When you take an unexpected five-month powder from the airwaves after beaming into the nation’s living rooms every night for 17 years, some interesting theories crop up about the state of your health. Just ask beloved Turner Classic Movies host and Academy Awards historian Robert Osborne, who exited his famous Atlanta-based TV bachelor pad July 11 for what the network described as “minor surgery followed by a vacation.” As an early holiday gift to viewers in full-on Robert withdrawal, the 79-year-old returns to the airwaves and his primetime hosting job Thursday at 8 p.m.
Osborne tells us he doesn’t plan to dwell on his vacation when he once again reclines in his red leather easy chair Thursday night to introduce 1932’s “Jewel Robbery” starring William Powell. “Honestly, it was no big deal,” he says. “Essentially, I had worked 17 years straight without a vacation. I wanted a lump of time just to relax and unwind. I wanted to go get an MRI and a CATscan. I wanted to get a facial and get some crowns put on my teeth. I wanted to start going to a gym regularly. I wanted to pamper myself a little. I feel really good and very well rested.”
During his absence from the airwaves, rumors swirled about the state of Osborne’s health. Much of the speculation made its way back to the film historian too. “I got an email from one friend who wrote, ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry you’ve had a stroke!’” Osborne recounts. “Another friend said, ‘I suspect you’ve had a little nip and tuck.’ But I can assure you, I have the same old face.” In October in an attempt to quell the speculation, Osborne, sporting a blue sweater, shot a promo announcing his return. “Just this week I went to a party in my building here in New York and one of the other guests told me she was reassured to see me back on TV in my blue sweater because she had it on very good authority that I had died and TCM had not yet made the information public,” says Osborne. He waits a beat and adds: “At that point I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to get back to work.’”
Technically, Osborne has been back on the job since October when he shot the entire 2012 season of The Essentials with his new guest host Drew Barrymore in New York City. “I think she’s going to surprise people the same way Alec Baldwin surprised people when he did the first season of The Essentials,” Osborne previews. “She’s bright, extremely knowledgeable about film and was delightful to sit across from.” Barrymore is also well informed about her famous Hollywood family, including grandfather John Barrymore, Aunt Ethel Barrymore and Uncle Lionel Barrymore. “She’s very conscious of her family history in Hollywood,” he says. “And she’s very aware of her Auntie Ethel’s drinking problem and her grandfather’s as well. At the same time, she’s incredibly proud of her family’s place in Hollywood.”
Thanks to a brand-new multi-year contract with TCM, Osborne will be on hand when the sold-out TCM Classic Cruise sets sail this month and in April when the 3rd annual TCM Classic Film Festival unspools in Hollywood. Osborne is pleased by the enthusiastic response from film fans. “To see the level of interest in the film festival in just its third year is very gratifying,” he says. “It’s like Telluride. What the response tells me is the brand is being trusted. Film fans know they’re going to see the best prints, see the biggest stars and enjoy a completely unique experience.”
And on New Year’s Eve, Osborne will host his annual NYE film party on TCM, this year with a focus on countdown-themed flicks. Does that mean he’ll be in his traditional tuxedo, toasting with a glass of bubbly? “Yeah, probably,” he sighs, sounding perhaps a little weary of the gimmick traditionally taped well in advance of December 31. Osborne brightens and adds: “One year on New Year’s Eve I’d really love to show up in pajamas, holding a bottle of cheap wine. But I have a feeling they won’t let me do that!”