. But Osborne became the real face of TCM, bringing great movies to the broad public without commercials and in an always classy style. He provided great knowledge and great love to the films.

It’s also interesting to me that he came out of Colfax, Washington to become what he became. Colfax is a pretty awful town in southeastern Washington that mostly subsists on wheat farming. It’s true that it is probably the only town in the United States that is presently festooned with flags showing the face of Grant’s corrupt Vice-President Schuyler Colfax, so that’s exciting. But these stories of individuals escaping the deepest recesses of rural America to live these incredibly urbane and interesting lives is interesting.

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  • Marlowe

    Very sad to hear this. As a dedicated movie buff, whose favorite period is Hollywood Golden Age, I love TCM. Unfortunately, when I recently switched from Comcast to newly available (in my building) Verizon FIOS, I was shocked to learn that FIOS did not provide the HD version of TCM but only SD. Not a big deal since TCM’s “HD” was pretty spotty (outside of the host introductions), but still annoying.

    • sigaba

      Criterion/Filmstruck is going to be the best option for HD classic films, at least for the next decade probably.

      A lot of the broadcast masters for classic Hollywood films haven’t been updated to 1080p, all of the successors to the mid-century Hollywood studios have a huge backlog, and the revenue from online and cable just doesn’t justify going to the trouble of rescanning these prints. Some studios with a very valuable back catalogue, like Disney have begun the process but it’s extremely expensive and labor-intensive — the prints have to be cleaned, scanned and then restored. Outside of Disney, most of the distributors haven’t seen much use in restoring their back catalogue.

      Criterion does an okay job, but they tend to overlook the more popcorny movies — they have 39 Steps but not Gunga Din, for instance.

    • Taylor

      OTOH you don’t need Verizon’s space heater settop box if you don’t need HD (and if you’re only watching TCM, you don’t). You don’t need the DVR (which needs the space heater for storage) because you can use the TCM app instead to stream their movies within a week of they’re showing.

      Criterion in general is very good, but nowhere near the back catalog of TCM, and I still love the serendipity of finding some new gem I never heard of on TCM, usually late at night.

  • Warren Terra

    Ted Turner gave us James Earl Jones saying “This is CNN”, which I’d probably rank above his giving us the actual CNN.

    • rfm

      Who can forget those ’90s Braves teams, too?

    • sigaba

      On that note, Turner also gave us the Tape to be Played at Armageddon.

    • sk7326

      To be fair, CNN early – and when he still owned the company, was good – and a genuine place to develop talent (instead of a place to land former network faces). There was a time when CNN really was “better”.

      • Mike G

        CNN International was a pretty good news source long after the US edition turned into puerile crap.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        IIRC, the intention was less to develop talent than to de-emphasize “talent.” In other words news readers were supposed to read the news and not pretend to be public intellectuals. A stance I have some sympathy for.

        Turner was very much involved in that early generation of cable programming that envisioned special purpose channels that would broadcast a very narrow but utterly consistent range of content 24/7. It just didn’t work out. Channel executives fled those boxes to chase ratings.

        In CNN’s case, that retreat meant fostering big name anchors and opinion shows, unfortunately.

  • PeorgieTirebiter

    Yakima Canutt was born in Colfax and James Wong Howe was raised in Pasco, WA
    Maybe it’s the water.

    • tsam

      Pasco is where the Hanford nuclear site is. There’s lots of shit in the water there. (Not a joke)

      • Dennis Orphen

        There’s a reason us west cascaders call it the toxic triangle.

  • Bootsie

    And of course the third greatest thing bestowed upon us by Ted Turner, Captain Planet (fourth being WCW).

  • liberal
  • Just_Dropping_By

    And somewhere Jack Perkins chuckles quietly to himself and draws another black slash mark across the late 20th Century basic cable host board.

