I was a huge fan of AMC back in the days when it was still a classic movie station - the late 1980s and 1990s --- and the movies were still uncut and commercial-free. It's hosts included Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney. It is entirely possible that I knew who Nick Clooney was before I had ever heard of his son George!
And then in 1994 TCM came along with Robert Osborne as host. I knew who he was because I had practically memorized his first book, Academy Awards Illustrated (published in 1965). The book had eight pages for every year. The first page was a general synopsis of the ceremony. Page two covered the best picture winner. Best Actor and Best Actress each had 2 pages with a full page photo on the left and a biography on the right. The final two pages had photos of the Supporting Actor and Actress winners along with a list of all the other nominees and winners.
Ha! Look how worn it is! This book originally belonged to my mother. I believe my brother Everest has his own copy now.
I began poring over it when I was in high school at a time when many of the early Oscar winners were old people who often appeared on the plethora of talk shows in those days.
- Here are a few examples from my youth (aka the late 1960s and the 1970s):
- I am almost positive I saw James Stewart on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" before I ever saw him in a movie. He used to read his poems for Johnny and the audience.
- As a side note, when I first watched "It's a Wonderful Life" in the 1980s it was in public domain and cut to shreds to fit in commercials. It didn't even make sense anymore! Until I finally saw the uncut version I had no idea what a great actor James Stewart was, especially in the scene in Nick's bar where he asks God for help.
- The first James Cagney movie I ever saw was "Ragtime" (1981) and he was already in his early 80s.
- I couldn't have picked Greta Garbo out of a lineup then. She made her last film in 1941 and was more famous in the 1970s and 1980s for her appearances around New York City where she wanted to be "left alone", her most famous line from 1932's Best Picture winner "Grand Hotel". Her ghost is probably thankful she didn't live in a time of cell phone cameras.
- I knew of Bing Crosby as a singer and was aware of him and his family because they lived in the town next to ours in the mid-1970s. But I could not have told you he had won an Oscar for acting!
- Greer Garson was the narrator for one of my favorite Christmas specials, "The Little Drummer Boy" and I had no idea who she was or what she looked like because it only featured her voice.
- I knew Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney from a different Christmas special, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". Fred looked like his animated character but Mickey didn't.
- We all knew Judy Garland growing up because we watched "The Wizard of Oz" every annual telecast. And she had already died during my childhood so I only saw her as Dorothy.
- I seemed to always be aware of Gene Kelly because his name is the same as mine. I liked to think I was named for him but I was not.
But now, thanks especially to Mr. Osborne, I know so much about classic film and there are still many films left to watch. I love the films of James Stewart, James Cagney, Greta Garbo, Mickey Rooney, Greer Garson, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and so many more: Jean Harlow, Fredric March, Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, the Barrymores, Buster Keaton, Hattie McDaniel, Shirley Temple...the list is almost endless. It almost goes without saying that Maria Ouspenskaya belongs on the list!
But back to Academy Awards Illustrated: I read this book over and over again and I knew all the Oscar winners up until 1964! (I'm a little rusty now.) Many of the actors profiled in the book were still alive at the time of writing so it's an odd little time capsule. By 1965 the Oscars were only 37 years old. Next year they turn 90!
I eventually bought an updated copy that continues up until 1976 but I haven't obsessed over that version like I have the original. Thus I am not as good at remembering Oscar winners from 1965 onward! Robert Osborne's later Oscar books changed formats and I didn't like them nearly as much as the original. In about 10 years I would imagine someone else will take up the mantle for the 100th anniversary of the Oscars.
I like how his author blurb comments on his work on the "legitimate stage". I'm not sure if that term is used much anymore because there really isn't a need to distinguish among vaudeville, burlesque and others. (Sorry for the sunshine spots on the photo!)
Thank you, Mr. Osborne. You influenced me to seek out classic films which have made my life culturally richer. Godspeed.