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GENE KLAVAN: Professional Movie Nut

Beginning Monday, there will be a new face on American Movie Classics, the cable network that specializes in uncut, uninterrupted, uncolorized classic movies. He’s veteran radio personality Gene Klavan, and he’ll be sharing the hosting duties with AMC veteran Bob Dorian. Klavan will take the 12-hour daytime shift and Dorian will remain as prime-time host. (Both men tape their segments about three weeks before they air.

In 1952, Klavan was the first morning performer on New York’s WNEW radio, part of the team of Klavan and Finch, and then was the star of “The Gene Klavan Show.” He was host of “Afternoon Drive-Time” on WOR and most recently hosted the “WNEW-AM Weekend Variety Show,” which featured interviews and information on Hollywood and Broadway.

He also was host of the ABC-TV ARTS network, the precursor to the Arts and Entertainment Network, and he has written two books about radio: “We Die at Dawn” and “Turn that Damn Thing Off.”

Klavan talked to Susan King after his first day on his new job.

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How was your first day?

It was very interesting. I have been a broadcaster for years and a movie nut, but I am sill getting used to the idea that people take these movies really seriously. There is a lot of information you’ve got to get across. It’s more than trivia.

Did you have any idea AMC has such an avid following?

They kind of cautioned me when I started this job not to take it lightly. It was bigger than I thought it was. There are a lot of aficionados and they really jump on you if you are wrong (about facts). One of the things we did today was check everything. I had a few ad-libs and we thought about them (later) because you wanted to make sure everything was right because you hate to get letters.

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Were you still doing radio when you got this job?

As a matter of fact I was not. I was doing a lot of writing and things like commercials. You know, making money. But I decided I wasn’t going to do any more day-to-day radio stuff. So AMC called me and asked me to come over and audition. I don’t know why exactly. It isn’t that I am beautiful. To be honest, I think AMC auditioned a lot of people.

I had done a lot of television. A couple of years ago I was with WCBS in New York doing humorous commentaries on the news and stuff. Then I was with A&E; when it was just A--the Arts Network. They called me over to host and to lighten it up because it was awfully drab.

Will you be sharing the same set with Bob Dorian?

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No. Bob works out of a set that is like a living room. Mine is like a family room and is very bright. Actually it’s very impressive.

Do you have a different approach than Dorian?

The atmosphere is different. It is lighter and more at ease. Bob is prime-time; he’s formal. This is much less formal, from the clothes on up. I am wearing bow ties and sweaters, and Bob is dressed very nicely like he is going out on a date.

To herald your arrival this week, AMC is airing several radio-themed movies, including “The Big Broadcast” and “The Big Broadcast of 1936.” Did you suggest that idea?

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The company picked them out and did research and then we kind of banged around for a while to see what we were going to say about them.

They are fascinating because the idea was in those days to put these radio people in the movies in hopes people would come to see them because they would want to see what they looked like. You know, we went through some of the radio names and I had never heard of them. They came and went. The movies didn’t know what the heck to do with radio people.

You said you were a movie nut. Did you fall in love with movies as a kid?

I am going to tell you something. In those days, if I told my parents that what I really wanted to be was a movie director, which is what I wanted to do, they would have strangled me. There was no possibility that anybody in those days could go from Baltimore to Hollywood. So the next best thing in show business was the radio.

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But I have had celluloid in my blood since I was a kid. I have always been interested in photography. In fact, I am the only person I know who has Cinemascope home movies of his kids. Going to the movies as a kid was a ritual. You went every Saturday. You had serials and cartoons and a movie. You would go and your parents would say: “Thank God, they are gone for eight hours!”

What are your feelings about radio today? It must be a lot different than when you started.

It’s quite different. I don’t mind shock radio if it is clever or innovative. But shock for shock is not great. I think some people are creative these days and in order to survive you’ve just got to be different. It’s either play music and shut your mouth or do crazy and be different.

Will you be doing radio in the near future?

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I am not going to do it because to do radio you have to go in every day and do it. I have done an awful lot of that. I would rather play with the movies. I hope I last (at AMC) because I think this is the perfect job.

Beginning Monday, Gene Klavan will host American Movie Classics from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.


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