If you've followed these blog posts of mine for a couple of years, you know that I've been a devoted fan of TCM (cable's Turner Classic Movies) since 1999. That same year, I had a terrific time interviewing screen legend Tony Curtis live on the popular local morning show, GOOD DAY NEW YORK. Staff members in their 20s dropped over to the set to see the star of SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE DEFIANT ONES, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and other classics promote his TCM appearance. Host Robert Osborne would be interviewing Tony Curtis in a PRIVATE SCREENINGS special. A TCM representative was in the studio accompanying Tony Curtis and enjoying our interview. As for Robert Osborne, I miss him. He was an exceptional TV host, knowledgeable and charismatic. He had voice and manner that were soothing. Comforting. Like Steve Allen (star of 1956's THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY) and Jack Paar (who acted opposite Marilyn Monroe in 1951's LOVE NEST), he was a guy who had acted but being himself on TV as a host made him a much bigger star than any acting role had.
From 2006 to 2008, I worked with Whoopi Goldberg on her national weekday morning radio show. Our studio was in Manhattan near the Broadway theatre district. Whoopi hired me to do movie reviews and give classic film recommendations for DVD rentals. TCM executive Darcy Hettrich had received a few of my demo reels. She contacted me to ask if I could put her in touch with Whoopi's agent or manager so TCM could ask if Whoopi would consider being a Guest Programmer for one show with Robert Osborne. Darcy figured the whole process of sending a request and getting a yes or no response would take two weeks or more. I got Darcy's email at 4:00am when I logged onto my home computer to check messages before heading to the studio to do our radio show which started at 6:00am. I wrote back to Darcy that I'd have an answer to her before lunchtime that day. It wouldn't take two weeks or more.
I sat right next to Whoopi, shoulder to shoulder, when we performed together on the radio show. I got to the studio, asked her if she'd like to be a Guest Programmer with Robert Osborne for one TCM taping. She immediately answered, "Yes!" I told her to think of four movies she'd like to present. Her first pick was FUNNY GIRL. I gave Darcy Hettrich at TCM the good news before lunchtime that day. Whoopi did the show.
Around that time, I was a contributor on a national cable TV magazine program aimed at baby boomers. It was called MY GENERATION. A longtime friend and former co-worker was on the production team. I pitched doing an interview of Robert Osborne. I pitched his baby boomer appeal in these areas:
* His TV career really started to take off when he was in his 50s.
* His mentor was Lucille Ball, a TV legend to us baby boomers who loved her in I LOVE LUCY.
* He promoted diversity in his work --like making people aware of Ashley Boone.
My friend on the production staff called to let me know that our boss, the executive producer, loved the idea. I contacted TCM publicity to see if Robert Osborne would be available for a taped interview that would take place in a suite at a major hotel in the theatre district. I'd contacted the hotel. The representative said, "Of course, we can give you a room. All we ask is that you mention the hotel -- and allow a few of us on the hotel staff to ask Mr. Osborne for his autograph." TCM P.R. could not have been more helpful. Mr. Osborne would be available. The location was convenient. And he'd be willing to give autographs.
Then my friend called to say, "After I tell you this, you will know why I'm leaving the show." The executive producer, who described himself as an aging hippie, loved my previous pieces for the show. However, he felt the Osborne interview would need "shtick."
"What kind of 'shtick'?" I asked.
She sighed and answered, "He thinks you need to dress up like an old movie character seen on TCM to do the interview. He thinks it would be funny. He thinks you should dress up like...like Norma Desmond in SUNSET BLVD."
She hated the idea -- and so did I. Bill Boggs, once a very popular talk show host on New York City TV, was also a contributor on MY GENERATION. He'd recently interviewed pianist/singer Michael Feinstein. But did he have to dress up like Liberace to conduct the interview? No. I said that to the executive producer when I got him on the phone and asked why a middle-aged black man with national TV and radio credits would have to put on a dress to do an interview. First of all, it would be insulting to TCM and Mr. Osborne to treat his work and the channel as a joke. Second, it was not a Carol Burnett sketch. I wanted to do a serious and informative interview. Third, I found it racially insulting to be asked to do that.
He replied that I either did some shtick or I could not do the interview for air. With extreme reluctance, I canceled the interview out of respect for Robert Osborne. And myself.
Robert Osborne was a class act -- and deserved to be treated as such.
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