True fact: One of the first things I most loved about TV was the movies. Specifically old movies, the classics that once upon a technologically simpler time were only accessible to most of us via TV. No VCRs, DVRs, DVDs or streaming in those days. They would often air at odd times in the late afternoon (pre-Oprah era) or late at night. Which is also why one of my earliest memories of my long relationship with TV Guide Magazine involves scouring the local listings for the movies the stations in my market (Cincinnati) would be showing any given week, back when they used to do such things.
When Turner Classic Movies launched 20 years ago this month, programming wall-to-wall cinematic gems, uncut and uninterrupted and given the respect they (and we) deserve, it was nirvana for film buffs like me. So you can imagine the thrill when I was recently given the chance to go to Atlanta to play Guest Programmer, invited to participate in a weeklong "Super Fan" anniversary celebration as part of an eclectic group of 20 enthusiasts, who would be great company even if we didn't share a common passion for the movies and for TCM.
All week long, fans from across the country have been introducing favorite films on TCM in conversation with the channel's wonderfully congenial and astonishingly knowledgeable host, Robert Osborne. Thursday night, it's my turn. I'm part of a lineup that gives you a sense of the range of fans that TCM attracts.
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First up is the charming Hannah Kass (my bus companion as we rode to and from the Turner studios), a high-school English teacher who works in the New York City public school system. Her pick: 1955's musical drama Young at Heart (8/7c), starring Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. She's followed by a familiar TV face: Petri Hawkins Byrd, aka Judge Judy's bailiff, a larger-than-life personality whose pick is a TCM premiere: the 1966 drama A Man Called Adam (10:15/9:15c), starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a troubled jazz trumpeter. I'm up next (at 12:15 am/11:15c; more on that below), and the night ends (at 2:30 am/1:30c) with Robert Best, a designer of collectible Barbies — I have the Mad Men set, and they're fabulous — who was a former contestant on Project Runway. He chose the stylish 1964 French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Delightfully different people, tremendously different films.
My own pick was selected from a list of 10 submitted to producers. My top choice was Chinatown, my second was Psycho or anything Hitchcock (given that I own an entire shelf of books devoted to the subject), but I was secretly gratified when they went with one of the less obvious titles on my playlist: 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful, Vincente Minnelli's lushly acid-tipped movie about moviemaking, a Citizen Kane-styled exposé of an unscrupulous movie producer (Kirk Douglas at the height of his charisma) whose story is told by those whom he seemingly betrayed on the way to the top, including Lana Turner in one of her strongest performances as an alcoholic ingénue, whose operatic meltdown behind the wheel of a car is the movie's flamboyant high point. The movie won five Oscars (including Gloria Grahame for supporting actress), the most ever for a film that wasn't even nominated for Best Picture — and its haunting score (by David Raksin) deserved one as well.
I discovered The Bad and the Beautiful as part of a college film-studies course at Indiana University memorably titled "Hollywood Gothic," and what a delight to put that exposure to good use in this bucket-list moment of describing the film on TCM as "a sour valentine to the movies" in my discussion with Osborne, who seemed to know the movie even better than I did. Anyone who truly loves movies worships TCM, and what an honor to be a part of its milestone anniversary.