  • Nick never Nick

    I disagree with your formulation of rural America as a place to be escaped from. A lot of people are born there and live there for their entire lives; some people are born in urban America and escape to rural America. Some rural Americans escape to urban America. This is one of the good things about America, it’s open to letting you reinvent yourself, or choosing not to reinvent yourself; but there’s nothing particularly laudatory about going in one direction, as opposed to the others. I’ve been to Colfax many times, it’s the kind of place you can live in, or escape from, depending on your tastes.

    I know you’re not really arguing this, it’s just a throw-away line — but it’s worth bearing in mind that one of the reasons rural America ‘sucks’ is that many of the people who live there reject a certain amount of late-stage American capitalism (just like the hippies did). They may not be doing so successfully, but the story isn’t finished yet.

    • I am presently writing from rural Pennsylvania, a town of 6000 in the middle of an extremely depressed area with no town over 50,000 people for 85 miles. I spend a few months a year here. And I think you are being way over-optimistic about what is going on in places like this. I don’t see a lot of people choosing to escape late capitalism. I see a lot of people living tremendously awful lives not entirely of their own choice.

      • Nick never Nick

        It’s true I’ve been away for 15 years, I can’t argue that. I don’t know what it’s like now.

        Where I grew up in Oregon there’s a big divide between the people who live in tremendous isolation, but own their own land and farm it, and those who live in the very small towns and survive on wage labour. It’s the first group I’m thinking of, who has more of a choice to their existence.

        • Nick never Nick

          I guess my objection is kind of the same as those people who talk about urban communities, especially black communities, as blighted hellholes. Sure, a lot of things about them suck — but, the people who live there still see good things in them too, and a lot of them do choose to stay. Even a dysfunctional community can have good things about it worth preserving.

          I feel like the formulation of total misery is basically buying into the ideal of ‘churn’ — that everything in America, individuals, communities, traditions, can be reinvented into something better, and that better is measured with a paycheck. I know you’re not saying that, that you’ve written many times about how these areas need good jobs, but the ‘tremendously awful lives not entirely of their own choice’ is often deployed in favour of churn.

      • Gareth

        I am presently writing from rural Pennsylvania, a town of 6000 in the middle of an extremely depressed area with no town over 50,000 people for 85 miles. I spend a few months a year here.

        I can’t help wondering why you spend time there. Is the reason specific to you, or is there some kind of attraction there that could help the economy?

        • My wife’s job requires us have 2 places of residence.

          • Gareth


    • tsam

      I disagree with your formulation of rural America as a place to be escaped from.

      You have to see Colfax to understand this. If you’re not a farmer, or one of VERY few small businesses in the town, you will not survive there. I live 60 miles from Colfax, and if it weren’t for Pullman/Moscow and Spokane, Colfax wouldn’t exist as anything other than Rosalia or Steptoe (a co-op grain silo and a gas station).

      • Nick never Nick

        I’ve been to Colfax many times — I grew up in the Blue Mountains, just south of the Oregon border. Colfax is an exciting entrepot, compared to my home.

        However, I don’t want to tie this post up in a discussion of Colfax, my apologies. I just rather liked it, I also liked Pullman and Moscow, Walla Walla, Lewiston and Clarkston (despite the stink), and even Yakima.

        • tsam

          No apology necessary–this was more to back up what Erik was saying, and point out an alarming reality for a whole bunch of rural America–

          Those other towns you mentioned all found a way to diversify–Walla Walla has turned into a gorgeous winery enclave, Lewiston and Clarkston get all kinds of industry because of the river, and Pullman/Moscow have WSU and UofI. Colfax just simply got left behind, and it’s a disturbing picture of a lifestyle in a death spiral. It’s really depressing, because there WAS a personality to these small towns that was charming and endearing (though not without racism and a really gross class struggle–see Blazing Saddles for a parody that’s a little more on the nose than is comfortable). But that’s all going away now, and there’s a malaise there that breeds some awful contempt for outsiders and city people–at least in my experience.

