RIP Bob Birchard

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Mike Gebert

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RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 9:35 am

Reports on Facebook say that Bob Birchard, a familiar NitrateVille contributor and a major figure in classic film appreciation and history, passed away [corrected] Monday morning at age 66. Bob was the author of books such as Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood, an award-winning editor in the film and television industry, and one of the main organizers of Cinecon, the annual festival in L.A. Others will no doubt have more to say about him but I will say that for me, one of the reasons I started NitrateVille was to continue to have a place, after the decline of Usenet, where people like me and people like Bob could interact and share knowledge... by which I mean, his knowledge with me, though I did do one tiny piece of research for him once in the Chicago papers (relating to the murder of Francis Boggs).

Here's the Facebook post by his friend Nick Santa Maria:

It's my extremely sad duty to report the passing of one of my dearest friends, Bob Birchard. He passed away peacefully last night at the age of 66 from complications from a heart attack.

Bob was my first "film historian friend" in Los Angeles. Back in 2006 I was at a very crowded Christmas party in Venice, CA. It was literally packed to the rafters. To my right was a kind faced bald man who immediately introduced himself. Since I had just read his excellent book on Cecil B. DeMille, I recognized his name right away. He was impressed and always told me that THAT is what cemented our friendship. Well, it was more than that. Bob would come to my home very often for homemade Italian food and screenings of great films. He sometimes slept after dinner while I watched alone, but I didn't mind. His awake times made it well worth it.

He was an extraordinary film historian. I think he knew more about the subject than anyone I know.

Bob always supported my career. He came to practically every show I did. He was also one of the big champions of my show, REAL MEN, the musical. He came to see it 3 times, bringing different people with him each time. He always told me that he was intent on getting it the attention it deserved. That was like winning a Tony to me. He was true blue...a devoted friend, and a great companion. And though he was famous for not returning people's phone calls, he returned every one of mine. I was proud of that.

I last saw him when we dined at Paty's in Toluca Lake about 2 weeks ago. I wish I would have given him a hug when we said goodbye.

Farewell, my dear brother. I always called out to him as Jack Benny whenever I saw him, "OH BOB!"..and he would answer, "Yes, Jack?"

Someday we'll do that again. Sleep well, my dear friend. I miss you already.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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drednm

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 10:13 am

Sad news indeed....RIP, Bob.
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missdupont

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 10:26 am

He actually passed away this morning, May 30 at 5:20 am, as reported by Stan Taffel.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 10:39 am

He was the exact opposite of his nickname Evil Bob. To say he will be missed is an understatement. Condolences to his family, and I mean not only his brother, but Bob's extended cinematic family.
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Ed Hulse

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 10:43 am

Like most Americans, I was out all weekend having fun with friends. This morning I woke up to a terse e-mail from Dick Bann stating that Bob had a massive heart attack. That's all he knew. Not seeing anything about it on Facebook I came here and am heartbroken to read the news.

Bob and I were friends for almost 30 years. We weathered a crisis that would have killed most friendships, but we were able to move past it. I spent time with him at least once a year, if not at Cinecon then the following month when I came to California for the Lone Pine Film Festival. (Which he also frequently attended; we sat on panels together up there.) He often asked my opinion on Cinecon programming and scheduled a great many movies I recommended. For many years we exchanged information and material for each other's pet projects. We shared a lot of laughs and fun times, more than I could ever mention here. We argued passionately and sometime violently over politics, but there was never any residual bitterness between us on that score. When we went to dinner it was almost always a three-hour affair teeming with wide-ranging conversation.

On a personal level I feel this loss very keenly. As a film buff and historian, I believe it is a loss from which the community will never fully recover. With a broken heart I too say RIP, Bob.
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Jim Roots

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 11:00 am

What a shock!

Last week I finished reading his Tom Mix book; right now I'm in the middle of his DeMille book.

Bob provided the vast majority of photos for my last book, and I was planning to contact him in two weeks to see if he could provide others for my next book.

I think it was Frederica who came up with the "Evil Bob" nickname out of affection. I'm sure she is devastated like the rest of us.

This is an enormous loss for our little band of classic film fanatics.

Jim
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 11:14 am

Very sad news, I feel very lucky to have benefited from his knowledge and rare reels at Cinefest over the years. I didn't know him personally, apart from a few brief exchanges online, but I always appreciated the work that he did.

