While celebrity cruises are nothing new, this one truly was a classic: the inaugural Classic Cruise hosted by the cable channel, Turner Classic Movies, which brought together thousands of film fans with their favorite Hollywood legends on the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship.
Celebrity shipmates included Ernest Borgnine, Eva Marie Saint, Tippi Hedren, director Norman Jewison, as well as TCM hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz. With the average age of the four special guests being around 87, it was clear the crowd appreciated their efforts to join the cruise. Each looked relaxed, healthy, and genuinely pleased to be a part of this special event.
After boarding, there was the compulsory lifeboat drill. However, the crew demonstrating safety procedures were forced to compete for the crowd's attention when Ernest Borgnine appeared, and was mobbed by well-wishers trying to shake his hand. Had the signal to abandon ship come through then, I suspect many passengers would have preferred to rap their arms fondly around Ernie, rather than a lifejacket, for a floatation device!
"Oh my goodness, I couldn't have been treated better by the TCM folks or fans. I don't know why, because I certainly don't deserve it," said a humble 94-year-old Borgnine, when I spoke with him later during the cruise. "It's one thing to like an actor, but the kind of love people have shown me is amazing. I just want to be one of the gang on the ship!"
Borgnine was typical of all the celebrities. Far from retiring to their cabins and emerging only to fulfill their obligations, they regularly roamed the decks, mingling with the passengers, eating at the buffet, chatting, and posing for photographs.
The first scheduled event was the Sail Away Party by the Rivera Pool. The crowds gathered around the small stage area and burst into applause when Robert Osborne appeared. "We're delighted that you are all here and hope you have a great time," said a very relaxed looking Osborne, wearing a light blue jacket and tieless shirt, his white hair blowing in the brisk Gulf breeze.
Aside from snagging a much sort after celebrity snapshot, the film enthusiasts were able to partake in a selection of scheduled events that TCM had planned: movie screenings, often preceded by introductions with the stars from the films; Q & A sessions with all the stars, and panel discussions with Osborne and Mankiewicz.
Surprise guests included veteran game show host Wink Martindale, who hosted movie trivia contests, and Chelsie Hightower and Louis Van Amstel from "Dancing with the Stars." Okay, so they weren't Fred and Ginger, but they did put on a dazzling dance display. And when Ernie and Eva Marie came out on stage for a whirl around the dance floor with the youngsters, the crowd went wild!
During the cruise, the ship docked at Key West and Cozumel which allowed passengers to go ashore and enjoy the many tourist attractions each stop offered. These were an added bonus on this particular voyage, because clearly most passengers anticipated the onboard program of event such as the celebrity presentations prior to film screenings.
For instance, Eva Marie Saint talked about the making of "North by Northwest," Ernest Borgnine discussed "The Poseidon Adventure" (the irony of the latter being shown on a cruise ship caused no end of chuckles among the passengers!), Tippi Hedren spoke about "The Birds," and Norman Jewison featured his film "The Thomas Crown Affair."
While some of their stories had been told before in autobiographies or previous interviews, it hardly mattered to the devoted throngs of admirers who hung on every word and were thrilled just to be seated a few feet from some of their favorite film personalities.
A much anticipated event was the appearance of both Eva Marie Saint and Tippi Hedren as "The Hitchcock Blondes" in a discussion with Osborne. Eva Marie was in good form, as evident by her playful sense of humor. "If you look at the Hitchcock catalog," Osborne began, "Ingrid Bergman was not a blonde, Teresa Wright (Shadow of a Doubt) was not a blonde, Tallulah Bankhead was not a blond......."
"So why are we here?" quipped Saint, to the laughter of the audience. Appreciating the humor, Osborne wondered if the general belief that Hitchcock favored blondes was just a myth. Eva Marie wasn't sure, but Tippi suggested that blondes have both an innocence and a sense of mystery about them, which she thought might have appealed to Hitchcock.
Saint's sense of humor was also apparent when I interviewed her and she talked about Osborne. "I call him the Rock Star of the classic movie world! I love my husband of 60 years, then Robert Osborne!" Saint has admired Osborne for years, although she said they only met for the first time at a recent TCM Film Festival in Los Angeles. "Fans always ask me 'What was Marlon Brando really like?' or "What was it like to kiss Gary Grant?' But now, they also ask 'What's it like to be hugged by Robert Osborne?'"
TCM host Robert Osborne, as charming and knowledgeable as he appears on TV, was clearly delighted by the passengers' response to the cruise.
"I've only been on one other cruise in my life, and that was years ago to Acapulco, so I'm really enjoying this trip and being around so many film fans," said Osborne, who added that TCM is seriously considering another cruise. Cabins (which went for around $800-$2,500 per person) sold out within 70 days for this inaugural cruise. Announcements for any new cruise will be made on their web site, tcm.com.
"Fans have been coming up to me throughout the cruise, talking about their favorite movies," he added. "I love that, because it really means they love the channel and love the work that I do. I'm the one the viewers see and they think I do it all, but TCM is obviously a team effort by many people."