It was a special occasion, April 23, 2022, and an honor, to be among the writers, all drawn to TCM Classic Film Festival 2022 by a shared interest in Hollywood history, and all in admiration of the modest gentleman at the end of a long table — he who wrote the film bible, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.
Leonard Maltin, whose admirable career as a professional movie maven spans books, journalism, television and radio, first published his three-inch-thick compendium of synopses and reviews in September 1969, with annual updates. A workaholic who nonetheless radiates a mellow mood, Maltin, who is as sweet and kind as he is smart and accomplished, would later that day be honored as the third-ever recipient of TCM’s Robert Osborne Award. In a neat role reversal not lost on anyone, presenting Maltin with his award would be Warren Beatty.
But we get ahead of ourselves. Sipping a Coca-Cola (No ice! instructed his work partner, his daughter Jessie), Maltin withstood a peppering of questions from all over the map, a format he seemed to enjoy as sport. He free associated because … he could! Probably a zillion kids, even those growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey, as did Maltin, could utter the words, “I watched cartoons every day — and never tired of it.” In his day a rare film critic to offer unabating advocacy for animated film as an art form, Maltin opened the chatter with cartoons. He then switched to describing his yen for dance films. A favorite? The “endless joy and fascination” for the filmed dance numbers of Busby Berkeley, he said. He shared an amusing memory of attending a tribute to Mary Poppins (1964) at the Motion Picture Academy and hearing choreographers Dee Dee Wood and Marc Breaux openly admit, “We stole everything from Michael Kidd.” Maltin also referenced a connoisseur item, “Shine On Harvest Moon,” improbably danced by Laurel and Hardy.
Maltin praised the founding host of Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne (1932-2017) whose name is attached to the award Maltin would receive later that day. (Prior recipients include Kevin Brownlow and Martin Scorsese.) “Robert was the best ambassador to classic Hollywood,” Maltin said. “He was the right guy [for the job] in his look, his bearing, his manner. He was not a plastic corporation creation. And I loved the fact that he lived in a building with his name on it.”
On comedy: “I was weaned on Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd. Harold was on Johnny Carson show when I was a kid, and I stayed up all ninety minutes to see him.”
On receiving his award from Warren Beatty: “It means the world to me. There are not many on the same plateau as Warren Beatty. There are stars, legends — and then there is Warren Beatty. I was swept up in the furor of Bonnie and Clyde (1968).”
Maltin has always juggled. When asked to identify his “real’ identity, whether more a professor of film at USC (he is), film critic, film historian, or a writer, Maltin lost no time in replying: “I’m a writer — that’s who I am.”
Around the table, one felt a frisson of pride in hearing that.
artsmeme has covered every TCM Fest since inception. Peruse our coverage here.
photos: courtesy turner classic movies, christy putnam