Osborne, who passed away March 6, first came to Hollywood in the 1950s with the goal of becoming an actor. He signed a contract with Desilu Productions, owned by Ball and husband Desi Arnaz, both of TV’s “I Love Lucy” fame.
When Ball learned of Osborne’s admiration for the films of the 1930s and ‘40s, she suggested the University of Washington School of Journalism grad write about the subject he loved so much. The result was 1965’s “Academy Awards Illustrated,” which featured an introduction by screen legend Bette Davis.
Osborne’s association with the Oscars and its parent, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, led to twelve authorized books, beginning with 1971’s “Academy Awards Annual” and ending with 2008’s “80 Golden Years of the Oscar.” Additionally, Osborne was the official red carpet greeter for the Oscars pre-show from 2006 to 2010.
His journalism training was also put to good use at The Hollywood Reporter. Beginning in 1977, Osborne started writing for the trade publication. From 1982 to 2009 he penned their daily “Rambling Reporter” column, covering films, plays and celebrities.
Most cable viewers are familiar with Osborne from his hosting duties on TCM. But, he actually began his cable TV career hosting the Movie Channel from 1986 to 1993.
When media mogul Ted Turner, who had acquired MGM Studios’ legendary film library in 1986, decided to launch the TCM cable channel in 1994, Osborne was the logical choice for host. The very first film Osborne introduced for the then-fledgling channel was 1939’s Civil War epic “Gone with the Wind,” Turner’s favorite film.
For the more than twenty years he was with TCM, Osborne, who lived in New York, flew regularly to the channel’s Atlanta headquarters to film his introductory remarks. TCM’s 24 hour film schedule required he provide introductions for twenty-eight films per week (four prime-time movies per day, seven days a week). As the channel’s popularity grew, Osborne added special series including “Private Screenings” with interviews of stars such as Lauren Bacall and Jack Lemmon, and “Essentials” screenings co-hosted with actors including Alec Baldwin and Carrie Fisher. When TCM launched its Film Festival in Los Angeles in 2010, Osborne acted as host for the screenings before live audiences.
For his TV work, Osborne received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. In retrospect, Osborne said he might have instead chosen a job as a film editor if he had known such a career existed. However, having grown up in a small town in Washington state, his only real knowledge about the film industry came from seeing the actors on-screen. Their performances captured his imagination and so Osborne followed his heart to Hollywood, hoping to act.
And, what did become of his acting career? Well, Osborne had some bit parts on TV (including “Death Valley Days” and the pilot of “The Beverly Hillbillies”) and in film (“Psycho” and “Spartacus”), made commercials (Folgers Coffee), and appeared on stage.
But, his training at Desilu proved most useful for Osborne’s cable TV hosting roles. As both film fans and historians can attest, Osborne’s knowledge combined with his ease in front of the camera helped introduce a new generation of viewers to the America’s film legacy. Lucille Ball would have been proud to see how far her initial suggestion took Osborne.