Roger Ebert

When my husband and I were newly married, our favorite date nights involved dinner and a movie. If we didn’t have the time—or the funds—to do both, we ate leftovers before heading for the theater. In the days before video cassettes, CDs and cable TV, movies were a significant source of entertainment. Of course, they still are today, albeit in many forms and venues.

Roger Ebert began reviewing films in the late sixties. My husband and I had a rule: When Ebert gave a movie one star, we’d wait until it was on television to watch it, if ever. When he gave a movie two stars, we’d give it a try; three stars, we’d race to buy tickets. But when Ebert gave a movie four stars, we avoided it. We had seen a few of his 4-star movies like Claire’s Knee and left after the show . . . dazed and confused.

In 1975, Roger Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. His four-decades on television included twenty-three years as co-host of “Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.” Ebert’s journalism career included film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He was a prolific writer who published dozens of works, culminating with the publication of his memoir, Life Itself.

I attended the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner in 2011 where Ebert was honored. Nearly two-thousand guests listened to Bill Kurtis interview Ebert, who answered Kurtis via his laptop, as he’d lost his ability to speak due to complications from thyroid cancer. I clearly remember the event: seated at every table was a well-known author (no, not me—I said “well-known”). Scott Simon was at mine. The centerpieces were stacks of newly-authored books, atop of which was a library lamp with a glow from its green glass shade.

A final question posed by Kurtis was what did Ebert think of Kindles—and did he use one. Ebert replied that while he understood online books’ popularity, he preferred holding a book in his hand, dog-earing pages that held his favorite passages. The guests erupted in massive cheers, like ones you’d hear at the United Center.

I recently re-read Ebert’s glowing review of Claire’s Knee which he described as “a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally.” I’m older now and more mature. I think I’ll rent it.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

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