Maybe someone can clear up my confused memory, but was it Bob who went to Bing Crosby's house with a copy of one of Bing's films that he was missing from his own personal collection, about a week before Der Bingle passed away? I remember hearing the story at Cinefest, prior to a screening of said film, but can't remember if it was Bob who told it.
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MaryGH

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 11:25 am

Saw the news on my Facebook feed and was shocked - 66 is too young and I am indebted for his post on the Talking About Talkies forum about "Jungle Mystery."

It was a pleasure communicating with him for the brief time we did.

RIP Bob and thank you so much for taking the time to communicate with me about "Jungle Mystery." Say hi to Mr. Tyler up there for me.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 11:44 am

I only met him once, but he seemed a very nice person. I valued his postings and his work.

Rick
“The past is never dead. It's not even past” - Faulkner.
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RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 11:49 am

R.I.P. To a great scholar and friend of film.
http://www.thecommentarytrack.com/index.php?m=92&&id=141
The Commentary Track
Nov, 18 2012
Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes min
Episode 20 - Robert S. Birchard
Host Frank Thompson talks with film historian Robert S. Birchard about his books
on Tom Mix, Cecil B. DeMille and other aspects of cinema history.
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Scoundrel

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 1:45 pm

What a sad and shocking loss.

Condolences to his family.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 1:51 pm

I met him only a couple of times, but feel like I know him through his writings. The last time I saw him, last summer at Mostly Lost, I made a point of telling him how much I enjoyed his DeMille book. Naturally, he was pleased. He seemed like such a good guy, and I thought I'd see him again at the next Mostly Lost. I'm startled and saddened by this news.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 2:15 pm

I have spent several hours trying to say something significant about Mr. Birchard. I cannot think of anything. I met him on a couple of occasions, I respected his work and knowledge in our own little corner of the universe, but other than the thought that he wasn't very old/I remember when I would have thought 66 was ancient, I have nothing to say except that I will miss his participation.

Bob
Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 2:44 pm

I can't imagine how big of a headache it is to run Cinecon every year. Even if I couldn't visit with him every year I attended, I always tried to make a point to say "thanks" every year I attended. Although many people grouse about Cinecon, it is really a fabulous festival.

When I started collecting silent movie stills twenty years ago, I bought a collection of about a hundred stills and only about a dozen had identification markings on them. This was long before I had a scanner, so I went to Kinko's and photocopied all of them. I sent them to Bob, and he graciously identified all of them.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 2:49 pm

What a loss. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. I didn't personally know him but I saw him at many silent film screenings in Los Angeles over a ten year period. I attend CINECON every year, and always appreciated his hard work and incredible knowledge of film archives.

There was no doubt in my mind that Bob loved watching silent films. I remember attending a very small intimate screening of a Mary Pickford film over at the Mary Pickford Film Institute (unfortunately it no longer exists). I walked in with my friend and I recognized Bob from CINECON and I thought, "gee what is Bob doing here? He's probably seen this film a million times in his lifetime and there's only a few of us." I suddenly realized that he wasn't just someone who worked in the business, he truly loved watching these films, discussing them and sharing the experience with relative newcomers like myself.

That's my Bob story.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 3:33 pm

I've known Bob Birchard, pretty well, since the 1980s, when Marc Wanamaker suggested I reach out to him. Bob's day job back then was as a sound editor for television animation. The breadth of his knowledge was remarkable.

In most of his endeavors - whether Hollywood Heritage, the Cinecon, the AFI catalog, his books or his magazine articles - Bob's focus was sharing films and sharing his knowledge and research. How many people in this field can you name whose interests are so outwardly focused on benefiting others?

While you had to figure out how to catch him in a free moment, Bob was generous with his time and advice. He will be missed by so many ....

David Pierce
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 4:40 pm

I knew Bob Birchard only through his books but what fine scholarship he gave us! There are few enough around today on Bob's level. To say he will be missed is an understatement. God bless you Bob!
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 5:16 pm

So sad to hear.

:(
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 5:29 pm

As David Pierce points out, Bob was endlessly generous with his knowledge. His interest was honest and passionate, and most importantly, ongoing. It never ossified into mere habit. He continued finding out about the folks who made these pictures, seeing the value of what they did, and seeking to persuade others of their significance. Classic film could hardly have had a better friend.

Just recently I was assisting him with some research on the early Vitaphone star Dick Rich (aka Larry Rich), who toured Australian vaudeville in the early 1920s. Rich's wife was an Australian, and by coincidence I had some obscure information about her that I was thrilled to be able to pass on. To tell Bob something he didn't already know was a rare treat indeed, and made all the more satisfying by his genuine delight and interest in receiving it. He really was the best kind of expert - one who is never satisfied that he knows everything.