          • Nick never Nick

            Yeah, but you know — where we live, there’s a ghost town where about 20 people are today, and a whole bunch of collapsing cabins. In 1900, it had a bank, a funeral parlor, and a newspaper. Towns have been collapsing all over the West ever since the place was settled. A few people stick around, and it often is because they want to. It’s actually good, in my opinion, if every town simply grew and thrived, there wouldn’t be any empty places.

            • tsam

              Well, growing and thriving are different things. Many of these small towns are being tortured by domestic violence, meth, opioids/heroin, and alcohol abuse.

              Lots and lots of good people still live in places like this, but that kind of hard living and barely sustaining takes a toll on people. You comment upthread about inner cities, and many of the same dynamics that make inner cities a tough place to thrive are present in these tiny rural communities–isolation, alienation, substance abuse–things that come from hopeless poverty and lack of opportunity.

            • This is universal. I grew up in a very small town in Minnesota and my people are from a tiny town on the Minnesota/South Dakota border. In those days you needed a town (market center) every 15 miles or so because that’s how far one could travel in a day to get things. This is no longer the case and hasn’t been the case since 1960 or so. Nobody anticipated the interstate highway system, for example. Still, my grandmother, born in a sod hut, loved the prairie and refused to leave it.

              Last Picture Show is a great view of that changing world.

              • witlesschum

                Yup. At least in the midwest (and I assume everywhere else, too) if you know where to look you can find places that were a functional little town 100 years ago. Post office and the train stopped there, you’ve got a town. There was probably some important local industry on the level of grist mill or saw mill, things like that, banks and printers and stores. But now it’s just a couple houses close together, with some places lacking even that.

                I get what Nick is saying. I grew up in a town of 1,200 in the backwoods of Upper Michigan and there were certainly people who thought it was great and never wanted to leave. Earning a living there is another issue, of course, but some figure it out.

  • paul.c.klos

    “Colfax is a pretty awful town in southeastern Washington that mostly subsists on wheat farming”


    What you makes attack Colfax? What get a speeding ticket there? It is a rather nice town all in all and a nice escape from the bleak red state nihilist rural-ism that is say SE Idaho.

    How does surviving on Wheat farming became a bad thing? Foods gotta grow somewhere it just does not materialize at Cosco.

    “only town in the United States that is presently festooned with flags showing the face of Grant’s corrupt Vice-President Schuyler Colfax”

    Sorry lived there for 5 years can’t recall a single such flag. He took kick backs seems a bit hard on man who was also as far as I can tell was a strong supported of reconstruction. I guess only Mother T as Republican party anti slavery pro reconstruction politicians get a nod. Good thing Lincoln got himself shot. In any case what does that have to do with a town now? I mean its not like was some rabid secret supporter of Johnson or something.

    • tsam

      It a rather nice town all in all and a nice escape from the bleak red state nihilist rural-ism that is say SE Idaho.

      THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT COLFAX IS aside from arguably better scenery.

      • paul.c.klos

        No – sorry no its not. Moving from WA to Idaho is like night and day.

        • Given that Colfax is less than 10 miles from the Idaho border, there aren’t that many differences.

        • tsam

          I’ve lived here all my life except the 2 years I spent in the Army. I lived in Post Falls, Idaho for a few years too. The differences are negligible. Geographically, Washington IS Idaho except for a few miles each direction of I-5, which is on the other side of the state.

    • paul.c.klos

      some grammar issues (first post)sorry distracted from editing by a sick child

    • Avattoir

      Also, Colfax was related to a, if not the, key founder – as a descendant of Hester Schuyler, cousin to Philip Schuyler, who was father to Elizabeth, who married Alexander Hamilton.

      Accepting bribes from competing rail interests was not much of a distinction among Washington D.C. pols of those days. I suspect that if he hadn’t rendered himself such an obvious target of partisan outings by his notoriously assuming that being elected president was inevitable, but instead his ambitions were confined to Congress, this black mark, even if true, would have been conveyed by history more in the nature of a footnote. The amount and import was less by far than what led to what little has persistently hung off McCain for Keating Five. Note that Colfax’s successful rival for Grant’s second term veep nod was Henry Wilson, who was substantially more compromised in the scandal but far more successful in fast-talking his way out of the muck.

