Two Thumbs Way, Way, Up For Roger Ebert
I remember the first time I came across the show “At the Movies.” Bored, I was channel surfing, hoping to find something entertaining to watch. It was the early 80’s and there weren’t a thousand stations to choose from. The show featured two guys sitting in an empty theater discussing the latest film releases. The sight of them made me chuckle for a moment, because in a strange way, they reminded me of Laurel and Hardy. Gene Siskel, Roger’s co-host, was thin like Laurel, and Roger was round like Hardy. But unlike the comedic duo, what they did on a weekly basis was no laughing matter. It was serious business and for me and countless others, they quickly became the go-to gurus when you wanted a critic’s opinion about a movie.
It didn’t take long for me to start tuning in on a regular basis, and I found myself agreeing with Roger more than I did with Gene. Perhaps it was Roger’s cool-looking specs that gave him an edge. He just seemed wise and his analysis of what worked and what didn’t work in a movie was always spot-on. The way he would look up at the screen with his chin jutted forward and his hands clasped on his lap drew me in. I even liked the sound of his voice and how it would rise just a tad bite when he and Gene disagreed on a film.
Who was this avuncular, teddy bear man I had become so fund of? I did a little research and was surprised to learn he was only 5’ 8”. Sitting in that theater chair, speaking with such authority, he seemed bigger than life. He was an only child. I could imagine Gene probably became the brother he never had. The chemistry between the two was palpable. He was a writer and to date has written 15 books. He’s been a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame since 1997. In 1993, along with Gene, he was voted Hollywood Radio and Television Society's Co-Man of the Year. He’s seen approximately 10,000 films in his lifetime.
Roger’s accomplishments, the majority of which are not listed above, are numerous and speak to his brilliance and talent. But out of all the wonderful things he managed to do while here with us, I’m most impressed with the way he handled his bout with cancer. He was dignity and honor personified. In spite of his illness, he continued to write tirelessly and review films. It makes me wonder if under the same circumstances, I would continue to do what I love—write. Two thumbs way, way, up for Roger for being such a great role model. His friend Gene passed in 1999. With my fertile imagination, I can’t help picture the two of them in heaven with a new show called Roger and Gene’s ReVIEWS From Above. Rest in peace, Roger!