Thursday, April 18, 2013


I blew it. I stopped following Roger Ebert's example. Roger started writing for his local Urbana, IL paper in his teens. After moving from to Chicago, he quickly became part of the city's legendary Chicago newspaper scene, drinking in the company of legends like Mike Royko and Studs Turkel. From there, he would be known to the rest of the country from the unmatched pairing with Gene Siskel on "Sneak Previews" and then "At the Movies". Eventually, people with only a casual interest in cinema knew who Roger Ebert was. Those who didn't even go to movies would use the term "two thumbs up" to describe a great thing. After he revealed his cancer and lost his speech to it, he became more prolific and eclectic a writer than ever before. He wrote about anything that piqued his interest; be it movies, politics, or rice cookers (the latter becoming the subject of an entire book of his!). Roger's wife Chaz, who he met in middle-age, seemed to be the perfect partner for him. They never appeared to be anything less than permanently smitten with each other. Roger's essay on his love for Chaz ( is as romantic an ode as I have ever read. His post-cancer writing life was made up of the most varied, joyous, and tender collections of essays that I can imagine. The thread that seemed to go through all of them was a profound sense of gratitude for his life.

The details of his biography are as wonderful as the ultimate arc. He was invited by the late, great big boob worshipper and generally underrated filmmaker Russ Meyer, to write a screenplay for him. Meyer hired Ebert simply because he had enjoyed reading the young critic's newspaper reviews. The bacchanal that followed Russ and Roger around as they hung out at pools with starlets while Roger dutifully typed out pages is legendary in Hollywood history.

I wanted to be Roger Ebert before I even knew any of the details of his life. His written film criticisms revealed a wealth of interest in areas far beyond just movies. His guest appearances (usually with Siskel) on talk shows showed that he was a kind man with a sharp, funny mind and an opinion of just about everything. I really identified with that last part. I became enamored with the Cannes Film Festival at an age when I didn't know where Cannes was, simply by reading his accounts of covering the films that premiered there every year. When I finally was able to travel there myself, I felt instantly familiar because of the education I had received from reading Ebert's diary entries all those years. I lately wanted to be him because of his continuously prolific and still important writing. Also, I wanted to have the kind of partner in life that he seemed to have in Chaz. To the very end, Roger Ebert was significant, fully engaged, and most importantly, loved by his beloved.

I wanted to be Roger Ebert, but I blew it. I started out okay. When I was 15, I walked into the newsroom of the Daily Columbian in Vancouver, WA and told the editor-in-chief that he should hire someone like me to be a film critic. After all, I argued, most of the movies reviewed by his paper were aimed at people closer to my age than that of his regular critic. I pointed to the soon-to-be released Stand By Me as an example. Before the movie opened, I was a published writer in a real paper that gave a kid like me way more space than I had any right to expect. Then, as fate would have it, my family moved to a town that didn't care much about my adolescent reasoning for being on the staff. I made a comeback of sorts when I was the film reviewer for my college newspaper (University of Oregon's Daily Emerald). When I finally made it to LA in my mid-20s, I just figured I was too old to get a job as a critic that would pay all my bills. I went on to write some scripts and make a little money on the side with writing, but never a living. I still write, but it's been a while since I've had such youthful ambition. The decision (or indecision) to stop writing film criticism is one of my great regrets. I forgot to do what Roger would have done. 

Maybe it's not too late to follow Ebert's example, though. Maybe in the next half of my life, I will find a love that will inspire me forever, as Roger did with Chaz well into his years. Maybe my writing output will blossom to be more prolific and varied than it ever has. Maybe the existence of my writing will inspire others. Now that his life has completed, I can say with assurance that I still want to be like Roger Ebert. 

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