Turner Classic Movies is renowned for celebrating the birthdays of Hollywood legends.
Now it marks its own birthday. On Monday (April 14) — 20 years to the day TCM debuted, and just after its fifth annual Classic Film Festival in Hollywood — the channel observes the occasion with some of its most popular attractions, including the first one it ever showed: the 1939 Oscar winner “Gone With the Wind,” the favorite movie of the man who founded TCM, Ted Turner.
Additionally, “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” will be among the cinematic “gifts” given back to TCM fans Monday.
Also a part of the day is “Twenty Classic Moments,” a new special on the original programming TCM has done. Much of that has been in the form of the recurring series “Private Screenings,” in which channel staple Robert Osborne interviews screen greats. Documentaries such as “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood” and the “A Night at the Movies” film-genre digests also have had their places.
“Twenty Classic Moments” includes — a day after TCM’s 24-hour salute to him — a sequence from the “Private Screenings” episode that featured the recently deceased Mickey Rooney. The legendary actor became so agitated while recounting a battle he had with one of his directors, the beloved Osborne recalls, “I thought he was gonna hit me!”
Also notable is a “Live From the Classic Film Festival” excerpt showcasing two-time Oscar winner Luise Rainer (“The Good Earth,” “The Great Ziegfeld”), who was 100 when she gave Osborne an on-stage interview. She couldn’t hear very well, so the host patiently waited for someone to hand him paper and a marker so he could write out the questions for her.
One of TCM’s longest-lasting franchises is “The Essentials,” the Saturday-night movie series that teams Osborne with a co-host, usually a performer active in the industry. Alec Baldwin and Rose McGowan have been among his partners, and Drew Barrymore currently is in her third season in the role.
“She’s really of today, so I didn’t think she’d care that much about old films,” Osborne tells Zap2it. “Wrong! When I met her, she seemed so pleased about it, and she was so enthusiastic about the channel.”
Another familiar face on TCM is Osborne’s fellow host Ben Mankiewicz, who introduces the “Twenty Classic Moments.” Like Barrymore, he’s a descendant of movie industry veterans including his grandfather, screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (“Citizen Kane”) … and he knows how seriously TCM devotees take the channel.
“It’s like they’re guardians of it, constantly making sure that we don’t mess it up,” Mankiewicz reflects. “It’s like we’re their elected leaders, and if you start screwing things up, they’ll throw you out. That makes the relationship different, because they’re not just fans of you; they really see you as playing a critical role in protecting something in their lives that they love.”