Happy 20th Anniversary, Robert Osborne

5191077388dd0A favorite event from the TCM Classic Cruise came to Hollywood  for the first time on Friday afternoon, but with a gigantic surprise twist. ASK ROBERT allows fans to pose any question they like to the man who’s been with the network since the very beginning on April 14, 1994, and to mark his twentieth anniversary, an appropriate venue was chosen: The Montalbán Theatre, formerly the Doolittle Theatre, located on Vine Street in Hollywood.

Osborne’s own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located in front of the building, which originally served as the location for the popular radio program, Lux Radio Theatre –  Osborne’s first major connection to Tinseltown growing up in Colfax, Washington. When Osborne took to the stage, he recalled some favorite memories there such as working under contract as an actor at Desilu with Lucille Ball, who educated him about the industry and encouraged him to take up writing about the subject he loved the most. He also appeared there with Zero Mostel in a Paddy Chayefsky play, The Latent Heterosexual.

At first things proceeded normally with audience members asking questions about his favorite movies growing up during World War II (Now, Voyager and Johnny Eager earned mentions), some of his most overlooked Oscar-worthy movies (The Bad and the Beautiful popping up, not surprisingly), and his travel schedule between his home in New York, TCM’s hometown of Atlanta (and the pollen that comes with it), and his busy schedule with the TCM Cruise and the festival.alextrebek_470x350

However, after half an hour things took an unexpected turn when his microphone seemed to give out, only to have technical support arrive on the stage in the form of Alex Trebek. The TCM guest programmer and Jeopardy! host (who introduced a screening of Zulu last night) turned out to be the emcee for an afternoon completely different from what everyone expected: a grand salute to the man who has personified TCM since its creation.

The surprise guests began with Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint, who recorded a live interview with Osborne at last year’s festival and exclaimed after a rundown of her famous costars, “Of all those leading men, you’re my favorite!”

AlecBaldwin_470x350Next up was actress, producer and educator Diane Baker, who started off with Osborne as a contract player when they shot a screen test of a scene from East of Eden. She vividly recalled with a laugh his opinion about it: “Your voice is so high, the dogs can hear it!” They shared memories of when she introduced him to Joan Crawford, whom Osborne recalled had a handshake “like a truck driver,” and Baker summed him up as “an important man in my life.”

A pretaped statement came next from Bill Cosby, the first TCM guest programmer, who lauded Osborne’s dedication to classic film and said, “He doesn’t have a false moment.” Then it was time for a family reunion on the stage as Osborne’s family members, with cousin Susan Wright as spokesperson, surprised him from backstage and ran an affectionate slideshow of some of their past memories together.

Another familiar face from TCM arrived next as Alec Baldwin, a TCM Essentials co-host for three years, joyously reunited with him and ran a hilarious blooper reel of some memorable hosting tongue twisters in the past, including repeated thwarted attempts at pronouncing “La Cienega.” Baldwin also remembered attending a book releasing party at which Keith Richards shared his enthusiasm for Baldwin’s TV show – no, not 30 Rock, but “that Turner Classic Movies show.”

The fun continued with a second taped statement from another TCM guest programmer, Cher, and an appearance from his longtime TCM specials and segment director, Tony Barbon. Of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without Ben Mankiewicz, who came on board as the network’s second host in 2003 with a “shocking lack of neckwear.” He summed up the event perfectly by observing there was “never before a better combination of man and network,” and though their schedules mean they don’t get to see each other very often, it was clear they couldn’t be better matched.

More star power came next as Robert Wagner and Jill St. John made an elegant entrance and reminisced about some of their memorable moments, while the great Michael Feinstein took to a piano on the stage to perform a charming rendition of one of Osborne’s most personally meaningful songs, “The More I See You” by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon from the 1945 production, Diamond Horseshoe. For the grand finale, TCM’s General Manager, Jeff Gregor, led all the guests back to the stage where they and the entire audience held a sparkling toast to Osborne’s two decades of classic movie memories. Needless to say, we all can’t wait to see what the next twenty years have in store.