A while back I wrote an essay comparing the two primary classic movie channels on cable/satellite, Do classic movies need to be censored? AMC versus TCM. In the article I talked about former AMC host Bob Dorian and lamented his departure from the channel which, I still believe, was the beginning of its downfall.
You can imagine my delight when a few months later I noticed I’d gotten a comment from Melissa Dorian, AMC host Bob Dorian’s daughter, saying that her dad had read my piece and loved it.
Sweet! I emailed her back and asked if Bob would be willing to answer some interview questions. After much back and forth, and even more time passing, we completed our email interview…
Were you ever in the movies, Bob?
“Yes, I’ve been in the movies at least once a week from the time I was about seven. But I’ve appeared in very few. Woody Allen’s Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Hollywood Ending; an award winning independent Civil War film called Strike the Tent which also featured Mickey Rooney, Tipi Hedren and Amy Redford.
According to some cult film enthusiasts, my greatest achievement was The Evil Dead (directed by Sam Raimi, long before his association with Spiderman) “I was the voice on the tape that launched a reign of terror on all those poor unsuspecting teenagers.â?
What makes a film a Classic?
Classics are films you want to see over and over again. Timeless films. Films that worked in the past, still work today and will continue to work in the future.
How old are you?
Bob Dorian as a young actor
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. once told me a story about how he and Cary Grant flipped a coin to decide who should play which part when they were making Gunga Din. When they were flipping that coin… I was five. [Note: the entertaining Gunga Din came out in 1939 so.. 1938 minus five years = 1933]
How many movies do you watch in a week?
About six or eight; mostly on TCM. For the most part, I don’t care for AMC’s erratic library and those films I might choose to watch are ruined by commercials. [amen, brother!]
How did AMC come about?
Back in the early eighties, I was called upon to play Dracula in a TV spot for an early video game. It was a very long two day shoot, with most of my time spent in a tight coffin filled with way too much smoke. Lunchtime usually lapsed into long conversations about all those great old movies the producer and I enjoyed when we were growing up.
In one of those odd-ball coincidences that seem to happen from time to time (for those of us who are honest enough to admit accident over talent), I had a call from this same producer about two years later. “Norm Blumenthal,” the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Remember me? We did those Dracula spots together.” (How could I forget? My lungs still hurt.) There’s a new channel called AMC”, he said, “and they’re looking for an announcer to introduce old movies. I told them what they needed was an actor not an announcer, someone who grew up with these films. Would you be interested?â?
Among the people they were looking at, at the time were two Broadway actors, a well known TV film critic and a few others who were more involved in writing as a profession. After “call backs” I heard the powers that be had been thinking of pairing the TV critic and me as a sort of Siskal and Ebert duo. Interestingly, one of the AMC execs said “Wait a minute. The critic might not be too crazy about some of the films we’ve brought in. This guy Dorian likes everything!” That was it.
What are your favorite films and why?
There are just too many films, and too many reasons why I like them to answer that in 500 words or less. But, I’ll give it a try.
Let’s start with Citizen Kane. Not so much the story, but the way it was told, by a 25 year-old genius who’d never before directed. Every scene includes a subtle special effect the audience never sees. Greg Toland’s deep focus photography. Hereâs a question for youâ¦ If Kane he was alone when he died, who heard him utter those final words?
Casablanca: one of the greatest love stories ever told. They were writing the script one day at a time; no one knew where it was going. Bogart hated it. Bergman thought it was silly. Nobody knew how it was going to end. That famous last line, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” didn’t start out that way. The original was “Louis, I might have known you’d mix your patriotism with a little larceny.”
Fred and Ginger movies: The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat and Swing Time are particular favorites. [I'll vote for Swing Time given that short list]
All About Eve. Suffering from a cracked vertebra, Claudette Colbert was replaced by Bette Davis for the role of Margo Channing. I can’t imagine anyone else ever playing that part.
Pygmalion: Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller (’38) Several scenes, not in Shaw’s original, found their way into Learner and Lowe’s 50’s classic My Fair Lady. [how can anyone not like this wonderful film?]
Singin’ in the Rain: the all-too-true story of the shift from the silent screen to talkies. Gene Kelly’s classic title song will live forever and Donald O’Connor’s Make ‘em Laugh number, I think, is one of the greatest comedy song and dance routines ever put on film. [this is also one of my kids favorite films, as it happens]
Twentieth Century: classic Barrymore.
Dinner At Eight: Marie Dressler has one of the most memorable closing lines in Hollywood history: Jean Harlow: I was reading this nutty kind of bookâ¦ this guy says that machinery is going to take the place of everything.” Marie Dressler (eying her up and down) replies, “Oh my dear, that’s something you need never worry about.”
Others in no particular order: The Wizard of Oz, His Girl Friday, Bringing up Baby, The Day The Earth Stood Still, the original Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, King Kong, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gunga Din, It’s a Wonderful Life, Nightmare Alley, You Can’t Take It With You, 42nd Street, The House On 92nd Street, Easter Parade, Little Miss Marker, Meet Me In St. Louis, Rear Window, Spellboundâ¦
Sunset Boulevard (Gloria Swanson – No one could have come close to that performance), Cyrano De Bergerac and Destination Moon.
Dr. Strangelove (the negative is gone!), The Graduate and The Producers.
The Sting, Godfathers I and II, Jaws, Network (an unfortunately accurate prophecy of what the media was to become), All the President’s Men, Manhattan, Annie Hall, and Mrs. Henderson Presents.
My Favorite Year, Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose (You can see I’m a Woody Allen fan)
Bullets Over Broadway
TCM host Robert Osborne
Do you know TCM host Robert Osborne?
Like yourself, I admire what Robert Osborn does. I’ve never met him but I’m sure we’d have a lot in common. The major difference between us is that Osborne is a film historian. I’m hardly that. What I am is an actor and a fan. I love good films (and a lot of bad ones), and I know a lot of great stories.
On a more theoretical note, do you think we should we separate the artists’ work from their personal lives?
Yes, I think one has nothing do with the other. But, when the artist tries to impose his or her personal views on the public at large, I see a problem. People have a tendency to give celebrities far more credibility then they deserve. The reason we see them on product endorsements is because their influence affects millions. The truth is, celebrities don’t know any more than you or I do; often they know a lot less. The problem is we believe them – especially if they’re on television. Beal said it best:
We deal in illusions man, none of it is true. But you, sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creedsâ¦ We’re all you know! You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You DO – whatever the tube tells you, you dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even have sex like the tube; this is – mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing. WE – are the illusion!
Do you believe that? â I do.
Many thanks to both Melissa and Bob Dorian for this fascinating interview. Now to get Robert Osborne to answer the same questions…