TCM's Robert Osborne Smooth-Talks the Classics

Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne is the silver-haired, silver-tongued hero to millions of people whose idea of a new movie is one that came out during the second half of the Great Depression. I actually met him once at the Friars Club in Manhattan. The Friars used to be glittery showbiz hangout where Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra traded zingers at the bar and compared penis sizes in the men's room. Now it has the feel of a classy rec-room at an upscale senior center, where grandparents and their cardio specialists hobble in for the kind of food that they used to serve at the second-best country club in the suburban Baltimore.

Robert (I hope he doesn't mind me calling him by first name) was having dinner, and he looked as dapper chewing on a Parker House roll as he does introducing a festival celebrating the movies of Wallace Beery. After finishing my light Friars club dinner of prime rib and chocolate profiterole, I screwed up my courage, walked over to his table and introduced myself to him as a fan. Robert graciously accepted my homage and then introduced me to his dinner companions, Dickie Moore and Jane Powell.

Dickie Moore, despite that name, is not a porn star. He was a child actor and member of Our Gang, aka The Little Rascals, and is most famous for not meeting a horrible, premature death like most of his co-stars. Jane Powell is a 1950s-era MGM musical star, now married to Moore. I made obeisance to Mr. Moore and Ms Powell, who were very sweet and even gave me a peppermint.

Robert is a smooth and sophisticated throwback to an era when no one ever said anything bad about anyone else on the television, unless you were a suspected commie. His employer, Turner Classic Movies, shows many great films but the most fun is when Robert has to intro a film he clearly clearly dislikes. Robert can't say, "Skip this dud, because you're better off catching a nap before going out to cash your Social Security check." He is the master of dancing lightly around the fact that he wouldn't watch a certain movie if you paid him. Here are some of the gilded phrases the great and mighty Osborne is likely to use when the Turner Classic Movie is just a movie, not a classic.

• "This comedy, starring Sonny Tufts and Olivia De Havilland, was shot during one of rainiest seasons ever in Hollywood, and everyone had to bring an umbrella to work."

• "The film was shot on location in Palm Springs, California, which at the time was one of the fastest growing cities in Southern California, despite its intense heat during the summer."

• "The cameramen, Billy Bitzer, worked with many great directors during his career, and he was known for taking excellent care of his camera equipment."

• "This epic historical drama about the Slovenian Civil War features a stellar cast, and none of the charges against any of them were ever proven."

• "This colorful crime story was made while Cary Grant was getting a divorce, and Grant always said that his lawyer was one of the best in Hollywood.

• "The producer wanted Robert Redford to star in the title role and apparently Redford wanted to until he read the script."

• "Many great spy films were made in the 1960s. The spy film we're about to see tonight was made in 1972."

• "John Wayne always said that his favorite director was John Ford. The director of this film often drove a Ford."

• "Sophia Loren is a very beautiful woman. I once asked her about this film, and when she answered, she looked very beautiful."

• "Several writers worked on this movie, and all of them would go on to successful careers in other fields."

• "Martin Scorsese is perhaps America's greatest living film director, and he once owned a house near a theater where this was playing."

• Director John Huston once called this a great film. His exact quote was, "This is a great film if you like boring crap.'"

• "Right now I understand that the QVC network is offering great prices on genuine his-and-hers Diamonique stud earrings."

• "The film critic James Agee called this the best slapstick comedy that Eleanor Roosevelt ever made."