Weird, I know. But when you are hooked on a channel at an impressionable young age, you get hooked to the familiar face who shares anecdotes about the movie, the movie’s stars and what was happening in history when the movies were released. This is what Turner Classic Movies, and as such, Robert Osborne, has been for me in my life. Waiting for him tonight, I told Katie that I felt like I was meeting a grandfather for the first time.
Mr. Osborne (henceforth known as Bob) came to the National Portrait Gallery during the Dancing the Dream exhibition (which is open until July 13!) for a wine and cheese reception followed by a discussion and screening of “Flying Down to Rio“. As soon as I saw it posted on TCM’s Facebook page, I didn’t care how much tickets would be. I was going.
Luckily for me and my bank account, they were not the $600 I deemed this experience was worth and swiftly bought two tickets. “Flying Down to Rio” is a good movie, but certainly not my favorite of Fred and Ginger’s (it was their first and they only have one dance together). That honor is either reserved for “The True Story of Vernon and Irene Castle”(heartbreaking) or “Swing Time” or “Top Hat”…but who’s to say you have to pick just one? That’s the whole point of DVD box sets.
I met Katie at Metro Center right after work and we ran over to the Portrait Gallery in the rain. Once there, we were told we could go on downstairs where the reception was being held. I kid you not, every time I saw a man with white hair I jumped with excitement thinking it was Bob, to no avail. And in that crowd, where we were at least 30 years younger than the median age, my anxiety spike was a fairly common occurrence. My heart was racing and I was shaking too much to hold a cheese plate and a glass of wine at the same time (which is already a dilemma I have yet to solve sans anxiety). We waited around for about 15 minutes, drinking, eating cheese and being nervous, when Bob walked in at 6 on the dot.
He was standing so close to me. I was starstruck. I couldn’t handle how close I was standing to this man I had been watching on television for 20 years. He had been with me, narrating so many sick days when I was little (what 8 year old watches TCM when sick?? This one), showing me how different movies shaped different generations of moviegoers. We rushed to get in line behind his many fans to greet him.
The woman in front of us in line turned and asked us what brought us there–at these events, age makes you stick out like a sore thumb. She said it gave her hope that these movies weren’t lost on a generation.
By the time I finally got to Bob, I could hardly believe it. He was there in front of me, ready to chat. Luckily, I was better prepared this time than I was meeting B.J. Novak. Earlier in the day, I had written Bob a card telling him how much his programming had influenced me and how big of a role it had played in my life. I had that as my ammo this time when I got tongue tied.
I walked up to him and nervously exclaimed, “I have been watching you my whole life. Like my entire life.”
He thanked me. (I was talking really fast.)
“I didn’t think we’d have a lot of time to talk so I wrote you a card instead.”
He looked at me like I was crazy and had just handed him anthrax. I almost made a joke about how it wasn’t, but didn’t want to put the idea in his head if he wasn’t already thinking it.
“My return address is on the back of it if you want to reply.” (I mean come on….I had to point it out, right?!)
“…What’s your name?” he asked me.
Ugh. I was so busy fangirling that this time I had forgotten my name (Katie pointed out to me later that he didn’t ask everyone for their names! ;)).
I told him my name and he pulled me in for a side hug/photo opp. STOP IT. I died. And I’m pretty sure it took my heart an hour to beat at regular pace again. Then we parted ways and we stood by his side out of line for a while. I couldn’t get over how close I was standing to him. I couldn’t stop thinking about how exponentially our degrees of separation had just shrunk for practically all of Hollywood (Me->Bob->Alec Baldwin->Tina Fey, for example. Me->Bob->Lucile Ball. Me->Bob->Frank Sinatra’s children (probably Frank Sinatra too, but unknown for sure). We are pretty much BFF’s with everyone who used to be under contract at MGM. No big deal.
We had one more glass of wine and made our way into the theatre where the discussion was going to be held. Second row. We had seats in the second row. Sometimes I find myself in these situations and really wonder how I got there. He chatted with Amy Henderson, the curator of Dancing the Dream, about movies, Fred and Ginger, and his life in Hollywood. It felt like I was in my living room, watching him introduce a movie to me, but he was 6 feet away. Too cool. The only question I could think to ask was “Are you hiring? I want your job,” so I stayed quiet (though if you see this, TCM, this is a real question…).
Once the Q & A was finished and he departed, the movie began. We were sitting so close that it reminded me of “The Dreamers”:
I was one of the insatiables. The ones you’d always find sitting closest to the screen. Why do we sit so close? Maybe it was because we wanted to receive the images first. When they were still new, still fresh. Before they cleared the hurdles of the rows behind us. Before they’d been relayed back from row to row, spectator to spectator; until worn out, secondhand, the size of a postage stamp, it returned to the projectionist’s cabin. Maybe, too, the screen was really a screen. It screened us… from the world.
–and, similarly, it was really nice to be in a room where I didn’t have to hide my huge smile as the RKO opening screen appeared…even if we were the only ones there who weren’t alive when the Berlin Wall fell. A love for classic movies, like the movies themselves (as Katie said earlier) is timeless.