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May 07, 2020

Class Acts

Hollywood history is alive and well at Turner Classic Movies, whose five hosts — each a film expert extraordinaire — shine as brightly in the film firmament as the stars of the silver screen.

John Grifiths
  • Ian Spanier
  • Dave Karger

    Ian Spanier
  • Jacqueline Stewart

    Ian Spanier
  • Ben Mankiewicz

    Ian Spanier
  • Eddie Muller

    Ian Spanier
  • Alicia Malone

    Ian Spanier

The ghost of Greta Garbo may be hovering nearby in delight: all five hosts of Turner Classic Movies — dressed in glamorous 1940s-inspired duds — have gathered to commemorate the cable network's dedication to vintage flicks.

Location: The American Legion's swanky Hollywood outpost — officially, Post 43 — a private club popular with military vets and stars since 1929.

Look! There's Jacqueline Stewart — the first African American to join TCM's rotating team of film presenters — in a silver-sequined gown, recalling movie siren Lena Horne!

And isn't that Tinseltown scion Ben Mankiewicz (his grandfather Herman cowrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles!) channeling a young Kirk Douglas?

Meanwhile, Dave Karger could be long-ago heartthrob John Gilbert. "Thanks!" Karger says. "Someone said I look like a gangster, but I prefer the more debonair Gilbert. But I don't drink as much as he did."

Cue the eerie draft. "I'm going for a Robert Mitchum–Cary Grant mix," says resident noir expert Eddie Muller (he admits Mitchum probably never donned a polka-dot ascot, though).

As for Alicia Malone, an Aussie prone to matching her vintage dresses with flowers in her red hair, she's aiming for "the sultriness of Lauren Bacall."

The fab five are relishing their TCM gigs, too, with a hat tip to legendary film historian Robert Osborne.

From the network's start in 1994 to a year before his death in 2017, Osborne introduced each title with fun production tidbits and starry anecdotes. "We still get to give movies context, tell behind-the-scenes stories," Malone says. "It's a dream job."

Founded by cable mogul Ted Turner, the channel airs films 24/7, without commercial interruption or content editing.

Its fare includes iconic flicks (l944's Double Indemnity, 1967's The Graduate) as well as silent films, early talkies (Katharine Hepburn as Jo in 1933's Little Women), even '80s cult treats (the 1984 sci-fier Dreamscape).

Most picks come from the vast Warner Bros., MGM and RKO Pictures libraries, though the network licenses films from every major studio as well as independents.

TCM is seen from Latin America to the Middle East, its annual film festival in L.A. remains a hot ticket, and it even organizes fan cruises with the hosts and screen legends (ahoy, Cicely Tyson!).

No wonder these movie masters — who bring perspective, history and joy to millions — stir so much hubbub online. Here's lookin' at them, kids….


As an ace show-biz reporter for the likes of Today and IMDb, DAVE KARGER has hobnobbed on the red carpet with A-listers like Brad Pitt and Julianne Moore.

Yet the Westchester County, New York, native seems more aglow over joining 1950s movie queen Mitzi Gaynor (South Pacific) on the Caribbean for a TCM- themed cruise last year. "I'm a huge Mitzi fan."

Karger's dad, now retired, used to work for the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit helping kids in New York City's underserved communities; his mom was a public-school social worker.

"I hope I inherited a sense of compassion from them," says the upbeat guy, who double-majored in English and psychology at Duke University. A film course there showing classics like Laura proved "the gateway" to his impressive career.

In 2007, TCM had him cohost its annual Oscar-winners marathon with his hero, Robert Osborne.

"He was so dry. We really connected." Karger, also a fan of '80s pop and taco stands, rose to full-time host in 2018. In his ongoing mission to "look out for the underdog," he'll help present the network's second LGBT film series in June.

Make This Classic Flick a TV Show: The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) "I just howl at Monty Woolley's performance as bitchy cultural critic Sheridan Whiteside. I would love to see him commenting on issues of the day."

JACQUELINE STEWART, born and planted on Chicago's South Side, thanks her Aunt Constance for introducing her to tour de force films like Mildred Pierce and The Women. "I started loving those movies because she loved them."

Stewart studied English at Stanford (undergrad) and the University of Chicago (earning an M.A. and PhD), along the way taking film classes and picking up a fascination with silent movies of the 1910s and '20s. In classics like the everyman-tragedy The Crowd,

Stewart says, "You can see the filmmakers, set designers, costume designers and actors really experimenting. You can feel the energy of the newness of the medium." So, mouth "hello" to TCM's Silent Sunday Nights, the weekly showcase of non-talkies she started hosting last year.

