The first time I saw Robert Osborne in person was at the press conference for the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. It was also my first year attending the event. He strode in with a gait that somehow communicated absolute confidence, elegance, modesty and accessibility simultaneously. As he sat down at the front of the room, my friend whispered to me, "hey, this is the first time you've seen him isn't it?" and I was almost astonished to remember that it was.
He seemed so familiar to me. I can get pretty star struck, but I noticed that when Robert O made his appearance, I didn't get that shot of adrenaline I usually do when faced with someone I've admired from afar in the flesh. He was like a cool uncle I'd spent time with before, but not often enough that he didn't retain a sense of mystery. I watched as he put everyone at ease in a way I've never experienced before or since.
I'm sad that I wasn't able to feel the warmth of his remarkable presence at last year's festival, and that once again he will not be joining us for the festival in 2016. Sad, but grateful that I was able to see him at all. There's nobody like Osborne, which is a shame, because we need people like him more every day.
Robert O isn't going to get in a Twitter battle or snap at a fan. He's not rude or crude. Yes, he's human, and allowed to have a bad day. But still, we know he's essentially not that kind of guy. He's got inherent grace.
For many years, that grace has served as a conduit from all of us to the artists we love. At the 2014 festival I watched him communicate that adoration to Maureen O'Hara and Kim Novak. He politely deflected their protestations and gently insisted they understand that they were amazing women who were worthy of the applause. And they knew he meant it.
Osborne is clearly one-of-a-kind. He comes from a higher place, and that's why we watch him so carefully. That's why we worry.
Sometimes it feels like he's the sole caretaker of the art of civility. It's partly why we feel such a need for him. In one respect we are fortunate though, whether he is in front of us or not, the reassuring aura of Robert Osborne seems to envelope all of TCM and perhaps classic movie fandom as well. It is a constant reminder that we must be grateful for him and do our best to emulate the man who has taught us not just to love the classics, but to also live with love and respect for others.
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