#TCMFF 2014 Highlights – the stars

I imagine every single TCM and classic film fan that attended this years TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) is having as difficult time as I am reconciling the fact it is already a week past.  The four-day event, which we all looked forward to since last April seems a blur, while at the same time was so replete with special moments that I can barely put my thoughts together to create one cohesive recap of the weekend.  So, this is likely to be the first of several “recap” posts that will appear on this blog in the coming week or so, reflections of me and my experience in Hollywood, where – as I vowed – I walked like a queen among the other kings and queens on the cloud of passion and adoration we have for our classics.

I am kicking off the coverage with a look at what most of us can only get at TCMFF.  That is, an opportunity to get up close and personal to some of the stars we’ve adored throughout our lives.  So here, placed in the order in which I encountered and admired, is a recounting of a few of the reasons why TCMFF 2014 exceeded my expectations – even before it officially began.

The movies - the stars that bring us together
Ready for their close-up

Wednesday, April 9

About a week prior to the start of TCMFF a group of about 50 social media types, specifically followers and enthusiasts of @TCM, were invited to a special social event by Noralil Fores who manages social media for the network.  Needless to say I was (and am) honored to have been included on a list referred to as “Fest Social Crew 2014.”

In any case, the “tweetup,” which took place in Sadie’s Kitchen and Lounge proved a wonderful way to kick off TCMFF by providing an intimate couple of hours during which many of us who are active on twitter were given the opportunity to spend time socializing before the festival madness began.  Aside from the “social crew,” many of whom I now call friends, others in attendance were Noralil who as hostess ensured everyone was at ease and really enjoyed themselves, TCM Sr. Writer/Producer Scott McGee (@Bbunny1940), Ultimate Fan Contest winner Tiffany Vasquez (@filmiliarface), actress/writer/producer, Illeana Douglas (@Illeanarama) and one of the two handsome hosts of TCM, Ben Mankiewicz (@BenMank77).  Right off the bat I got the opportunity to take a picture with two of the people I most wanted to take a picture with:


I normally don’t like to share pictures of myself, but honestly – how cool is that!?  And in case you’re not aware of the down-to-Earth loveliness of both Illeana and Ben, there were several attempts to take this picture because the flash on my camera would not come on.  In other words, they stood there for quite some time through several attempts so I could get the picture.  So, THANK YOU!

Thursday, April 10

The first official day of TCMFF 2014 kicked off with the press conference during which both Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz spoke about their festival expectations, the network’s fan base and answered questions from the media representatives in attendance.  Particularly interesting were Osborne’s comments on how easy his job is, “it’s not like we’re asking people to take medicine” he said referencing people affection for the network and the film’s it features.  He described his role as the face of the TCM brand as including it all from nurse as so many fans describe how TCM helps them through depression to how he himself is brought so much joy from being a part of the TCM family, in which the fans play a major role.

Image courtesy of TCM
Image courtesy of TCM

Osborne also went on to talk about his career including stories of his relationships with Jane Darwell and Lucille Ball and the impact they, along with Leila Rogers had on his career.  Among other topics he touched upon were how he’s so often surprised by the number of young people who attend the festival each year, how fans trust the programming both on TCM and what is scheduled to screen at the festival proven by the fact the passes sell out almost instantly, well before schedules are announced.  Mr. Osborne also commented on his personal sense of style, stating he actually has none.  Also commented on by the host is how TCM made attempts to get Olivia De Havilland to take part not only in the TCMFF this year, but also in what would be a special Private Screening with the legend and how her declining health prevented her appearance in both.  Finally, and probably what I most enjoyed was Mr. Osborne’s response to what makes classic films so special.  Here are snippets of his commentary… “The studio system helped…but the world has changed.  There are no heroes anymore.  The family rituals central to lives then added structure.  The era was special.  There was also a great respect for writers back then evident in how authors’ names often appeared above film titles.  We went to the movies to see dynamic people.  Today we want reality and accept no artifice.  There’s no glamour.”  Although, it’s important to note that on many occasions Mr. Osborne has stated he doesn’t necessary classify a classic solely by year.  He mentioned This is Spinal Tap, which was screened at the festival this year, as one of his favorites, a film that never fails to make him laugh.

Image ourtesy of TCM
Image courtesy of TCM

Following Robert Osborne at the press conference was Ben Mankiewicz who, like Osborne recounted how he began his stint at TCM, “No doubt my family name was a small mark in my favor,” but ultimately it was simply meant to be and he was a perfect fit for where the network wanted to go.  Not to mention the obvious, his love of classic film.  In response to a question, Mankiewicz mentioned the fact he makes it a point to separate his political views from all things TCM because the network and festival are about what bring us all together, having said that he mentioned how interesting it is that many of the classics were about politics or made political statements.

