Monday, May 30, 2016

Robert S. Birchard, RIP


Caricature by Ed Wexler; h/t Jerry Beck.

Bob Birchard, a sturdy pillar of the L.A. animation industry and one of the most knowledgeable film historians in the U.S. of A., has departed.

Bob was "the film's buff's film buff", and knew almost everything there was to know about silent films. (He had interviewed an immense number of silent movie actors and directors, so it stood to reason. If you needed to know what film titles had come out of the the "Flying A" movie studio in Santa Barbara circa 1915, he was the go-to guy. I mean, who the hell has even HEARD of the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara?)

Mr. Birchard was also a hugely talented film editor. In the 1990s, he edited close to half the output of Walt Disney Television Animation, including series and direct-to-video features. (He was the editor of Disney's first direct-to-video feature, "The Return of Jafar"). He did all this while writing books and articles on the old movies that he loved, and watching a half dozen films a week. (I get tired just thinking about it).

He exited the confines of the planet at 5:20 this morning at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Burbank. He leaves behind his brother Paul, his nieces Amy, Rosie, Nina, his nephew Ross, and a monumental body of work. He will be sorely missed. ...

On a personal note, I was friends with Bob from the time we were elementary school kids until early today. He was passionate about silent films for as long as I can remember. In high school, a bunch of us sat in my living room watching Bob's Blackhawk Films' 8mm print of "Birth of a Nation". I was still watching Bob's silent movies (in 16 millimeter format, no more 8mm for us!) half a century later.

Rest in peace, Robert. I'll miss you a lot. I already do.

(Some of Bob's prolific output, including his seminal work on Cecil B. DeMille, can be found here.)

3 comments:

jknuttel said...

I knew Bob Birchard since 1993 and was shocked and saddened when I learned of his passing.

Bob was indeed the go-to guy for knowledge of silent films and, for that matter, all films. Indeed, when it comes to film historians, I rank him in the same league as Rudy Behlmer and Kevin Brownlow. Add to that Bob was a really nice guy.

One of my fondest memories of Bob was once several years ago when we were both attending the celebrity show that was held at the Beverly Garland Hotel. In a momentary lapse of sanity I said, "Watching and learning about films is great, but once in a while you have to realize they're are other things in this world that movies." Bob brought me back to reality instantly by saying, "No there isn't."

God bless you, Bob Birchard, I will miss you.

Jenny Lerew said...

I had no idea you'd grown up with Bob, Steve. I would have assumed you'd have known him from WDTV-but how great that the world is this small...I also had no idea he was a local. I've known him for 32 years-at screenings at mutual friend's homes, UCLA, and everywhere else, running into him researching Francis Boggs at the Academy Library, and of course-Cinecon. Hearing the news on Memorial Day morning, as we were outside enjoying the beautiful day I just couldn't quite believe Bob wasn't here anymore. I still can't, and won't for I suspect a long time. A kind, witty, brilliant, stubborn, charismatic man. Boy, will he be missed.

Steve Hulett said...

Jenny,

Bob was my second oldest friend, having met him in the Boy Scouts in elementary school, and known him though college, our early, hard-scrabbling years, and on into geezerhood. We've had lunch together once or twice a week for the past dozen years, jawing about politics, and movies, and life in general. When my kids were small, he was a frequent visitor to our Orchard street house.

His passing was rapid. I'd had lunch with him a week and a half before and he seemed as he always did. ... Ready to talk about the Presidential election and movies. But now he's gone, and I'm reminded yet again how fleeting life is.

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