Cinecon won't be the same this year without him. Oh boy, will he be missed.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 6:26 pm

Brooksie wrote:Cinecon won't be the same this year without him. Oh boy, will he be missed.


Cinecon won't be the same any year without him.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 9:24 pm

Bob was a regular at Niles as well, always a joy to talk to, and incredibly knowledgeable. I'm just so shocked and saddened. This is a huge loss to our community. RIP.

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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 9:26 pm

My condolences to Bob's friends and family.

When I first became really interested in silent films in 1999 and started reading alt.movies.silent, I found his posts so informative I used DejaNews to read all of his old posts they had archived. I first met him at the Broncho Billy Festival in Niles when he presented a short DeMille program featuring The Girl of the Golden West and autographed his new book. When I started attending Cinecon (if not as often as I would have liked) I talked to him there several times, though briefly as he was so busy. His knowledge, enthusiasm, and his part in keeping old movies alive through showings at Cinecon and elsewhere will be sorely missed.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostMon May 30, 2016 11:28 pm

He was always kind and helpful to me. Very saddened by this news.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 7:19 am

So sorry to hear this. I must have met him once or twice, but we were usually at different festivals.

When Mont Alto was just getting started, I was looking for a portrait of composer J.S. Zamecnik for our CD of his music. Bob Birchard immediately sent me a print-ready scan from his collection. And he was as generous on many other occasions.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 8:04 am

Upon returning from my "Silent Hollywood" trip last year, Bob sent me a private message offering to take me on a tour of early Hollywood sites. I was excited and honored that he would make such an offer. However, since I had just returned from the trip I asked if I could take a rain check. He said, "Sure, I'll be here." Damn.

This is a huge loss for our little community. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all who knew him.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 8:44 am

Very sad to hear this news. When I first started participating on alt.movies.silent in the late '90s, I learned so much from his knowledgeable posts, and continued to enjoy reading his posts here on Nitrateville over the years, as well as his excellent book on DeMille. I finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person at the Mostly Lost workshop a few years ago. He will certainly be missed by the silent film community.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 9:48 am

I would usually talk to Bob at every Cinecon I attended. It was probably not the best time to get into any conversations. He was extremely busy running from the hotel to the Egyptian and back. One year at the Nitrateville dinner, it was pretty relaxed and I ended up sitting next to Bob and had a really great time talking to him. He will be missed.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 11:10 am

I'm not very eloquent at times like these. Bob was the first person I met in this group of zanies and he quickly became a friend. I learned a lot from him and I will miss him very much.

People have mentioned his endless generosity and the breadth of his knowledge about classic film. Along with many others here I benefited greatly from both. He was a born historian; he had endless curiosity, tempered by both hard-headed good sense and his own training as a film technician. He was also an elegant writer, able to communicate his findings clearly and stylishly, but without fuss. Even if he wasn't writing about something I was interested in (westerns) I enjoyed reading Bob's work.

Let us never forget Bob's preternatural ability to fall asleep during screenings. He could fall asleep while watching the loudest, most heart-pounding-with-excitement films, and he could do it in the least sleep-conducive positions imaginable. I once asked Bob if he was the high school student who always ended up running the projector in his classes. He responded that he always ended up running the projector in everyone's classes. I didn't ask if he fell asleep then, too, or if he developed the skill later. Could we set aside one seat at the Egyptian every Cinecon for Bob to sleep in? I don't think we will ever find a memorial fitting enough for Bob, but it would be lovely to think of him snoozing away through future Cinecons.

Goodbye, Evil Bob. The world is a smaller, poorer place without you.
Fred
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 11:26 am

My condolences to Bob's family and friends. I never met him (unless he was an attendee at the Pickford at the LoC at various times and I just didn't know it). I know him by name, as with posting here on Nitrateville and much great material on film history. My first encounter with his name was in the end credits of Kevin's "Hollywood" back in the 1980s. David Shepards and others names also in those credits. When the net came along and I got to Nitrateville, I found these giants in the writings on film history actually posted here. It's very sad Bob's passing. It was pleasure to have known him here though vicariously as I had never actually met him. Thanks Bob Birchard for your life and your love of film history which you've left us in numerous writings.
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Re: RIP Bob Birchard

PostTue May 31, 2016 11:38 am

Very sad news indeed.
Too young alas and with much more to contribute.
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