Also like Osborne, Ben discussed how often he’s taken aback by people who share stories of the difference TCM makes in their lives and discussed times during which he was completely starstruck and nervous during interviews.  He mentioned Max von Sydow, Peter Bogdanovich and Jerry Lewis in particular.  His biggest hope for the festival is that young and future filmmakers will be inspired.

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After the press conference a group of us headed over to the historic Musso and Frank Grill for lunch.  It was a Thursday, which means chicken pot pie day at the famous eatery.  Apparently Musso’s pot pie should not be missed.  Of course I had a tuna sandwich.  Anyway, after lunch I hurried back to the Roosevelt Hotel lobby where Robert Osborne was about to conduct an interview with Mel Brooks.

For those of you not familiar with the TCMFF, one of the special attractions not included on the official festival schedule are interviews conducted of festival celebrity guests either by Mr. Osborne or by Mr. Mankiewicz.  These are featured on TCM throughout the weekend or are scheduled as part of special tributes scheduled on the network in the future as is the case with the Brooks interview, which will be part of the network programming in tribute to Brooksfilms, a six-film mini festival scheduled to air on TCM on two consecutive evenings, May 19 and 20.  Brooks will join Robert Osborne in presenting the six films, which are among his more “serious” movies produced by Brooksfilms, his production company.  Four of the movies to air on TCM star Brooks’ late wife, the fabulously talented Anne Bancroft and will include the TCM premiere of To Be Or Not To Be from 1983.  I should mention the Brooks mini-festival is in conjunction with the upcoming release of a special 8-film set from Brooksfilms.

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Image courtesy of TCM
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And he smiled at me that “Oh it’s good to be the king” smile

Mel & bob

The last part of the Mel Brooks interview centered on Blazing Saddles, which was screened at the festival to commemorate its 40th anniversary.  I didn’t attend that screening, but everyone who did had a blast.  And, by the way, I wasn’t able to figure out how to share it here, but I managed to get a short video of Mr. Brooks singing the theme song to Blazing Saddles during the interview, which was a dream.

I hope you can tell from my comments and/or images what unique opportunities these interviews pose for fans to get up close to the stars.  They may even result in an impromptu appearance on TCM.

Image courtesy of TCM

After laughing with Mel Brooks, which was all I expected and more, I attended the event that officially opened Club TCM for the weekend, “TCM at 20:  Inspired by the Classics, an Exclusive Exhibition of Celebrity Art at Club TCM.”  Four of the featured artists whose work was on display all weekend were in attendance:  Charles Busch, Bruce Eric, Jane Seymour and Kim Novak, all introduced by Robert Osborne.

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Image courtesy of TCM
The “TCM at 20: Inspired by Classics” panel in Club TCM.  (Image courtesy of TCM)
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Jane Seymour discussing her contribution to the exhibit, “Inspired by the Classics”
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Kim Novak appreciating the appreciation of those in attendance
Kim Novak
Kim Novak
JANE pics
Seymour admiring the exhibit. Image courtesy of TCM

By the way, to get an idea of the sort of schedule Robert Osborne keeps at TCMFF know that just moments after introducing the panel of artists at Club TCM he was working the red carpet prior to the opening night screening of Oklahoma!

Friday, April 11

I have no pictures to share with regards to celebrity encounters on this day.  However, thanks to my being preoccupied with tweets I happened to take the elevator in the Roosevelt going the wrong way and shared the ride with Richard Dreyfuss.  Our encounter was brief and included my taking several deep breaths so I wouldn’t lose my cool before I shook his hand.  Mr. Dreyfuss was charming, noticed my nervousness and directed a very sweet Dreyfuss-style salute as he got off the elevator.  You know, as happens to me often.  NOT!

Saturday, April 12

My next celebrity sighting was also in the lobby of the Roosevelt during Ben Mankiewicz’ interview of Jerry Lewis.  I haven’t much more than the images to share about this “happening” because I rushed off to get in line for the next screening – the one I most looked forward to.  But it was great to get a few pictures of Lewis to share with my mother who – as I’ve mentioned – is a huge fan.

Image courtesy of TCM
Image courtesy of TCM

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Then the moment that I most looked forward to at this year’s TCMFF was upon me – when I would occupy the same space as Maureen O’Hara introducing one of my favorite films of all time, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley.  Nearly 1,000 people stood in line for some time to get a glimpse of Ms. O’Hara and I was one of the lucky ones to get a low number for the screening.

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With friends – Annmarie, Coleen, Kellee, Nora and others waiting to see Maureen O’Hara introduce How Green Was My Valley. That’s my hand holding #9.

When Robert Osborne introduced Maureen O’Hara prior to the the start of How Green I don’t think there was a dry eye in the El Capitan Theater.  With tissue in hand the legend wiped away tears of her own as a result of the huge ovation and affection that poured from every single person in attendance.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, one I’ll never forget.