Stewart, a U of Chicago film professor, is also an expert in African-American cinema (she's a writer of two books on the topic).

And via her South Side Home Movie Project, she preserves and screens silents made back in the day by residents of her predominantly black neighborhood. Sentimental journey, anyone? "Sometimes those old movies show buildings that are long gone."

Make This Classic Flick a TV Show: The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920) This silent feature by Oscar Micheaux focuses on a black Alabama woman facing romance and crooks in the Northwest. "It'd make a compelling series."


His granddad Herman cowrote Citizen Kane and also helped write The Wizard of Oz. Great-uncle Joseph wrote and directed All About Eve.

Still, given his Washington, D.C., upbringing (dad Frank ran National Public Radio, mom Holly worked with the NAACP), it's a surprise BEN MANKIEWICZ isn't prepping for a CNN debate. "As a kid," he admits, "I would get excited about watching In the News ."

As a teen, though, he got hooked on Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest ("My mom would say, 'Watch this — you'll like it'"). He started analyzing movies while majoring in American history at Tufts University. "I wrote about Nazi allegories in [the 1940 western] Santa Fe Trail and got an A-plus!"

With a master's in journalism from Columbia University, Mankiewicz did wind up anchoring local TV news in Charleston and Miami (his brother Josh reports for NBC's Dateline). But he became "disillusioned" over pressure from honchos to sensationalize his stories.

In 2002, he cofounded — and still appears on — The Young Turks, YouTube's progressive news show.

TCM's primetime host since 2003, this husband and dad enjoys "embracing thoughtful rebellion." He loves 1951's People Will Talk, "a McCarthy allegory" — written and directed by Great-Uncle Joe.

Make This Classic Flick a TV Show: My Favorite Year (1982) A series from this comedy — about a '50s variety-show writer befriending a boozy movie star — "could be fun."


San Francisco–born EDDIE MULLER, TCM's Noir Alley host, lives with his wife in a small town across the fabled bay — the kind of town where Fred MacMurray or Robert Mitchum might get mixed up with a femme fatale in a black-and-white 1940s crime flick.

"Well," he recalls, "we did have a SWAT team on my block one time." What counts as film noir? The antihero usually gets stuck in an "'I never knew I was capable of doing this' moral dilemma," Muller states.

His gold standard is 1950's In a Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart as a Hollywood screenwriter whose girlfriend (Gloria Graham) suspects him of murder. "It's about relationships, grappling with your demons."

Muller's namesake dad was a boxing writer with a Clark Gable mustache and a stay-tough mentality (Eddie senior had his kid learn punches from a pro at 14). His mom "wanted to be an actress." Cut to Muller studying film at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Today, he's got movie books (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir), mystery novels (The Distance) and famous fans (David Mamet) to his credit.

In 1998, he began programming film noir festivals and in 2002 founded the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco (it's now an annual event in eight U.S. cities). In 2006, he created the preservation-minded Film Noir Foundation.

Muller notes that his beloved genre still casts its shadows on the big screen (see 2014's Nightcrawler) and in dark TV dramas like Breaking Bad. "A science teacher becomes a drug lord? That's noir."

Make This Classic Flick a TV Show: The aforementioned In a Lonely Place.


ALICIA MALONE recounts watching The French Line just a few hours ago. The 1953 musical, she explains, stars Jane Russell "as this Texas oil heiress who can't find love because guys are threatened by her," adding: "Russell is such a strong presence."

Malone, who joined TCM in 2018, is a powerhouse herself. Growing up in Canberra, Australia, engrossed in Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, she surprised her government-worker parents and three sisters by ditching college after high school for Sydney.

There, she juggled a two-year program in TV production while working a teleprompter for the Channel 7 network. Soon enough, she was hosting and producing short-form shows for The Movie Network, seen on cable in Australia.

In 2010, she headed to Hollywood, intending to find work as a film journalist. Before long she was covering movies for ABC, Today and Fandango, where she wore many hats as host, producer, shooter and editor of Indie Movie Guide.

TCM's streaming service FilmStruck (now shuttered) made her its main host in 2016. With her rise, Malone has pressed for gender equality in the industry, writing books like 2018's The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by Women.

She gets a kick out of hosting TCM Imports, a show devoted to international gems like Japan's Lady Snowblood (1973). The protagonist: "A woman samurai!"

Make This Classic Flick a TV Show: The Apartment (1960) Jack Lemmon played C.C. Baxter, a drone who lets his married higher-ups have flings at his pad. "I want to see more of [C.C.'s] adventures."


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2020

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