The 2016 TCM Classic Cruise – Part One

by Martin Hafer

A few years ago, I attended the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood.  However, I always wanted to attend their cruise as well…especially since it departs from Port Canaveral, Florida—which is much, much closer to home for me.  Well, this November I finally got my wish and attended this cruise…and I had a terrific time aboard the beautiful Disney Fantasy.

So what was this cruise like?  Well, oddly, it was aboard a Disney ship that was very much un-Disney!  I’ve been aboard all the Disney boats several times before but instead of being decked out for Christmas and having many Disney characters roaming about like the rest of the fleet, these things were oddly absent.  Clearly TCM wanted the emphasis to be on traditional classic films…not animated ones.  I wouldn’t have minded a showing of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or “Pinocchio” but instead the network seemed to show everything but Disney films aboard the Disney ship—with a couple Harold Lloyd classics, several Bond films as well as an impressive lineup of other classics.  But films alone were not what the festival was all about either.  Instead, there were appearances by several famous film stars, lectures about such topics as boxing in movies, trivia contests, lively 40s style music and much more.   One thing to note, however, is that the passengers are extremely unlikely to have any sort of one-on-one time or photo opportunity with most of the celebrities…something that is also generally true of the yearly film festival.  You don’t go on the TCM cruise to meet the stars personally…if you do, you are almost certainly to be disappointed.


Compared to previous TCM cruises, this one was a bit lighter on celebrities, with only five film stars present and about 2500 eager fans wanting to see them.  Sadly, due perhaps to his ill health, Robert Osborne was unable to attend and TCM never really addressed this to the many fans who had hoped to get a glimpse of him.  There were also some film experts and a couple television celebrities were on hand through the course of the cruise—with Dick Cavett showing off a few of his old celebrity TV interviews and Alex Trebek leading several jam-packed trivia contests.  I wanted to try my hand at the trivia but there were so many events going on at the time, I mostly spent my time going to the interviews that Ben Mankiewicz, Illeana Douglas and other hosts conducted with the five stars.  Some of these interviews preceded showings of their films and lasted about 15 minutes and some were standalone interviews of about an hour in length and allowed the audience to ask the stars questions.  I loved the longer ones as they gave some pretty amazing insights into the stars, their careers and their lives outside film.  I’d like to talk about these celebrity interviews…and I attended nearly every one of them because they were, according to most, the best part of the cruise.


The festival kicked off with Kim Novak and she was delightful and amazingly candid.  In addition to talking about the films she starred in at the festival, Vertigo as well as Bell Book and Candle, Novak discussed her long and happy marriage to her veterinarian husband, their love of animals, her film and art career and much more.  As for her art, this was a bit of a surprise to me as I learned that as a young woman she had little interest in films and had been accepted to the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago….which she ended up not attending due to her accidentally becoming a film star!  In fact, she brought along several of her lovely pastel artworks which were auctioned off for charity during the cruise!  The most surprising part of her interviews, however, was Novak’s vulnerability and strong connection with the audience.  At one point, she became teary with the incredibly warm response she received –with standing ovations at these interviews.  It was hard not to get misty eyed as well as there seemed to be a lot of love in that auditorium for Novak.


Later that same opening day, Leslie Caron also made her first appearance.  The response to her was also quite warm.  During the cruise both An American in Paris and Gigi were screened and the theater was packed.   She offered many surprises during her interviews.  I loved learning that in France she is considered an American film star and many French folks think she was born and raised in the States!  This is because she’s made very few French films and because her earliest pictures were all made in Hollywood…despite growing up in France.  Apparently, she was discovered by Gene Kelly who saw her dancing in her native country…and this led to her first film, a starring role in An American in Paris.   One surprise that seemed to catch everyone off guard, including her interviewers, was when said that when she was young she often went to see foreign films with her friend, Marlon Brando!  And, when asked about her relationship with Brando, she said it never was romantic in the least and she was always on guard as he was ‘dangerous’ around women!

Although Diane Baker is a name many classic film buffs might not readily recognize, she was absolutely delightful and the audience reaction to her and her movie Strait-Jacket was overwhelming.  Unlike the sophisticated films that dominated the cruise, Strait-Jacket is a kitschy, fun film with no pretense.  William Castle directed this oddly hilarious axe murderer flick in which Joan Crawford and Baker played an interesting mother-daughter team with a penchant for hacking folks in half!  It was also wonderful seeing Baker’s reaction as she sat down to be interviewed…and the seat cushion kept sliding out from underneath her until she was practically on the floor…at which point she lectured the cushion to be good and stay put!!


Jerry Lewis is over 90 years old and certainly is not slowing down in the least.  He met up with the cruise midway through the week, as he already had other engagements and he planned to follow up the cruise with more appearances in Florida!  Twice during his interviews, Lewis pretended to die on stage…something you just don’t expect because it’s so tacky…and hilarious!  The audience had a great time watching The Disorderly Orderly and The Nutty Professor but the highlight for me was just watching Jerry talk…and talk…and talk!  He was like the Energizer Bunny who just kept going and going and going.  I also noticed when I looked at all the photos I took that he was laughing in almost all of them!  Clearly he was having a heck of a good time and he really came alive in front of his fans.  This was also the case several years ago at the TCM Movie Festival…he just lit up and came to life on stage.


The final star was Michael York, and he was a last minute substitution because Mitzi Gaynor was ill and unable to attend.  As for York, he was quite open about his own bout with a serious illness.  Apparently, Amyloidosis (caused by a build up of proteins in the body), left him practically unable to function and it took him years to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment.  He freely admitted that he was wearing make-up in order to hide the dark circles around his eyes which were caused by the disease, though after completing chemotherapy he is regaining his strength and says he is eager to work.  Considering how weak and exhausted I was following chemotherapy, I was amazed and thankful that he would attend the cruise and discuss his career, and in particular, Cabaret.

While there was much, much more to the cruise, including a nice lecture by Eddie Muller about the history of boxing films, this brings me to an important point…the future of the TCM Classic Cruise…something you should definitely read about in the second part of this article.