Roger Ebert died this past week. He was best known for his various reviewing gigs on TV, starting with his show teamed with Gene Siskel. Because Siskel was tall and Ebert was short, during the show Ebert sat on phone books to lessen the height difference. Another odd story about Ebert is that he once agreed to be hired as the primary Washington Post film reviewer, but the Post backed out when Ebert made it clear that he had no intention of moving to DC.
One thing I liked about Ebert is that he sometimes wrote very engagingly about bad films, a talent that led to my favorite line of his (as I remember it):
“This film is so much in favor of the human race that it almost makes you want to choose sides.”
I first met Roger Ebert in 1978 in the green room of a Public TV show when I was hosting Frank Capra for his multi-day visit to the University of Chicago’s Law School Films. Ebert was bright and charming, but I was struck by how little he knew about 1930s and 1940s films. I think that Capra (and Mickey Rooney) were just as surprised as I was.
The next time I saw Ebert was less than a year later. I picked him up at his apartment on the North Side and brought him down to Hyde Park for an evening at UC Law School Films. As I drove him home afterwards, I just handed him a wad of cash, our receipts for the night plus enough additional money to bring it up to $500 (somehow I’ll bet that bookkeeping would not be so casual these days, even for a student organization). I was able to talk with him enough that night to understand that his [...]