Ebert, Roger 1942–
Ebert, Roger 1942–
(Roger Joseph Ebert)
PERSONAL: Born June 18, 1942, in Urbana, IL; son of Walter H. and Annabel (Stumm) Ebert; married Chaz Hammelsmith (an attorney), July 18, 1992. Education: University of Illinois, B.S., 1964; also attended University of Cape Town, 1965, and University of Chicago, 1966–67. Hobbies and other interests: Drawing, painting, art collecting.
ADDRESSES: Office—Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60611.
CAREER: News Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, IL, staff reporter, 1958–66; film critic for Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago, IL, 1967–, Us magazine, 1978–79, WMAQ-TV, Chicago, 1980–83, and WLS-TV, Chicago, 1984–; author of interviews and film reviews syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate to about 200 newspapers, 1986–. Cohost of Sneak Previews (originally titled Opening Soon at a Theater Near You), broadcast on WTTW-TV, Chicago, 1977–82, At the Movies (syndicated television program), 1982–86, Siskel and Ebert (syndicated television program with Gene Siskel), 1986–99, Roger Ebert & the Movies (host with others), 1999, and Ebert & Roeper and the Movies (host with Richard Roeper), 2000–; Movie News for ABC-FM, commentator, 1982–85; Critics at Large for WBBM-Radio, Chicago, contributor. President of Ebert Co., Ltd., 1981–. Chicago City College, instructor, 1967–68; University of Chicago, lecturer, 1969–; Columbia College, Chicago, lecturer, 1973–74, 1977–80. Member of juries at Venice, Chicago, IL and U.S. film festivals; has also covered Cannes, Teheran, Moscow, and New York film festivals; producer of annual "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival," University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999–. Consultant to National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts.
MEMBER: American Newspaper Guild, Writers Guild of America (West), National Society of Film Critics, Arts Club of Chicago, Cliff Dwellers Club of Chicago, Academy of London, University of Illinois Alumni Association (member of board of directors, 1975–77), Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Delta Chi.
AWARDS, HONORS: Overseas Press Club award, 1963; Chicago Headline Club award, 1963; Rotary fellow, 1965; Stick o' Type Award, Chicago Newspaper Guild, 1973; Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism, Columbia University, 1975, for reviews and essays in Chicago Sun-Times; Chicago Emmy Award, 1979; L.H. D., University of Colorado, 1993; inducted into Chicago Journalism Hall of fame, 1997; Peter Lisagor award, 1998; OFCS Best Movie Website award, 1999.
An Illini Century, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1967.
A Kiss Is Still a Kiss (biographies), Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1984.
Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion (film reviews), Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1985–93, published as Roger Ebert's Video Companion, 1994–98, and Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook, 1998–.
(With Daniel Curley) The Perfect London Walk, photographs by Jack Lane, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1986.
Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1987.
Behind the Phantom's Mask (novel), illustrated by Victor Juhasz, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1993.
Roger Ebert's Video Companion, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1993.
(Editor) Ebert's Little Movie Glossary: A Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, and Outdated Archetypes, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1994, published as The Little Book of Hollywood Clichés: A Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions and Outdated Archetypes, Virgin (London, England), 1995.
(With John Kratz) The Computer Insectiary: A Field Guide to Viruses, Bugs, Worms, Trojan Horses, and Other Stuff That Will Eat Your Programs and Rot Your Brain, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1994.
Roger Ebert's Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the Finest Writing from a Century of Film, Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
Questions for the Movie Answer Man, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1997.
(Editor) Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary: A Greatly Expanded and Much Improved Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, and Outdated Archetypes, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1999, published as The Bigger Little Book of Hollywood Clichés: A Greatly Expanded and Much Improved Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions and Outdated Archetypes, Virgin (London, England), 1999.
I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2000.
The Great Movies, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Great Movies II, photographs selected by Mary Corliss, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Also contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Film Comment, American Film, Critic, and Rolling Stone.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970.
(With Russ Meyer) Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens, RM Films, 1979.
SIDELIGHTS: Growing up in Urbana, Illinois, movie critic Roger Ebert enjoyed going to the movies; his first, he recalled, was A Day at the Races, starring the Marx Brothers. As a teenager Ebert tried out his journalistic skills as a sports reporter for a local paper; later, while attending the University of Illinois, he became editor of the Daily Illini. Ebert had not yet graduated when he began selling articles to the Chicago Sun-Times, which would become his signature paper.
When Ebert began writing movie reviews it was from the point of view of a journalist, not a film-industry expert. He gained more insight when he took a screenwriting project for producer Russ Meyer, notorious for his campy B-flicks. Ebert wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a sequel to Jacqueline Susann's steamy novel Valley of the Dolls; another script, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens, would follow. Neither project was a shining entry on the resume of the writer who would later win a Pulitzer Prize. In 1975 Ebert took the prestigious journalism award, the first movie reviewer so honored.
