Apr 20, 2017

TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: Club TCM, Leonard Maltin and Dick Cavett

What a shame that Club TCM exists for only four days out of the year, a sort of Brigadoon of classic film fan hang-outs. Of course, I'd never leave if I had year-round access. Housed in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the club serves as a meeting place and event location for TCM Classic Film Festival passholders. This exclusive bit of movie lover paradise is made even more magical by the fact that it is in the hotel's Blossom Room, which was the location of the first Academy Awards banquet in 1929.

Club TCM is the location for the festival's opening and closing night parties, extended conversations with special guests and presentations like the much-loved Hollywood Home Movies program. It is also a popular gathering place for passholders, with a bar, lots of plush seating and decorations ranging from custom murals and movie posters to photographs and memorabilia. It's one of the best places at the festival for chance encounters with celebrities, in addition to being a good setting for meeting other attendees.

I spent a lot more time in Club TCM this year because I skipped a couple of programming blocks in order to relax and soak up the high-spirited festival atmosphere. In spending more time there, I came to appreciate how much this space brings to the festival experience.

Debbie's Good Mornin' costume
Each year the club is decorated to honor the festival theme and special guests. The 2017 set-up was a bit poignant, because despite the comedy theme, this has been a particularly bittersweet year for classic film fans, partly due to the passing of Debbie Reynolds and TCM host Robert Osborne. Reynolds was honored with a display of three of her costumes, one her famous sweater and skirt combo from the Good Mornin' number in Singin' in the Rain (1952), the other two a pair of glittering gowns she wore in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). Appropriately enough, nearly all of the rest of the d├ęcor was in tribute to Osborne, to whom the festival was also dedicated.

That's Robert O. in the back, standing next to a seated Anne Bancroft
A wall of sticky notes was set up next to the club's doors for fans to write their tributes to Osborne. TCM will gather these into a book for his family. The walls were also full of photos from the host's favorite movies, including All About Eve, Sunset Blvd and the favorite that always delighted me: This is Spinal Tap. I was most moved by the inclusion of Osborne in the custom photo mural that covered the back wall of the club. The work featured stars from many of the films on the festival schedule sprawled across an elegant room, most of them comically in various stages of undress. Osborne stands in the back, with that familiar welcoming, serene look on his face.

In addition to having fun catching up with friends and meeting other passholders, I attended a pair of fascinating special events at Club TCM this year:

Leonard Maltin

The last afternoon of the festival I attended the Leonard Maltin Q&A at the club. While I had seen Maltin introduce several films at previous festivals, I'd never had the opportunity to see him speak about his own career and cinema in general. For a session like this to truly work, the questions have got to be good, fortunately that was the case here; the audience gave Maltin many ideas worth discussing.

Maltin's bubbly daughter Jessie took on some of the microphone duties, adding interesting insights about her father. She told the audience about his shortest review, which was actually accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. It was his response to the film Isn't It Romantic? His response: "No". At one point she also introduced his wife, and her mother Alice, who in answer to a question asked of Leonard informed the crowd that of course she was interested in movies.

It's nice to be able to watch presentations on the screens at the back of the room if you can't snag a seat

The critic shared that he rarely watched a film more than two times to review it and, "that I shouldn't have to." He also spoke at length about the way he approached compiling his famous movie guides in a world without the Internet and IMDb. I don't think he gets enough credit for how much he has contributed to the preservation of film history by laboriously researching titles to be sure he had his facts right and also insisting that not only the stars, but also directors and others who contributed to these productions were acknowledged in his books.

I love the book Our Gang: The Life and Times of the Little Rascals, which Maltin co-wrote with Richard Bann, and for years I'd wanted to ask him what it was like to talk to Matthew "Stymie" Beard, my favorite member of the ever-evolving cast of characters in that series. While I didn't think that would be an interesting question to ask in front of the crowd, when I found out the critic would be taking more questions one-on-one at the end of the presentation, I grabbed the chance to finally ask him about it.

As it turned out, it was Bann who spoke with Beard for the book and Maltin had never met him. I failed to hide my disappointment, so he told me that Dickie Moore adored Beard and that he'd enjoyed interviewing the Rascals he did meet so much that he'd stayed in touch with several of them, which I found pretty charming.

In my excitement to talk to Maltin, I sort of butted into the conversation he was having with the guy who asked a question before me (sorry guy). He'd asked Leonard what he thought of the live action production of Beauty and the Beast. His response: it left him cold because the animated objects didn't have the same range of emotion as human actors or full animation. For weeks I had wondered why this perfectly lovely movie had appeared so bland to me; that observation was a revelation and I couldn't help telling him how grateful I was to finally understand my own reservations.

I was delighted that a couple of my friends took photos of me talking to Maltin. It hadn't occurred to me at all to commemorate the moment. I was just excited to talk to this kind-hearted, thoughtful man who possesses such an astounding wealth of knowledge. It's nice to have something to remind me that moment was real:

Listening to Mr. Maltin and loving every moment. (Photo credit: @materialgirl850)

Dick Cavett

As I wrote in my TCMFF stars post, of all the talk shows I've watched over the years, Dick Cavett's is the only one where I'll watch episodes over and over, as if I am listening to a favorite piece of music. That's why I was so excited to hear him speak with Illeana Douglas in Club TCM, after the Maltin program. How amazing to see these two within an hour of each other.

Cavett is 80, and looks and acts like he's about 60. In his appearance and book signing, he seemed to have endless energy for telling stories and spending time with his fans. The host and writer handled having the spotlight to himself with ease, keeping the audience laughing throughout the interview, sharing stories about his career and the celebrities he's known over his long career. He got his biggest laugh sharing that one of his early successes was writing an introduction for the Jack Paar Show in which the host would say, "Ladies and gentlemen, what can I say about my next guest, except here they are, Jayne Mansfield!" You could tell he'd told that story many times and for good reason.

My full TCMFF 2017 coverage is here.

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