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Robert Osborne - April 2009
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on TCM's 15th Anniversary

Compared to the length of time that Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap has been running in London's West End (it opened when Churchill was Prime Minister, and fifty-six years later is still playing eight times weekly) or The Phantom of the Opera has been in residence on Broadway (it just began its twenty-first year there), the fifteenth anniversary of TCM may not seem much to crow about - but pardon us if we do. It's a milestone we're very proud of and, we hope, only one landmark on the way to our being twenty-one, then fifty-six and, we hope, doing our thing 24/7 many years beyond that.

TCM was born on April 14, 1994, when Ted Turner pushed a switch at a brief but lively ceremony in New York's Times Square, after which the first film our network ever showed went out over the airwaves. It was Ted T.'s favorite movie Gone With the Wind (1939), the same classic-of-classics we'll be showing this April 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern as part of our XV celebration.

That day in 1994 is certainly one which will be forever sealed in my memory book. I had never seen Ted Turner before and, as it turned out, liked him enormously (it's always a relief  and usually a surprise to genuinely like The Boss). Joining us on a  podium that day were Van Johnson, Jane Powell, Arlene Dahl, Celeste Holm and director (and then-Academy president) Arthur Hiller, all of whom were representing the Hollywood work which would be the backbone of TCM's programming. Speeches were made, the switch was pulled and, viola!, the channel was launched. It was a heady day - fun, optimistic, festive - and afterwards there was a celebratory luncheon nearby. But the thing I remember most about it was the way taxis and cars whizzed by, several then putting on the brakes or honking when the drivers recognized Ted Turner and those movie stars a few feet away.

Another of the vivid memories of the past 15 years is a 1996 "Private Screenings" interview I did with Bob Mitchum. Before and after the interview and during breaks, Mitchum was as chatty as a magpie. But the minute the cameras rolled, he totally stone-walled me, giving short, gruff answers and rarely saying more than a "yea" or "nah." He'd been a prince several times we'd done interviews before, but on that day in '96, he was a Boy Behaving Badly. I could have strangled him.

Before Mitchum, and after, I've had infinitely more pleasant and productive encounters with names from "A" as in Allyson (June), Angela (Lansbury) and Ann (Miller) to "W" as in Whoopi (Goldberg), Wagner (Robert), Williams (Esther) and Wilson (Rainn, of The Office fame), but one above all particularly stands out because it was so complicated to do and so absolutely worth it. It was an on-camera conversation in 2000 with Betty Hutton, once one of the great movie stars until her life took some bizarre turns. At the age of 80, and out of the public eye for some 30 years, she agreed to sit down with me to talk about her life and career, the good times and bad. She was initially nervous to the extreme, but terribly eager to please and, as we talked, she seemed very happy to be "home," once again on a soundstage, in front of a camera, lights and a crew. That interview is going to be shown again on April 13 as part of our anniversary celebration week. It's something which, to a large degree, sums up what TCM strives to be: a magical place where remarkable film talent and movie work is recognized, respected, shared, and never allowed to fade away.

by Robert Osborne