I started my morning bright and early for the TCM Classic Film Festival press conference with on-air hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Programming Director Charles Tabesh and TCMFF Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy. It was a fairly loose format, with Osborne and Mankiewicz taking the first two rounds individually, and then Tabesh and McGillicuddy both answering questions in the third slot. Anyone in attendance could ask a question, and it was again obvious that TCM has really done a wonderful job reaching out to both traditional media outlets as well as online ones like websites and blogs. TCM is celebrating their 20th anniversary on air, and this is also the 5th annual TCM Classic Film Festival, so many of the questions asked were about how they network has grown to become what it is today, and how the festival has become an integral branch of that.
I enjoyed hearing all four speakers. Robert Osborne was his usual charming self, and told some wonderful stories about his time working under the mentorship of Lucille Ball. Interestingly, he mentioned that in person, Lucy wasn’t naturally a funny personality, but it was Lela Rogers who first noticed her possibilities as a comedienne when Lucy was a starlet at RKO. He also mentioned how Lucy would take the young contract players working for her out to theater shows in Hollywood and to Vegas to see the Rat Pack, and getting to see acting personalities like Bette Davis on the stage was their own education. I love hearing him tell these kinds of stories because it’s so special to hear tales of Old Hollywood from someone who lived it, and who is such a wonderful historian and storyteller.
Someone asked about what guests TCM has wanted to bring to the festival, and Osborne brought up Olivia de Havilland, who he said they tried to get to the festival this year, but the reality is that traveling from Paris for the 97-year-old actress is just too difficult for her now. He also mentioned the attempts to interview her for Private Screenings, both in Paris and in the US, but unfortunately she fell sick both times.
When asked what his favorite film was, Osborne said it changes, but offered these titles: The Razor’s Edge, A Place in the Sun, Sunset Blvd. and This is Spinal Tap (which is screening at the festival this weekend).
Ben Mankiewicz was asked about interviewing celebrities at the festival, and whether or not he gets starstruck by anyone. He mentioned that Max von Sydow and Peter Bogdanovich were the names that he was intimidated to interview, but turned out to be really nice people. He also mentioned Jerry Lewis in that group, who Mankiewicz will interview on Saturday before The Nutty Professor. He mentioned that preparation for the on-camera interviews and intros is important, but especially so during the live interviews at the festival. The challenge is preparing to interview several personalities, so the timeframe to do research for a bunch of people and put things together is a lot shorter than on TV. Mankiewicz said his interviewing mindset as wanting to “make them a little uncomfortable in their seat, but not knock them off their chair.” This was offered when asked about interviewing Mickey Rooney at the TCMFF, which Mankiewicz said was his best and worst interview moment all in one session.
Mankiewicz also talked about Rooney’s appearance on the TCM Classic Cruise, where the then 91-year-old actor had to miss his last speaking session due to a small fall on the boat. Mankiewicz said the actor was apologetic and disappointed that he couldn’t finish his last scheduled talk, and that Rooney had loved being a part of the experience and interacting with the fans in this way. When asked about the actor’s legacy, Mankiewicz pointed out not only Rooney’s talent, but his magnetism and charisma that drew you to him both onscreen and off.
Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy were asked questions about what goes into the programming of both the festival and the network. Both said in this age of social media, they do listen to the fans’ feedback and evaluate what may or may not need to be changed and other suggestions. When asked about world cinema and TCM branching out from Classical Hollywood cinema, Tabesh and McGillicuddy said it’s more difficult for the festival because of space in the schedule and the difficulties of finding good prints, but the 400 films a month that need to be programmed for the channel do leave a little more room for new films to appear. TCMFF did have Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal last year when Sydow was here, and will screen Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story this weekend. Although the festival is a huge production to put on, Tabesh says it’s very rewarding when he gets a hardcore movie fan telling him they saw something they hadn’t seen, or hadn’t even heard of before and loved it.
All four mentioned the role that TCM has taken on in its fans’ lives. Robert Osborne mentioned that when the network started, he couldn’t have imagined this “nursing” aspect of the channel, but they’ve heard many stories of TCM helping people get through hard times. The TCM Classic Film Festival is something that Mankiewicz said isn’t a super profitable endeavor, but it’s a way for the network to give back to the fans. He said the fans of other networks or television shows are not invested in the brand the way TCM fans are. They care about TCM, what they show, who they hire, etc. So the festival is a way to join this big family together and mingle face-to-face.
The conference lasted about three hours and then a group of us swung by the Roosevelt Hotel to pick up our press credentials. Tonight, the movies begin, with the Opening Night screening of Oklahoma! kicking everything off. I’ll be headed to the El Capitan for The Lion King (not a TCM event but a childhood favorite of mine) and then over to the Chinese complex for Bachelor Mother.
I plan on hopefully getting updates here during the weekend, but some nights with midnight movies it may be a little insane. Please follow me on Twitter @angelnumber25 where I’ll be posting tweets and photos throughout the festival!