My favorite moment of that brief interview with Maureen was when Osborne asked her about John Ford.  Her response was, “I thought you wanted to talk about me?!”

maureen at HOW GREEN
Image courtesy of TCM

Sunday, April 13

I started this day rushing off to catch the screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood, which was fantastic and I’ll discuss the screenings in a subsequent post.  But because I ran late that morning I saw the movie without having had breakfast, which turned out to be lucky for me.

As Robert Osborne concluded his pre How Green Was My Valley interview with Maureen O’Hara the day before he mentioned he’d also be interviewing the legend the following day at the Roosevelt Hotel.  Immediately many of us adjusted our schedules, which unfortunately meant we’d miss out on a few key film screenings.  But man oh man did the decision pay off.

After Robin Hood I went straight to the Roosevelt to have brunch before the “Judy Garland: A Legendary Career” presentation in Club TCM and while waiting for my sandwich in 25 Degrees Margaret O’Brien walked into the eatery accompanied by two gentlemen one of which was Joe Luft, Judy Garland’s son.  I gathered the nerve but didn’t quite gather myself.  I approached the table where they sat to say hello and lost it, literally blubbering the few words I could manage to which Margaret O’Brien said, “no need to cry, dear.”  Can you imagine that?!  I’m not even a crier, but it was too much to fathom – being one degree of separation on two counts from the great Judy Garland.  Mon Dieu!

Just a short time later after composing myself I ran into (or followed is more like it) Margaret O’Brien in the TCM Shop and she was lovely to agree to a photo.

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Then – more magic.  In the lobby of the Roosevelt once more for Robert Osborne’s interview with Maureen O’Hara.

I can’t quite remember how long the interview was because I was in an alternate state of awareness.  But there were several enjoyable moments of glee I do remember, particularly those during which the charmingly biting O’Hara, Irish humor came through.  For instance, she told Osborne, “my aren’t you nosey” when he asked her how many films she’d made, wondered how in hell he knew that she’d made a total of five films with John Wayne and said, in no uncertain terms, it was not pleasant having to kiss leading men she didn’t like.  During much of the interview O’Hara spoke about Charles Laughton who discovered her, became her mentor and for whom she’s maintained affection and respect.  She considers herself lucky to have begun her career learning lessons from Laughton.

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This is my favorite of all the pictures I took at TCMFF this year. Note the affection and admiration with which Robert is looking at Maureen.

We waited nearly three hours for her arrival and were asked to refrain from taking pictures until after the interview was over at which time Maureen O’Hara would turn around and allow for photos .  Well, she did much more than that prompting for audience questions herself just as Robert Osborne was ready to bid her a fond farewell for the day.

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O’Hara’s grandson holds the microphone as she answers questions
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Waving to her fans

Right after the Maureen O’Hara interview I stepped on over toward Oz and the last screening of TCMFF 2014.  I could hardly feel the brick road under my feet, yellow or otherwise.  While I maintain that TCMFF is all about the movies these close encounters with the classic stars are sublime.  Even magical.  More so as we are all hyper-aware that we have so few classic stars left amongst us.

I’d be remiss not to mention the other stars I met and spent time with throughout TCMFF this year, the ones that truly made this event unforgettable.  I hope I don’t sound mawkish, but these are the stars of my heart.  We spend all year exchanging thoughts and opinions on the classics on social media, we watch movies together via Twitter, but in most cases I know them personally for a total of days.  Yet, they are my friends and in several instances have become family.  We’ve forged such connections that I can’t imagine enjoying being close to the likes of Maureen O’Hara without their being close by.  I dedicate this post to these people – the friends who welcomed me so warmly that it makes my heart soft and gooey and I am not the soft and gooey type.  I think you know who you are and I am forever grateful.  By way of laughter and tears and unbridled enthusiasm and passion you made my TCMFF 2014.

More on TCMFF 2014 to come.

12 thoughts

  1. What a gem you are,Aurora, for everyone who was there and those of us who weren’t.
    You are such a great writer. Thank you so much for sharing your Festival experience.

  2. Sheesh Aurora, you made me tear up. Beautiful post. I love how you grabbed those opportunities to connect with the stars!

  3. I totally loved this, Aurora, and it brought back such nice memories. Your conclusion was wonderful and I’m sure the thought is reciprocated by many, myself included.

    Best wishes,

  4. Loved your post on the Festival, I was also there and unfortunately didn’t get a chance to meet you, but did get the chance to meet and speak to Maureen O’Hara in the lobby of the El Capitan theater which was an unexpected treat! Thanks for the memories of a wonderful time!

  5. Lovely post, Aurora! You know, I felt pretty confident in my choices at the time, but reading everyone else’s recaps now, I realize just how many AMAZING events were going on at the same time! Great to meet you in person, albeit briefly 🙂

  6. Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you could be a great author.
    I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come
    back someday. I want to encourage you to continue your great posts, have a nice day!

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