Roll credits.

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:

Dear Roger,

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:

Dear Conrad,

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.”

Posted at 12:27 am in Media, Movies |

40 responses to “Roll credits.”

  1. Dexter said on April 5, 2013 at 1:52 am

    Neil Steinberg’s obit? I thought you meant Neil had died; this is the first I have heard Roger Ebert has passed.
    I was watching “How Green Was My Valley” on TCM when Ebert died, I guess.

    “Siskel and Ebert at The Movies” was must-see TV. They were great. Here they review one on my favorite movies.

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  2. MaryRC said on April 5, 2013 at 3:11 am

    I remember that correspondence between Conrad Black and Roger. How Roger must have enjoyed crafting that reply. Besides the reference to Lady Black’s salary from the Sun-Times as an “editorial advisor” for, literally, discussing the news with her husband, I liked the little dig at the non-compete payments. It must have been a bitter experience for Sun-Times staff to hear about the Blacks dipping into the company till for personal luxuries, while staff was cut and lights and escalators were turned off.

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  3. Alan Stamm said on April 5, 2013 at 8:39 am

    “. . . before retiring to Michigan.”

    Birm-ing-ham — three syllables, but not really tough to spell.

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    • nancy said on April 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

      Eh. My readers circle the globe, Stamm. If I said “Birmingham,” they’d think she was going to England.

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  4. Alan Stamm said on April 5, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Will Leitch’s piece and the New Yorker cartoon editor’s are deservedly parle d’heure must-reads . . .

    . . . as is Roger’s own Sept. 2011 reflection in Salon on a life well-lived and a death gracefully approached, 19 months in advance.

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  5. Heather said on April 5, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Chaz’s description of Ebert’s last moments are touching. It sounds like it was quick and peaceful. We should all be so lucky.

    I never met him, but I did see him (with Chaz) at a screening once for a documentary about the fashion designer Valentino, which I went to as part of my freelance writing duties on the style beat. I don’t like to “bother” famous people, especially while they’re working, but now I’m sorry I at least didn’t say hello.

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  6. nancy said on April 5, 2013 at 9:13 am

    My only in-the-flesh sighting was in Columbus, when Abel Gance’ “Napoleon” was playing, with a restored print, and a full orchestra (conducted by Carmine Coppola), at the Ohio Theater. Siskel was there, too. I didn’t talk to either, as the movie was still playing. But they were there. C. 1980-ish.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I nodded off through a chunk of the midsection, but regained consciousness for the final 30 minutes or so, when the full triptych is revealed, the gels drop in (coloring the three screens like the French flag), Napoleon’s falcon soars over the battlefield and the orchestra plays “La Marseillaise.” It was a good place to wake up, I must say. Can’t remember why I fell asleep, although I suspect alcohol played a part, and the whole courting-of-Josephine section was just way too long.

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  7. Charlotte said on April 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

    That visual of Kid President, and Obama, and the Emancipation Proclamation made me well up a little. Oh my. We’re hardly “postracial” (whatever that means) but we have come quite a distance …

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  8. Julie Robinson said on April 5, 2013 at 10:08 am

    It is good to know that Ebert passed so peacefully, especially since it was much earlier than we all anticipated. Like anyone else who read his writings or watched his show, I felt I could easily be his friend, and that was only a small part of his genius. If you aren’t quite ready to let him go, pick up his memoir; it’ll be time well spent.

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  9. coozledad said on April 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Petting: When Does It Go Too Far?
    So Anne Landers got a quarter for a fortune cookie sized sheet of paper that said When the pecker’s in, dumbass.
    That’s genius.

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  10. brian stouder said on April 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

    My “this day in history” calendar pad (Christmas present from my 14 year old daughter) informs me that today is the day Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and concludes:

    “In the apartment above the garage was Cobain’s sloppily written suicide note, quoting Neil Young’s lyric that it is ‘better to burn out than to fade away'”


    The calendar is losing me a little, as a few days ago it noted the anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s passing…but it had nothing to say about MLK’s murder (45 years ago yesterday).

