Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were the first people I ever heard discuss movies with deep, intelligent passion. I always liked Ebert better, and I really don’t think I’d be doing what I do without him.
I just didn’t want to do this. I was on my way home Thursday when I got an email with “Do you want to write a quick column about Roger Ebert dying?” as the subject. No. No, I did not.
I saw Ebert in person once. Back when I was in graduate school in Chicago, I was writing the occasional movie review for the student newspaper and once got to go to a critics-only screening. It was Kevin Smith’s “Dogma,” so a lot of the college papers sent reviewers; most of us had never been to a screening like this. As the appointed time came and went, someone asked when the film would start. “When Roger gets here,” was the answer. Sure enough, when Ebert walked in (only five minutes late), the lights dimmed. He was a Big Deal, but in his writing, he never seemed to think so.
He thought of himself, always, still, as a “newspaperman,” a charmingly archaic term he used even after he became so much more than that, when he had developed into a TV host, a prolific blogger and a master of Twitter. (“My newspaper job,” he said in 2005, “is my identity.”)
I am related to a good many newspeople; the business is so in my blood that one of the first things I thought was that it was quite gracious of Ebert to die in time for East Coast print deadlines. Which is why I changed my no to a yes and started typing this. I may never have met Ebert, but I know one thing: Newspapermen make deadlines.
So this is what I want to write: Roger Ebert was one of the funniest, most beautiful writers in American journalism. And, for me, he was the best teacher I never got to meet.
How to Remember Ebert
Read his 2007 book, “Your Movie Sucks.” And maybe go see a movie this weekend.