Lovers of old movies are poignantly aware simultaneously of the immortality and fragility of both the images and the people who make them. So we feel a tug, knowing this might be our last chance to see this person or that, and yet after they pass away there they are, still on the screen, impossibly young again, though we have watched them age before our eyes.

 

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 14: Official biographer of the Academy Awards Robert Osborne poses for a photo at the 81st Annual Academy Award nominated short film screening at the Academy Theatre at Lighthouse International on February 14, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

In our particular vexed time, this age of anxiety and cruelty, Robert’s Osborne’s passing has placed him once again center stage—he had been sidelined by illness for the last couple of years. I see him with fresh eyes, and in our current time of brutality, pointless cruelty, and nihilism, Robert’s extraordinary temperament shines even more brightly. As our discourse tumbles ever lower, as we struggle against drifting or sprinting into simmering rage and ever more aggressive thoughts and words, watching Robert interviewing wonderful figures from the studio era is a balm for our raw senses and hearts.

There are a lot of adjectives Robert brings to mind: nonjudgmental, upbeat, thoughtful, protective, drily witty, patient, good listener, kind, curious, elegant, courtly, gracious. 

So Robert is gone, but we have all our memories of him through the years. For many of us he has been a companion in our solitary lives, in our homes at all hours. Watching him interviewing and being interviewed throughout TCM’s 48-hour tribute weekend was very emotional—I was awed, filled with grief, and massively grateful. He is inimitable, irreplaceable, in so many ways.

But in this moment what strikes me is his courtliness, his graciousness. It is a sweet sound in a cacophonous time. With so much at stake, these qualities may be too subtle, too delicate to register. But spending a weekend with Robert was balm to my restive spirit. 

While we’re struggling to save the republic, let’s remember Robert’s timeless graciousness. It may be beyond our reach just now—in my lifetime, civilization has never felt so fragile and unstable. But the graciousness Robert embodied is as central to civilization as laws and policies. 

When Robert interviewed Betty Hutton or Kim Novak, his kindness filled the studio, and these shy, wounded people felt safe enough to reveal themselves to him because they knew he was a friend. All of Robert’s other great qualities would distinguish him, but what makes him completely inimitable is that special grace—his kindness, his love.

So I’m going to try to remember that and aspire to it in the day-to-day encounters of my somewhat less glamorous life. It was Robert’s gift to us—the least we can do is pay it forward. 

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