Bob Dorian, Genial Guide to Old Films on AMC, Is Dead at 85


Bob Dorian, who displayed his lifelong zest for old Hollywood films as the easygoing prime-time host of the American Movie Classics cable channel for nearly two decades, died on June 15. He was 85.

His daughter Melissa Parish confirmed the death but did not specify the cause or say where he died. He had been living in Palm Coast, Fla.

Mr. Dorian was the undisputed star of AMC from 1984 to around 2000, before the channel changed its focus to original series like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” He preceded by a decade the arrival of Robert Osborne as the popular host at the rival channel Turner Classic Movies. Mr. Osborne died in 2017.

Working from a cozy set with a smattering of Hollywood trinkets, Mr. Dorian introduced films from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, offering anecdotes that fed the appetites of movie lovers with memories of revered classics, B-movies and serials.

A gifted raconteur, he told stories — how the director Frank Capra had pitched James Stewart on starring in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), the trouble Orson Welles had wearing the peg leg he used when he portrayed Long John Silver in “Treasure Island” (1972).

Mr. Dorian was more a well-informed fan than a movie historian, as his enthusiasm for the films he discussed made clear.

“The reason they hired me,” he told The Washington Post in 1998, “is there aren’t too many films that I don’t like. I can say something good about most of them.”

Mr. Dorian was an actor and magician whose role as Dracula in a commercial for a video game in the early 1980s led to the AMC job. The producer of the commercial, who had moved on to AMC, suggested that Mr. Dorian audition for the host job. He was initially hired for six months.

“I never realized it was going to last 10 years,” he told The Herald-News of New Jersey in 1994. It went on to last longer than that.

“He was unequivocally the face of AMC,” Joshua Sapan, the president and chief executive of AMC Networks, said in a phone interview. “He was a portal through which we all followed.”

Robert Paul Vierengel (he changed his name professionally in the 1950s) was born on April 19, 1934, in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn at a time when movie fans flocked to ornate cinema palaces. He went as frequently as he could, starting at age 7 or 8, often staying all day for as little as a dime.

“When I was 9, I went for my first suit,” he recalled in an interview in 1995 with The Baltimore Sun. “I wanted a black suit and my father said, ‘Why do you want a black suit?’ I said, ‘It looks like a tuxedo, I’ll look like Fred Astaire.’ ”

As a teenager he worked as a theater usher. That allowed him to see “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1950), starring José Ferrer, 86 times by his count.

It took him decades to find his way to AMC: He was a magician, a bass player, a disc jockey on radio stations in the New York City area and an actor who did commercial voice-overs.

In his years at AMC, he came to understand that the part he played in reviving the movies he and his audience adored had made a cultural impact.

“I think I made some sort of contribution, in a small way, to society,” he told The Herald-News.

In addition to his daughter Melissa, he is survived by his wife, Jane (Stack) Dorian; two other daughters, Jane and Robin Dorian; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Dorian continued acting while working at AMC. His credits included a role in several episodes of “Remember WENN,” the network’s first original scripted series, about a radio station in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, and both Uncle Henry and the Winkie general in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in 1998. He also understudied Mickey Rooney as the Wizard.

After leaving AMC, Mr. Dorian acted in the Woody Allen films “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001) and “Hollywood Ending” (2002). He also appeared in regional theater productions, among them “Funny Girl” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., in 2001, in which he played the Broadway impresario Flo Ziegfeld.

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