If Turner Classic Movies had only been endowed with films from the pre-1948 MGM library, it would have been the channel of cinefiles’ dreams. If it had only had the pre-1950 Warner Bros. library, it would have been a 24/7 haven for film buffs. If it had only had the RKO Pictures library, it would have been a great channel.
But thanks to the foresight of Ted Turner, TCM launched on April 14, 1994 with the keys to all three of those vaults. Sure, Turner infuriated cineastes a few years before with his campaign to colorize classic black-and-white pics (shudder), but he more than made up for that misguided effort with the gift of TCM.
Commercial free, uncut, lovingly and smartly presented movies running 24/7, along with fantastic archival material, shorts (“One-Reel Wonders”) and other carefully excavated gems — there’s nothing not to like about TCM or its primary hosts, Robert Osborne (who’s been there since day one) and Ben Mankiewicz (who’s worked there since 2003).
Even more Warner Bros. pics became available to TCM the year after its launch when Turner and Time Warner tied the knot, reuniting the Burbank studio with its celluloid heritage. (MGM/UA owned the pre-1950 WB titles by the time Ted Turner bought most of the MGM library in 1986.)
Over the years, TCM has expanded into original documentaries, the TCM Classic Film Festival (wrapping its fifth incarnation in Hollywood this weekend), cruises for classic film fanatics and its own homevid line of curated titles (even those from non-Time Warner distributors). But TCM has never strayed from its first mission of showcasing the greatest movies of all time. And for that, film lovers around the globe salute you.
TCM will mark its 20th anniversary on Monday with the 7 p.m. retrospective special “TCM: Twenty Classic Moments” and a slate of fan-favorite pics, including “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Here’s some fun facts from TCM’s history to date:
Number of movies in the TCM library: Approximately 10,000 titles at any given time.
First movie ever to air on TCM: “Gone with the Wind” (1939), which has since been shown more than 35 times.
Oldest films to air on TCM: “Annie Oakley,” “Bucking Broncho” and “Sioux Ghost Dance” — all from 1894.
Newest film to air on TCM: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)
Most frequently aired movie on TCM: “Casablanca” (1942), which has been shown more than 125 times.
Movies most often requested by TCM viewers: “The High and the Mighty” (1954), “Northwest Passage” (1937) and “The African Queen” (1951)
Number of on-air appearances by Robert Osborne: 60,570
Number of on-air appearances by Ben Mankiewicz: 10,473
Number of guest co-hosts: 88 guest co-hosts for such themed programming as “Race in Hollywood” and “The Story of Film: An Odyssey.”
Robert Osborne’s favorite interview for TCM: Kermit the Frog
Actor or actress whom Robert Osborne would most like to interview: Sophia Loren
Number of Private Screenings interview specials with Robert Osborne: 28 specials
Robert Osborne’s first Private Screenings interview: Jane Powell (originally under the title “Reel Memories”).
Robert Osborne’s favorite Private Screenings interview: Betty Hutton. “She was terribly frightened, but totally honest and it ended up being a great lesson about the dark side of stardom,” Osborne said.
(Pictured from left: Director Arthur Hiller, actresses Arlene Dahl, Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, Turner boss Ted Turner, actor Van Johnson and TCM anchor Robert Osborne in Times Square celebrating the TCM launch in 1994.)