Prior to my first pilgrimage out West to attend the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF) this past April, I was one of those who hoped and prayed TCM would consider setting the festival at different cities every year so more fans could attend. Like me, for instance. I hadn’t been able to go out to California in previous years due to my work schedule. Of course, by “other cities” I meant New York, my home town. After attending the TCMFF, however, I’ve changed my mind. Hollywood is perfect for TCMFF with its home base, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, being where the first Academy Awards ceremony was held and the history and proximity of the venues used to screen the films key to the entire experience. Still, us East Coasters, who can boast a rich history of film in our own right – actually, the film studios were born in our own backyard – wanted to share the joy, feel a part of the rich history of film, which is what makes TCM so important to so many of us. But, we need wait no more! Our dream of a TCM East Coast connection has arrived to the City where the Eighth Wonder of the World met his demise after an unforgettable moment of glory. Partnered with On Location Tours, TCM is launching the “TCM Classic Film Tour” in New York City on August 22 and I went on a special sneak preview with members of the press and a couple of very special attendees.
Before I get to commentary of my experience on the tour, let me start by saying I was ecstatic to see a true film icon play such a prominent role on the tour. I am referring to King Kong whose image graces the tour bus amidst a sea of red – as in red carpet! As you can see Kong cannot be missed as he prepares to make his way around the city he terrorized looking for his damsel so many years ago. Kong getting this special treatment from TCM makes me especially happy since the network failed to give the big ape a mention earlier this year when his 1933 debut (in New York City), King King, celebrated its 80th anniversary on March 7th. I was a bit miffed about the ignoring of Kong but TCM is vindicated with the beautiful image of the beast gracing the tour bus. King Kong left an indelible mark on the City and on film if one considers imitators and those he impacted, like the genius of Ray Harryhausen. A well-deserved honor and kudos to TCM for the choice in bus design!
The tour group met at Cosi on the corner of Broadway at 51st Street. We checked in and were given press releases and a tour t-shirt to commemorate the maiden TCM Classic Film Tour. As I sat waiting for word of our departure, in comes Robert Osborne and joins a lady sitting at a nearby table. A moment after he sits he turns and says hello to me, asking how I am. I respond in kind sure that what made him turn toward me was my staring a hole into him. But be that as it may, he’s gracious and lovely. The lady who sat there, by the way, was none other than Jane Powell who was joining us on the tour. What had I done to deserve this?
When time came, we were witness to the ribbon-cutting ceremony where Robert Osborne did the honors along with Ms. Powell – a perfect pair to kick-start TCM in New York.
As we boarded the bus three sailors singing “New York, New York” greeted us via clips of a classic that happens to be one of my favorites, Donen and Kelly’s, On the Town (1949).
Introduced by Dennis Adamovich, a senior player at TCM, TBS and TNT, Robert Osborne stood and welcomed us all to the tour and lauded Ms. Powell for her affection for and deep connection to TCM through the years. Then Powell stood and said a few words before we started on our way.
The tour, as it will officially start for patrons begins with a welcome clip featuring Mr. Osborne who briefly mentions the connection between New York and the movies and his favorite “New York story,” which is Woody Allen’s, Manhattan (1979).
The three-hour tour includes mentions of films from all eras – from a clip of one of the earliest footage available of mounted police on the streets of New York, through more contemporary films like those of Nora Ephron and Sidney Lumet. In that regard I think the tour has something for everyone, not just “classic film” fans. In fact, I think some classic film fans may think far too many mentions of modern classics are included in the tour. I make special note of “classic” because it seemed the theme of the tour was the definition of “classic” and the fact it is a personal distinction. Roseanne, the tour guide, who was fabulous by the way, made it a point to mention that TCM doesn’t define “classic,” they curate films and themes and allow all of us to determine what a classic film is. I’ve had enough discussions with film fans of varying seriousness to know that’s true. I mean, that the definition of “classic” varies. With that in mind, the tour does not disappoint. If I were to make one recommendation, which would serve to satisfy both die-hard movie and history buffs, it would be to include a bit more information on the tour about how the film industry started with major studios set up across the Hudson from New York City. Clips from TCM’s own Moguls and Movie Stars documentary would serve nicely as a backdrop to setting that stage or even as the main source of the story. More about classics and the classic era is never a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, as the tour proceeds through the streets of NYC, clips that correspond to each site are shown on the various screens throughout the cabin. For instance, as we approached Columbus Circle, the first official site on the tour, we saw clips from Charles Lamont’s, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950) during which the hillbilly couple takes a stroll through the Circle and another from George Cukor’s, It Should Happen to You from (1954) where we see Judy Holliday visualizing her name on a billboard, GLADYS GLOVER.