      There were 2 allegations of Colfax having been corrupted. One was thru a vehicle which today would equate roughly to what’s known in the public share offering racket as a ‘warrant’ (The CREW list of today’s wealthiest Congress critters is largely occupied by ‘lucky’ recipients of far larger warrants, and in the multiple.). He denied it, and investigation into it was entirely abandoned on his announcing his intention to retire from federal office – too early in the process to produce definitive anything.

      The second, said by some be more damning, was an otherwise unexplained money gift from an envelopes manufacturer allegedly pursuing assurance of a favorable reception to his bid to provide his product to the postal service. It’s been too many decades since I paged thru a bio of Colfax as an undergrad to recall whether the envelope entrepreneur’s gift was delivered in an envelope, or via the postal service, or both, or even at all: the envelope entrepreneur’s contract ‘somehow’ was allowed to continue on through successive Congressional sessions. That’s not inconsistent with the entrepreneur having had a hand in advancing the story, or his having bribed others more economically, or indeed a scheme aimed at ending any perceived necessity to continue to bribe.

      I think too much has been made of these controversies having engulfed Colfax at the time he chose to give up elected political life, and too little to his health. He expressed being worn from 2 decades in the tumult of the WDC of those days, which is readily understandable considering he’d been in elected office in WDC for the entire build-up to the Civil War and the Civil War itself, and he’d been Speaker thru the entire crazy period that encompassed Lincoln’s re-election and assassination, and the horrors of the Andrew Johnson presidency. Plus, he died from a heart attack walking from one train to another.

      Considering how much age had accumulated on the two accusations against him, as well as the fact they arose in the context of his having pretty clearly become a target for the appearance of considering a run for president, and especially his tireless opposition to slavery(He broke with tradition and form in arranging, as Speaker, to be the final vote recorded for the 13th Amendment.), as well as his public stance calling for impeachment of President Andrew Johnson (providing another obvious motivation for his being smeared), I should think we’d all feel a lot better of ourselves, and be thought of better besides, if we were to forego dismissing his public service quite so cavalierly. You don’t tend to get 12 counties and towns named for your memory without leaving behind a lot of admiration and affection with your contemporaries.

  • Bloix

    For years I was a movie snob – if it was from Hollywood I wasn’t interested. Osborne and TMC introduced me to the pleasures of the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s – and even occasionally the 50s!- and I’m grateful.

    Note that the Times article you link to says: “David Staller, a longtime friend, confirmed the death.”

    Here’s the Washington Post: “His life partner, theater director and producer David Staller, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.”

    Shame, shame, shame, on the New York Times.

    • Kurzleg

      I noticed the Times wording too. Don’t know if that was out of deference to Staller’s preference or just the socially conservative side of the Times rearing its head.

    • As always, Fuck the Fucking New York Times.

      • Or the Times didn’t bother to fully update an obit first written 15 or 20 years ago when that sort of circumspection was the norm.

        • Even if this were a reasonable excuse for queer erasure (it’s not), there is no possible way that sentence could have been written in advance, because it wasn’t a given that Staller would have been the one to announce Osborne’s death. The FTFNYT has no excuse.

  • Kurzleg

    My one regret w/ ditching our satellite service was losing TCM. Obviously, the films are what make it great, but Robert Osborne’s intros and interviews became signature features as well. Osborne always struck me as perpetually earnest and completely w/o guile, just a very genuine human being who enjoyed movies and wanted to share them with you.

    • Kurzleg

      And this seems just too perfect:

      Mr. Friedman said he saw Mr. Osborne last month in Manhattan.

      “He was just Robert, with countless stories about Hollywood,” he said. “And he told me something I had never known. That every Sunday for 40 years, he has spoken to Olivia de Havilland.”

