There was a moment in the film industry where film critics were revered and respected. Among them were Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel and Leonard Maltin. Maltin was seen weekly on Entertainment Tonight for over a decade and his books on cinema (including his latest installment, ‘Starstruck’) are considered bibles for current day film enthusiasts.
After a two-year imposed break due to COVID-19, the Turner Classic Film Festival returned with a vengeance for its 13th annual celebration appropriately titled “Back to the Big Screen.” Held April 21-24 at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre complex, the recently restored Hollywood Legion Theater, the Roosevelt Hotel and El Capitan, the classic movie marathon featured nearly a hundred films and events complete with star tributes including actors Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie and Lily Tomlin; animator Floyd Norman and film historian Leonard Maltin, who was honored with the festivals Robert Osborne Award.
It goes without saying that as one of the newer critics on the scene, meeting and interviewing Mr. Maltin has been a bucket list moment. He, along with TCM Host Alicia Malone and Chaz Ebert/RoberEbert.com were among one of the first who published my reviews online and in print. So, when TCM graciously allowed myself and a handful of critics to speak with him on the very day he was being honored, I couldn’t wait to pay his kindness, generosity and support forward.
Here are some excerpts from that roundtable conversation in which he shared how his love of cinema began, so poignant career highlights and advice for future cinephiles.
Carla Renata: Of all the genres of classic film, what would you say is your favorite genre to speak about?
Leonard Maltin: Well, I guess comedy, because if we’re talking about the classic era, the modern era, not necessarily because I was weaned on Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, even Harold Lloyd to a degree. I told Sue (Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter), that I remember staying up late on a Friday night when he was on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show to promote his movie Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy. It was a 90 minute show and I sat there for an hour and 15 minutes until I finally got to see Harold Lloyd. He was also on the Steve Allen Show around the same time for the same reason, and in both cases and he brought great film clips (which got a big response from the live studio audience). But, it made me very happy to see him at the time being featured that way, and made me a little frustrated that I lived 3000 miles away and never had a chance to meet him.
Carla Renata: What advice would you have for those young, budding and diverse like myself, with aspirations to get into film criticism? Does it feel a bit that film criticism has fallen off the cliff not too much?
Leonard Maltin: Well, I think I think my advice would be to just do it. It’s never been easier. I mean, when I was self-publishing, in junior high school, we had to use this foul contraption called the mimeograph machine, which I hope never makes a comeback in the matrix.
But, you now you not only have the means, but you can reach an audience. Anybody. But if you’re good, that word will start to spread. You have to find champions, find people who will help spread the word that you exist and that you’re doing what you’re doing. That means reaching out and writing too. Reach out to people who are established for success while hoping that they like your work and will offer to lend a hand. If you’re good, people will do that.
Carla Renata: You lend a hand to me and I’ll be forever grateful. Thank you. What does it means to be honored by Turner Classic Films with the Robert Osborne Award and have it given to you by Warren Beatty?
Leonard Maltin: It means the world. There aren’t many on the same plateau as Warren Beatty. There are stars and there are legends. I mean, this is Warren Beatty. I was I was a teenager when Bonnie and Clyde came out. I saw it and was I one of those people swept up in the whole furor over it? No. No one cared about my opinion at that moment in time, but, it made a deep and lasting impression. I have followed him ever since. That happens, you know, more often than you might than you might think.
I think I told the story in the book (Starstruck) about being on the beloved Joe Franklin show in New York. Anne Baxter was a guest on that morning promoting a TV movie. We rode down like 40 floors in an elevator at our television studio in Manhattan and I couldn’t think of a thing to ask. She had just talked about All About Eve,’ and I couldn’t think of another movie she was in…not another credit. It just was the most frustrating ride. She was very nice and said, you know, kind of a breezy goodbye and walked off on her her way.
She got maybe a half a block and I said, The Magnificent Ambersons. Ten Commandments! You know, I started thinking about all these these movies that had had just evaporated in my mind. So, I called a couple of major hotels in the city on the off chance she would be registered under her real name and I could maybe, you know, follow up and make an appointment to interview her. Didn’t work….lol
Leonard Maltin and I do have the gift of sharing a fantabulous story in common. Like him, Lord knows I got a million of them! If you have not had the opportunity to check out Starstruck grab a copy wherever books are sold online – you will not be disappointed. In the meantime, you can catch Mr. Maltin and his daughter Jessie Maltin on Instagram or holla at them via Twitter at Leonard Maltin talking films and much more. Oh…and Congratulations!!!!