Leonard Maltin: The Brand Name in Movie Criticism Has Reinvented Himself

He has not been stopped by the changing digital age, the pandemic or Parkinson’s disease, and now he is being honored with a prestigious award at the TCM festival presented by Warren Beatty

Movie critic and film historian Leonard Maltin waited three years to be honored with the prestigious Robert Osborne Award for helping “keep the cultural heritage of classic film alive for future generations.” He will finally accept it April 23 during the 11th annual TCM Classic Film Festival. 

It was originally to be presented in 2020, but the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic. He passed on it in 2021, when the festival was virtual. This year, it returns live and Maltin is ready.   

“We agreed with Leonard,” said Genevieve McGillicuddy, Executive Director of the TCM festival. “We wanted to make sure that we could give him the full experience that the previous honorees (director Martin Scorsese and film preservationist Kevin Brownlow) had to celebrate, with friends and family in person and at the festival with our incredibly passionate classic movie fan audience.” 

More than 40,000 people attended in 2019. This year’s four-day event (April 22-25) will again spill across Hollywood, including the TCL Chinese Theater,  Roosevelt Hotel, the El Capitan Theater, (where Maltin will interview Disney animator Floyd Norman), and the Legion Theater at Hollywood Post 43, where Maltin’s award will be presented by actor-director Warren Beatty, followed by a screening of a nitrate print of Counsellor at Law (1933),  one of Maltin’s favorite films. 

“If Leonard doesn’t deserve the Robert Osborne Award, no one does,” said Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Primetime Anchor and festival host.  “He’s made movie knowledge accessible to millions of film fans across the globe.” 

Born in Manhattan and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, Maltin began reading his lawyer father’s copies of Variety as a kid, along with his favorite comic books. He published his first magazine, Profiles (of magicians and movie stars) in seventh grade. He took over Film Fan Monthly at 15, reaching out to celebrities with a barrage of letters and phone calls, 

That passionate fandom did him well when fresh from New York University he was asked to edit a book of movie reviews in 1969, a one-off effort that grew over 45 years into Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. That caught the attention of Entertainment Tonight, where he spent  28 years as movie critic and historian. There were more books, Disney videos and other TV and radio shows. 

He didn’t keep a diary but pulled together half a century of memories for his 14th non-fiction book (along with 16 he edited) to write his autobiography, “Star Struck: My Unlikely Road to Hollywood,” published last year.  

It came at a turning point for Maltin. After years of working for others, at age 71 he now works for himself out of his L.A. home, producing movie reviews, articles and streaming a weekly podcast, “Maltin On Movies” (more than 300 to date). 

His life also changed when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he wrote about in his book. 

At first he wanted to deny it, worried it might “cost me work,” he wrote. Then a reporter from AARP asked for his reaction to Alan Alda’s Parkinson diagnosis and he decided he too had to go public. “I had confidence,” he added, ”because I was facing this with my family’s support.” 

His wife of 47 years, Alice, and daughter Jesse and her husband Scott, were there for him. 

“I always say that Alice is the business brains of the outfit,” said Maltin. “Jesse Has stepped up to become my full-time partner in crime and what not. She is a child of the computer age and I am not. I’m befuddled by a lot of technology. She does all my social media posts, my web website, my blog, and articles. I’d be lost without her.” 

Going public with his diagnosis was a difficult decision, recalled Pete Hammond, Maltin’s friend since they both worked for Entertainment Tonight. Hammond is now movie critic and awards editor of Deadline Hollywood, and president of movies for the Critic’s Choice Awards.  

“He talked about having Parkinson initially in the book,” said Hammond, “but when it was done, the publisher said, ‘I want more on the Parkinson’s.’ And so, he went back and added stuff. Initially, he wasn’t going to be that specific and then he was happy that he did.” 

“What Leonard always says is that, ‘There’s all kinds of different Parkinson’s. Everyone who has it, has it in different degrees, It’s a kind of odd disease in that way,'” added Hammond. “But, it’s not stopping him. In other words, he could just sit back and rest on his laurels.” 

Maltin, often with his family, keeps up a busy schedule of events, forums and his weekly classes at USC where for 23 years, over two 14-week semesters, he has shown new features and rare old shorts, and often interviewed the stars.  

Maltin also continues to appear at film festivals, most notably Telluride, Coronado Island (which he helped found) and Santa Barbara, where their top honor was re-christened, The Leonard Maltin Modern Master Award. Over 30 years, Maltin has interviewed recipients, including  Sean Penn, Cate Blanchett, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood,  Brad Pitt and George Clooney.  

He frets the number of paid movie critics has dropped since he  started. “We now live in the age of the amateur,” said Maltin. “It goes beyond criticism. We’re all supposed to applaud the internet because it has removed the gatekeepers… But gatekeepers served their purpose. They separated the professional from an amateur. That’s not to say somebody who is unpaid might not write a brilliant review… but they don’t have to submit it to anybody first…To me, as a kid breaking in, getting somebody to publish meant that I passed muster. I was considered good enough…That was something I was very, very proud of.” 

Asked how he would like to be remembered, Maltin responded, “If anything, as a guy who really loved movies and movie history and was lucky enough to make a living writing and talking about that which he loved.” 

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