Tributes to Robert Osborne and Steve Haynes

Tribute to a friend: Robert Osborne

Bob Osborne once told me why he took the job at a start-up called Turner Classic Movies. He had a competing offer from American Movie Classics, which had been in business for years, and he asked Debbie Reynolds which offer he should take.

“Turner,” she replied succinctly.


“The film library!” she said as if he was a slightly dim student who needed to understand show business reality.

There were a few places we liked to have dinner. In New York, it was the Trattoria del Arte, which is across the street from his apartment at—where else?—the Osborne. In West Palm Beach, where I live and where Bob owned a condo, it was the Rhythm Café. Wherever we were, dinner was going to be interrupted by a stream of people, many of whom happened to be famous but who became star-struck fans when they spotted his always impeccably combed crown of white hair.

Dinner always consisted of Bob, my wife, Lynn, and myself, and the topic was always the movies. We all agreed that the two-word answer to all of life’s knottiest problems was “Barbara Stanwyck,” as in “What would Barbara Stanwyck do?”

A man and an older gentleman pose for the camera.

More often than not, the answer was, “Shoot the son of a bitch,” but that’s more easily accomplished in the movies than in life. Occasionally Bob would offer up bloodcurdling backstage stories from his days as an actor or at the Hollywood Reporter. He never told me they were off the record, but he didn’t have to.

I’ve never known anybody so generous with their time and energy. If someone Bob loved had a problem, it became Bob’s problem until he had solved it. He had the world’s greatest Rolodex and thought nothing of using it to help out a writer friend. Similarly, he delighted in putting his friends together and watching them discover each other. Even though he wrote the definitive books on the Academy Awards, he was unfailingly modest about his own contributions to film history.

Remembering a friend: Steve Haynes, Cinevent, co-founder
In the beginning, there were three: John Baker, John Stingley, and Steve Haynes. They formed the triumvirate that created and ran Cinevent, the movie convention in Columbus, Ohio, that has taken place over Memorial Day weekend for half a century.

I was about 16 when I began attending and met Steve, and he was then as he always was – pear-shaped, smart, mellow to the point of avuncular, and unflappable. For the next 15 years, I attended Cinevent religiously, gorging on movies and a trading room full of posters, stills, and films.

It was at Cinevent where I first began worshipping at the church of Douglas Fairbanks, Cinevent where I first saw “A Woman of Paris” in print so dark it could have starred Paul Robeson rather than Adolphe Menjou, Cinevent where I began the joyous task of watching absolutely everything so that I would have a base of knowledge on which to base the books I was going to write.

And then, I moved to Florida and stopped going. A new life happened, and the flow of my old life was disrupted. It was about 12 years ago that I woke up one morning and decided to go to Cinevent again.

The beauty part was that nothing had changed, not really. John and Steve were still smoothly running things, the films were still a mixture of the famous and the hopelessly obscure, the trading room had actually gotten bigger, and the hotel was still a pit—collectors think nothing of paying thousands for a one-sheet but bridle at $150 for a hotel room.

Steve Haynes died yesterday (April 21, 2015). John Baker had retired to Florida years earlier and eventually died. John Stingley died five years ago. Baker was quite elderly, but neither John nor Steve was. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise—to put it in the mildest terms possible. Collectors are not known for their rigorous health regimens. After John Stingley died, Steve carried on, running the convention by himself with the help of his son Michael.

In retrospect, I can see that Steve and I had a classic film nerd relationship—we communicated mostly during the convention, with a very occasional email. He never invited me to his house, and I never invited him to mine.

So the friendship had very strict parameters, but it was true and, at least on my end, surprisingly deep. We had shared our youth, so we had a precious, irretrievable past in common. Besides that, we saw films, ancient and modern, in much the same way.