      • Who survives him, as she survives everyone

        • Thom

          Will be 101 if she makes it to July. Makes Robert Mugabe look like a spring chicken.

          • wjts

            Norman Lloyd’s 102. His most recent movie was Trainwreck two years ago.

  • Colin Day

    Is Colfax more visible in Colfax than in Denver (Colfax Avenue)?

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Apparently so, if Colfax, WA, is “festooned with flags” showing him. I can’t think of any signage of any sort, temporary or permanent, on Colfax Avenue that references Schuyler Colfax.

  • anori

    But, no snobbish attitudes toward red states (or red areas of otherwise blue states) on this blog, amirite? Admittedly they are often not great places to be openly gay.

    • paul.c.klos

      My point would be I don’t see Colfax as some kind of red cro-magnon bastion, that Loomis seems to think. The county overall is not very red, and that is simply not a fact of where WSU is. Yes it is right of center and has a chip on shoulder about the other side of the mountains. But in local politics the place is surprising centrist. It schools are well funded and well supported, and are city services for example you get non of the dead-endness vibe that is rural Idaho.

    • witlesschum

      Those of us who grew up in such places and know them pretty well are going to have our opinions of them, at least in my case, regardless of who likes it.

  • wjts

    I never actually saw him on TCM, but his cameo on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was pretty great. (“No! You guys promised!”)

    • Aaron Morrow

      If you have a physical copy of The Maltese Falcon, he really makes the Becoming Attractions extra fun, given that it is basically an excuse to run a bunch of Bogart trailers. But yeah, I’ll never forget his read of the closing to his episode of Harvey Birdman:

      And that was 1944’s “Double Indemnity” with Fred MacMurray and, of course, the glorious Barbara Stanwyck. Now, later Frank Capra would confess in his autobiography that he fell in love with Stanwyck and had he not been more in love with Lucille Rayburn, whom he eventually did marry, he would have asked Barbara Stanwyck to marry him, after she called it quits with Frank Fay and before she married Robert Taylor. Well, that’s it for tonight, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.

  • Whirrlaway

    My ex-wife’s father grew up in Palouse, about 10 miles over from Colfax, in the early 19s. Cadet LaFollettes. He moved to New York, ostensibly lived by teaching classical violin from Central Park West, and ended up in a big white house in White Plains, painting pretty nice impressionist paintings (many still available!). There would have been plenty of broken-down cowboys and indigenes about, but I’m retty sure Chester had indoor plumbing his whole life.

    • Nick never Nick

      To judge from this thread, LGM is both read and written primarily by people who have lived in or around Colfax. Was your ex-father-in-law William Bond?

      If you look at Colfax’s Wikipedia entry, there are a surprising number of distinguished people who come from there, and they aren’t all rodeo clowns or those who led their platoon over the top.

  • wengler

    Robert Osborne was TCM. He was becoming less frequent in his intros in the past year and he did look to be in not as great shape. Somewhat expected and yet still terrible news.

    I like Ben Mankiewicz and hope he can continue Osborne’s legacy. I just hope it doesn’t go the route of AMC.

    • Taylor

      AMC never had much of a back-catalog.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        AMC used to employ Gilbert Gottfried, though… hmmm….

  • e.a.foster

    Robert Osborne was an interesting and articulate man who made watching the movies he opened for much more interesting. His knowledge was incredible. He was fun, never rude, He will be missed.

  • I loved his voice. A true gentleman and scholar and lover of great film. He will be missed.

  • Dennis Orphen

    According to Wikipedia (and verified by other sources), Colfax has a Schmuck Park. That wouldn’t fly in some places.

  • Dennis Orphen

    I watched Les Demoiselles de Rochefort on TMC last Friday and I suggest you all do the same if you can, while you can.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    The Cartoon Network at number 3 for Ted?

    In most respects, it has aged better than CNN at least.

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