I don’t know what I could say about Roger Ebert that I didn’t say three years ago, when the extent of his injury, and his badly reconstructed new face, was revealed in Esquire magazine. I wouldn’t change a word, but in looking around the web in the late afternoon, I can see that I missed a lot.
This was maybe my favorite, the public spat between Ebert and Conrad Black, who owned the Chicago Sun-Times for a while. Black was a Canadian and believed all the good things in the world were made for him and him alone, and the correspondence between the two, carried out in public, is delightful:
I have been disappointed to read your complaints about the former Hollinger International management. I vividly recall your avaricious negotiating techniques through your lawyer, replete with threats to quit, and your generous treatment from David Radler, which yielded you an income of over $500,000 per year from us, plus options worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and your own Web site at the company’s expense. …
…which led to:
One of the things I have always admired about you, and that sets you aside from the general run of proprietors, is that you so articulately and amusingly say exactly what is on your mind. I am not at all surprised by your letter to me, because I would assume that is how you would feel; what is refreshing is that you say so.
Let me just say in response that I have never complained about my salary at the Sun-Times, but to describe my lawyer as ”avaricious” is a bit much; he engaged in spirited negotiations, as he should have, and he and you settled on a contract. It goes without saying that any contract negotiation includes the possibility that either party might choose to leave rather than to sign. I hope you are grateful that I did not demand an additional payment for agreeing not to compete with myself. Since you have made my salary public, let me say that when I learned that Barbara received $300,000 a year from the paper for duties described as reading the paper and discussing it with you, I did not feel overpaid.
You really had to live through the newspaper business to believe it.
This, Will Leitch’s story about how he loved Ebert, then insulted him, instantly regretted it and came to be forgiven, is the talker of the hour, but it’ll be a few more hours before you read this, and something else may come up in the interim.
You might also like to read Neil Steinberg’s obit, which is very fine.
Oh, this is such a loss. He worked so hard, for so long, it seemed he’d never stop.
By the way, if you’re looking for some longform Ebert to read, I suggest “The Great Movies” collections, particularly Vol. 1. He really loved his work.
And Roger wins the New Yorker caption contest is worth your time, too.
So let’s skip to the bloggage, shall we?
While we’re on the subject of working as long as one is able, Elaine Stritch is playing her final shows, at the Carlyle, before retiring to Michigan. She’s 88. I hope to see her in a cafe somewhere around here soon.
And not to leave you with a total bummer, here are some squirrels, in some remarkable tableaux.
Oh, and the president, doing what he does, with the cutest kid ever.
Let’s all have a happy weekend, shall we?
ADDED: An editor (of Ebert’s) speaks. Some good stuff (for writers, anyway) on his process, and what he was like to work with:
He was a celebrity in the journalism and film world, but he never pulled the star act. He was quite amenable to editing. If you needed or wanted to make a change, he was fine with that. He just rarely needed it. The prose just flowed. He was a real wordsmith.
OK, one more:
One day an inspector from the Chicago Post Office came to our editor, James Hoge, with a puzzling discovery. Several hundred empty envelopes addressed to Ann Landers had been found in the trash behind an address in Hyde Park. With an eerie certainty, Jim called in Milton and asked him for his address. Milton, whose jobs included distributing mail, had been stealing the quarters sent in for Ann Landers’ pamphlet, Petting: When Does It Go Too Far? Discussing his firing after work at Billy Goat’s, he was philosophical: “Hundreds of kids can thank me that they were conceived.”