Also by Columbus Circle is the building where Christopher Reeve, as Superman visits Lois Lane on the terrace of her gorgeous apartment in Richard Donner’s 1978 film. As we made our way from Columbus Circle toward Central Park West we took a look at the subway station and newsstand featured in On the Town, a film that gets several mentions throughout the tour accompanied by clips of Ann Miller for several reasons. One, it is the first musical to ever film on location. Two, that location is NEW YORK and three, it’s fabulous! Finishing this leg are mentions and a clip of the Marshmallow Man from Ivan Reitman’s, Ghostbusters (1984) stomping his way down Broadway.
All too soon we stopped in front of Zabar’s gourmet foods, another staple in many New York films, where we were treated to a picnic lunch – a special treat for the maiden tour. The most famous passengers on the bus, Robert Osborne and Jane Powell, left us at this rest stop but took time to take pictures with whoever wanted, as well as taking time to answer questions. I managed to take pictures with each of them. They were gracious, friendly and lovely to everyone who approached them, reinforcing the TCM brand in the fact the network takes pride not only in the celebration of film, but in the passion of its fans.
I can go on and on about the many moments and sites on the tour with regard to specific clips and films they correspond to that I enjoyed or that are worth mentioning, but will make note of only a favorite few:
The Dakota – the building most famous for being the site where John Lennon was shot, has a long history of films and connections to the famous. I’ve spent many a day walking past it and staring at it from a bench from across Central Park West. The Dakota is featured prominently in films like, Roman Polanski’s, Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
Then there’s Holly Golightly’s brownstone from Blake Edwards’, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):
The 59th Street Bridge from the iconic shot featured in Allen’s, Manhattan, which also appears through a window in Gregory La Cava’s, My Man Godfrey (1936), by the way. Who knew?
And many more sites like The Plaza and Pierre Hotels, Central Park, buildings of the famous and infamous, a few of New York’s grandest museums, the New York Public Library and, of course, The Empire State Building where Kong took refuge 80 years ago.
The famous building, at one time the tallest building in the world was also featured in several other films mentioned on the tour (I don’t want to give everything away). And by the way, one of my favorite things was also some of the trivia offered that I wasn’t aware of. For instance, I didn’t know that William Wellman’s, Nothing Sacred from 1937 is the first film to show New York City in Technicolor. I happened to see a restored version of that gem last weekend at Capitolfest and it (and the City) looked wonderful. Worth mentioning also is the fact that the tour will offer trivia quizzes if traffic should be an issue and in New York it may well be on any given day, with prizes offered to those who answer quickly and correctly. We got a sampling of the questions and I knew all three so they’re not difficult.
The TCM Classic Film Tour ends at Grand Central Station, the site of many iconic films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s, North by Northwest (1959) and I’ll be damned if I didn’t actually see Cary Grant walking across the grand terminal.
As is noted on the press release announcing the launch of the TCM Classic Film Tour, this is one of several initiatives the network is planning to celebrate its 20th anniversary in April 2014. I’m thrilled to play even a small part in this “happening,” which is not so small for classic film and TCM fans in the New York area. As I mentioned at the opening of this post, we finally have something directly connected to TCM in our own backyard. Aside from having our TVs tuned to the channel 24 hours a day, that is.
As far as TCM itself goes, launching this tour is a wonderful way to grow the brand already beloved by its dedicated and passionate fans, by having a steady presence on the East coast. Hopefully, if this turns out well, the tours will be set in cities across the country. I have to extend a special THANK YOU to Lindsey who manages TCM’s social media (my new best friend) for reaching out to me about the tour’s sneak peek journey. I had a great time and am already planning a return trip along with many other TCM fans in the area – an East Coast reunion of sorts of TCMFF.
If you’re interested in booking the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City you can do so via this link. The tour costs $40 plus a $3 fee, which is a great price even without Robert Osborne along for the ride and will run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, beginning at 11:30 a.m. and lasts about three hours, as mentioned above. If you get a tour guide like Roseanne – and I believe they are all trained in classic film fare by TCM – you’re sure to enjoy yourself.
On behalf of New York and all film loving New Yorkers, I welcome TCM to this great City. It’s about time!
“This is New York, Skyscraper Champion of the World…Where the Slickers and Know-It-Alls peddle gold bricks to each other…And where Truth, crushed to earth, rises again more phony than a glass eye.” – Nothing Sacred, 1937