On June 8, 1950, Robert Osborne stood before his graduating class in Everett High School’s auditorium. He delivered a commencement speech titled “Youth Views the Schools.”
It wouldn’t be the last time he would talk to a big audience. Osborne, who moved to Everett from Colfax in 1948, became a TV actor, an official chronicler of the Academy Awards, and most notably the cultured host of Turner Classic Movies.
Osborne died Monday at his New York City home. He was 84.
Neither The New York Times nor Los Angeles Times obituaries mention Everett, although both note that Osborne’s love of movies dated back to his early days in Colfax, an Eastern Washington town surrounded by wheat fields. Yet long before Osborne was a courtly king of cinematic trivia on the TCM cable network, he was a talented student at Everett High.
According to the 1950 Nesika, Everett High’s yearbook, Osborne was part of the Torch Honor Society and winner of a Voice of Democracy contest. He was an Everett High band member, involved in the Square Dance Club, and performed in a school operetta and the Christmas pageant.
“In high school we called him Bob,” said Kay Larson, a 1950 Everett High graduate whose maiden name was Smith. She kept in touch with Osborne through the years, and in 2009 had lunch with him in New York.
Back in high school, Larson said, “my future husband and I were very close with Bob.” They all went to movies at the Everett Theatre, to football games and the Gull’s Nest, once a hangout for Everett High students in downtown Everett. Larson now lives in Rancho Mirage, California. Her late husband, Durmont Larson, died in 2008.
“We all went to the University of Washington,” said Larson, recalling Osborne’s habit in college of jotting what he learned about movies into a little notebook.
“He was just like he was when you saw him on TCM — warm and compassionate, with a certain amount of seriousness,” Larson said. After her husband died, she traveled to New York with friends. Larson sent Osborne an email about her upcoming trip. “He wrote right back,” she said.
Osborne took her to lunch at New York’s famed Russian Tea Room. “We had a wonderful visit,” she said.
Larry O’Donnell, a 1955 Everett High graduate who went on to a career with the Everett School District, said Osborne’s father, Robert E. Osborne, was principal of North Junior High after coming from Colfax. He later became the first principal at Evergreen Junior High, now Evergreen Middle School. O’Donnell was teaching at Evergreen when the elder Osborne died in 1961.
“His dad was a little concerned that his son went off to Hollywood,” said O’Donnell, who never met the man who became TCM’s popular host. “We were both commencement speakers at Everett High, but there was just enough age difference that we didn’t know each other,” O’Donnell said.
After graduating from the UW with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1954, Osborne served in the U.S. Air Force. By the late 1950s, he was in Hollywood. He signed a contract with Desilu Productions, owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. A photo in the Nov. 26, 1958, Everett Herald showed Osborne in a scene from the NBC series “The Californians.” In 1962, he played a banker’s assistant in “The Beverly Hillbillies” pilot episode.
In a 2013 Los Angeles Times interview, Osborne said it was Ball who suggested he give up acting for writing. He authored and co-authored many books, among them “85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.”
Janet Holloway, a retired Washington State University nursing professor, was in Everett High’s class of 1951, a year behind Osborne. “I had a big crush on him. I don’t think he ever knew,” said Holloway, who in high school was Janet Eisenman.
She was in school plays and a talent show with Osborne. Holloway, who long ago moved to Spokane, has a copy of an Academy Awards book he gave her. Osborne also “wrote a whole page” in her Everett High yearbook, she said.
At 83, she hasn’t forgotten what was special about the classmate she knew as Bob. “He was dashing. He was good looking. He was kind, and not rough like some of the jocks were,” Holloway said.
Larson remembered Osborne’s more recent ties to the Northwest. He was one of 35 owners of the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend. The movie house shares the name of a theater in Colfax, the Rose, where Osborne watched films as a boy. Osborne was involved with the Port Townsend Film Festival, and helped bring Tony Curtis and other stars of classic movies to the event.
“I enjoyed his presence on TCM so much,” O’Donnell said. “The way he introduced the film just kind of drew you in. More than anything, he was among the best things on television.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.
Tribute on TV
Turner Classic Movies has scheduled a 48-hour tribute to its longtime host, the late Robert Osborne, March 18-19. Featured will be installments of “Private Screenings” and “Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival.” Included will be an interview in which actor Alec Baldwin talked to Osborne on his 20th anniversary with the cable network. Information: www.tcm.com/robert