It is inconceivable to me that the Pulitzer-Prize winning Film Critic Roger Ebert, who was a guest on my show, and who I had interactions with over the many years that I knew him, has passed at age 70. I thought he would always be there. His courage, his fight against his many disabling illnesses was heroic. And he had a wonderful wife, Chazz, to help him.
The world is mourning his loss, but the impact he made on all our screen-going lives is incalculable.
He and Gene Siskel were always ever-present presences in my living room as a Bronx teenager growing up. On my TV. In the newspapers. They informed a generation. They changed film criticism, if not filmgoing forever. And then Siskel was gone, too soon. And now Roger is gone, too.
To the many accolades & elegies & tributes, I feel I should just add my own personal reminiscences.
I met Roger for the first time at the Toronto Film Festival something like fourteen or fifteen years ago. He was lumbering down the street, heading off to yet another screening, as was I, and I couldn’t believe whom I had just run into! He was wearing a long, green-ish grey trenchcoat and carrying a brief case. He could’ve been just another harried businessman in a rush to get to work, but no, it was the Legend Even Then, Roger Ebert!
I said “Hello!” and introduced myself, and told him how much I admired his work. And he was not dismissive or aloof. He was immediately approachable. He was interested in what I thought. As a fellow film critic who also had a television show, I was instantly a friend. We were in the trenches together. I think he loved all reporters. He was first, last and always a journalist at heart.
As the years went by at TIFF, he was a constant presence. He always arrived on a Friday, the day after the film festival started, always on a Thursday. And I would encounter him over and over in the Press Room, collecting his credentials, and on the streets of Toronto. He always had time to stop and say “Hi.”
Once I asked him how he had managed to lose so much weight, something I’ve always struggled with, too, and he happily showed me his ped-o-meter, which was a new device at the time.
“It’s all due to this,” he claimed. “I walk.That’s all I do. I walk. You should get one of these. They’re great.”
And once I was lucky enough to have one of my cameramen in action in the press area and got a brief hello from him on camera.
How did he feel about this year’s Festival? What was he looking forward to seeing?
I remember him saying, looking at the gigantic, telephone-sized TIFF catalogue, which has not reduced with time, by the way, only gotten heavier.
And he said, “Once I figure out how to get through this MAZE, ” indicating the catalogue.
There was more, but I guess I’m so upset about his passing and Richard Griffiths, too, occurring within days of each other that my mind is a blank, a confusion of griefs.
My cameraman was from Montreal that year, and he called himself “The Gnome.” That much I remember. And he had a very small camera, sort of the forerunner of today’s flip-cam and Roger asked The Gnome to look at it.
He seemed delighted by anything and everything filmic, even this small camera. “Oh, I have one of those just like it!” he exclaimed. “They’re very good.”
Positive.Positive.Positive. The man just radiated warmth and kindness and I knew, I always knew I was in the presence of a great man.
When I mentioned that Roger was on my TV show http://www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow, albeit briefly to David Poland, also at TIFF, whom I recognized from HIM being such a frequent regular on Roger’s show, after Gene passed. David said something like “I’m impressed. He’s very hard to pin down.”
I can say my Internet career began from that moment of David’s interest in me.
So in a sense, Roger Ebert changed my life. Or my career, which is my life.
THEN I was one of the probably many, many film critcs, who was being considered for sitting opposite him, as he stealth-auditioned many reviewers, like David, to fill Gene’s chair. This was before the onset of Richard Roeper, who finally got the job.
I had conversations with his staff secretary, a cheery woman. I had to send her tapes. Yes, my show was on VHS tapes at the time. So I sent several of my best shows to “At the Movies” offices in Chicago. I spoke on the phone. I corresponded with them, but no, I never got to go on TV, never got to go to Chicago.
I remember his gal saying that “Young people are always disappointed when they get here and see that there are no movie stars around. Just Roger. And lots of film clips.”
For the record, he never had an Out gay man on the show with him. The closest he got to an LGBT personage was the great B. Ruby Rich, from San Francisco, who coined the phrase “Queer Cinema.” And she and Roger were great together. As was David Poland and Roger.
David was the closest I think to Gene Siskel’s chemistry with Roger. David has never been one to mince words or call a spade a spade and he gave as good as he got. And Roger liked that.
And David was urban, a former New Yorker, now living in L.A. and Jewish. Roger liked all those things too. And sadly Richard Roeper prevailed. I always thought David would’ve been great on that show.
But it was because of my connection with Roger that led me to David and to becoming a Guru o’ Gold at http://www.moviecitynews.com
And the rest as they say is history.
And oh, yes, Sasha Stone http://www.awardsdaily. helped immensely, too. And still does, to this day. One of my best friends of all time.
It was the year of “Brokeback Mountain” and the impact of that movie catapulted me out of the Gay Ghetto, into writing for straight people and their heterosexual audiences about the movies.I.E. David and Sasha. And I can trace all that, I feel, back to Roger’s good will towards me.
Thank you, Roger Ebert. You were doing good even when you weren’t trying. R.I.P.