Hollywood Movies

Wesleyan’s Jeanine Basinger on TCM Festival Robert Osborne Award Honor

April 12, 20243 Mins Read

Jeanine Basinger, a veteran film professor, historian and author, helped build Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, into a film powerhouse during her 60 years at the institution. On April 20, the esteemed academic will receive the TCM Classic Film Festival’s Robert Osborne Award, which recognizes an individual who has helped keep the cultural heritage of classic film alive for future generations. Its four previous recipients were Martin Scorsese and film historians/authors Kevin Brownlow, Leonard Maltin and Donald Bogle. Basinger, a youthful 88, spoke with THR about her life and career.

How did you fall in love with movies?

Jeanine Basinger

Jeanine Basinger

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

I grew up in South Dakota, and at 11 I got a job as an usher at a local movie theater. My film school was watching movies — and how audiences reacted to them — over and over again. I began visiting film archives and interviewing film personalities who responded to my outreach. I was hooked. 

How did you wind up at Wesleyan? And what was the film studies landscape like at the time?

I arrived on campus in 1960 as marketing director for American Education Publications, owned at the time by the university. An art professor who was impressed with my knowledge about and passion for film asked me to join him in setting up a “serious” film course, which I began teaching in 1969. At the time, no other American liberal arts college offered more than a film “appreciation” course, and universities that offered film production classes didn’t first teach students how to think about films. I sought to rectify that and was able to grow film studies into its own major, then department. I’m also proud of the film archive I built at Wesleyan, which houses the papers of Frank Capra, Elia Kazan, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Federico Fellini, Ingrid Bergman and others.

There’s a “Wesleyan mafia” of former students of yours who are doing big things in Hollywood today and credit you for much of their success.

It’s a source of great pride and joy for me that so many of my former students have followed their dreams, achieved so much and remained close friends — from someone who was in one of the first classes I taught, Larry Mark, to Michael Bay, Paul Weitz, Dana Delany, Alex Kurtzman, Joss Whedon, Matthew Greenfield and Sammy Wasson, the co-author of my most recent book, Hollywood: The Oral History. My husband and I have one child together, but I feel like I have many children — to quote Goodbye, Mr. Chips, “Thousands of them!”

What does it mean to you to receive the Osborne Award?

It’s a great honor to be associated in any way with TCM and the late Bob Osborne and to be in the company of Marty; Leonard, who I’ve known since he was a teenager; and Kevin and Donald. We all share the wish that classic movies will be shown and studied forever.

This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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