A year later, the Chicago public-television station approached Ebert with a new project—a movie-review series pairing him with his chief rival, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune. "The answer," Ebert related in a Time interview, "was at the tip of my tongue: no." The Yale-educated Siskel was equally disenchanted with the idea, unconvinced that he wanted to join forces with "the most hated guy in my life," as he noted in Time. But the two were eventually won over, and the series, called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You, was launched. The premise was simple: seated in an ersatz theater, the two critics would prescreen features, then, as clips from the movie aired, exchange their ideas about the film. The show—retitled Sneak Previews—was a local favorite, with the critics' trademark "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" decisions entering the public consciousness. Sneak Previews was syndicated across PBS stations in 1978, making Ebert and Siskel the best-known movie critics in the nation.
Audiences tuned in not just for the trenchant reviews but also the realistic combativeness and quick-witted ribbing that the hosts displayed in their unscripted banter. The men's physical characteristics—Ebert heavyset, Siskel balding and comparatively thin—entered into the show's popular appeal. In a Peoplearticle, Barbara Kleban Mills compared the two to comics Abbott and Costello, and reprinted a few of their barbs: "Has your application for a zip code come through yet?" "The only things the astronauts saw from outer space were Three Mile Island and your forehead." But Ebert and Siskel would also argue convincingly when they disagreed on the quality of a film.
When Siskel and Ebert left for syndication in 1980, the title of Sneak Previews changed to Siskel and Ebert at the Movies, then simply Siskel and Ebert; at the same time, a spate of imitators (Rex Reed and Bill Harris, Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved) tried—and failed—to capture the chemistry of the original pair. That fact was made abundantly clear in February, 1999, when Siskel, at age fifty-three, died following treatment for a growth on his brain. Siskel's passing created a void in the movie-reviewing environment, said Paul Dergarabedian, a spokesman for Exhibitor Relations Co., which compiles box-office receipts. "He, along with his partner Roger Ebert, took film criticism into the mainstream," Dergarabedian told a CNN reporter. "The average person would look toward them about whether to take their hard-earned dollars to the box office." For his part, Ebert said of his longtime nemesis, "Gene was a lifelong friend and our professional competition only strengthened that bond." Following Siskel's death, Ebert continued his show with various guest cohosts, settling on journalist Richard Roeper as Siskel's permanent replacement in 2000.
As a writer, Ebert has remained true to his subject of films. His book of biographical essays, A Kiss Is Still a Kiss, proves that the critic "has the knack, essential for a good interviewer, of finding himself in poignant, pivotal situations," according to New York Times Book Review critic Kenneth Turan. "His collection … also proves that he has an acute ear for the memorable quote." Ebert has also become well known for his series of movie and video guides, including Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion and Roger Ebert's Video Companion. In addition, he has published books pointing out to readers what he considers bad movies and the clichés used in horrible film making.
More recently, Ebert completed two books discussing what he feels have been some of the most significant films over the years: The Great Movies and The Great Movies II. The impetus for these books came from Ebert's concern that modern moviegoers remain oblivious to the classic filmmakers of decades past. Ebert used the example of the French director Jean-Luc Godard, known in the 1960s and '70s for his new-wave innovations. "Now the name Godard inspires a blank face," he was quoted as saying by Rex Roberts in Insight on the News. "Art films are out. Self-conscious films are out. Films that test the edges of the cinema are out. Now it is all about the mass audience."
The Great Movies "includes the usual suspects" that make most film critics' lists, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "but also quirky surprises, such as … Disney's [animated classic] Pinocchio." The critic added that Ebert "is great when fleshing out the cultural context in which a film opened." "I'm not saying these are the greatest 100 films," Ebert told Lynn Andriani in a Publishers Weekly interview. "They're just great films." The Great Movies II updates and expands the first book, including everything from expected selections, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Annie Hall, to more unusual movies, such as recent Japanese anime cartoons. Booklist reviewer Gordon Flagg wrote that this "demonstrates the breadth of his taste." Rosalind Dayen, writing in the Library Journal, observed: "Providing fresh insight on many of these films can be difficult, but Ebert manages it with ease."
Ebert parlayed his experience in the movie industry to create his own work of fiction, Behind the Phantom's Mask. This book is a farcical look into the Hollywood establishment. In a review of the book in Publishers Weekly, Penny Kaganoff wrote: "Ebert pokes good-natured fun at such American entertainment industry traditions as fawning Anglophilia, bloated excess and even the standard Hollywood ending."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bloomsbury Review, July, 1997, review of Roger Ebert's Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the Finest Writing from a Century of Film, p. 21.
Booklist, January 1, 2005, Gordon Flagg, review of The Great Movies II, p. 798.
Insight on the News, April 1, 2002, Rex Roberts, "Century Club," p. 32.
Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Rosalind Dayen, review of The Great Movies II, p. 114.
New York Times Book Review, December 16, 1984, Kenneth Turan, review of A Kiss Is Still a Kiss.
People, August 20, 1984, Barbara Kleban Mills, article on Roger Ebert, p. 61.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1993, Penny Kaganoff, review of Behind the Phantom's Mask; February 4, 2002, Lynn Andriani, "PW Talks with Roger Ebert," and review of The Great Movies, p. 69.
Time, May 25, 1987, interview with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, p. 64.
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/ (February 21, 1999), "Film Critic Gene Siskel Dead at 53."
Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, http://www.ebertfest.com (May 23, 2002).