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  11. Bitter Scribe said on April 5, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Ebert was truly one of the good guys.

    I tried my hand at reviewing movies once, and let me tell you, it’s not nearly as easy as it may seem. He made it look very easy, like a lot of people who are excellent at what they do.

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  12. Sherri said on April 5, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Another example of “cutting waste” isn’t an answer to deficit problems:

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  13. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 11:30 am

    North Carolina is looking to shitcan the 1st Amendment to establish an official state religion and dump those pesky civil rights laws, and next door in Virginia, the likely next governor is intent on making oral sex a felony.

    I always new for certain that if Roger Ebert liked a movie, I’d like it too. I almost have the same confidence in AO Scott and Elvis Mitchell. (Where has Elvis gone, left the building?) Lester Bangs and David Fricke, both sure things. Can’t think of a book critic that fits. The Tiger’s Wife has an admiring blurb from TC Boyle on the dust cover, so I was pretty sure about that.

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  14. LAMary said on April 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Something to play with.

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  15. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Sherri@12: Seeing the unconscionable toll of a budget gash of that sort would require some shred of human decency from the party (GOPers) that just 86ed the international treaty on rights of the disabled because they claimed it was an attempt by the NWO or some other conspiracy to wrest parental control and influence over kids from their parents, aka, those most likely to neglect and abuse the kids. Oh, and of course the loud protest comes from GOP donor gravy-trainers that rake in the cream from the federal government buttermaking process. Very similar situation to the totally fraudulent private sector role in the student loan process, a huge boondoggle that the GOP perpetrated, protected and facilitated for years, whose usurous interest charges for imaginary services make up well over 75% of the country’s total student loan debt.

    Some of Ebert’s harshest movie disses in quick quotes:

    exemplar: “I’d rather eat a golf ball than watch that again.”

    Oops, missed a “k” @13.

    Oh, and the GOP lords of North Carolina intend to pass a tax increase. Even Norquist will approve, as the tax surcharge will be targeted directly at parents of college students that register to vote at the locations of their school residences, rather than at mom and dad’s. Could this possibly be connected to the GOP’s renewed interest in ditching the Voting Rights Act. I mean, how dare those whippersnappers vote where it’s convenient and mess up perfectly good gerrymandering? When GOP state legislatures pull shit like this, I say give DOJ drones:

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  16. Catherine said on April 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    “He was a real wordsmith.” What a great epitaph.

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  17. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I’m sorry, what’s a book critic? Could you please point at one, so I know what you mean? Are they like unicorns or leprechauns? Or is it one of those jobs that everyone hears about but no one can find, like “Help Desk Administrator” or “Customer Service Representative.”

    Book critic. I’m sure I heard of one once, somewhere. Back in the ante-diluvian world.

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  18. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    To the best of my knowledge, Michiko Kakutani and Janet Maslin are book critics, for a living, for the NYT. They may prefer to be called literary critics, but since they both review books, mostly novels, basically weekly for the Times, that seems an affectation like insisting on “film” instead of “movie”. And I’d say the difference between critic and reviewer is a wash for people that get a paycheck from a major newspaper for reading books and writing essays about what they think of them.

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  19. Julie Robinson said on April 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Those Mad Men paper dolls remind of my early Barbies.

    Off-topic, calling Sisyphus: The British library says it will archive the entire British web every day. It boggles the mind.

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  20. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    I do get the NYT Book Review & the NYRB. That, and the back of The Atlantic, are the last surviving islands sticking up out of the watery chaos. Kakutani is not my most trustworthy source for book reviews, but I like Maslin (and Tannenhaus).

    But otherwise, book reviewers are denizens of Atlantis. A lost world.

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  21. brian stouder said on April 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Pros – heard that story last night; how is this NOT a poll tax?

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  22. Peter said on April 5, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I’ll miss Ebert – but in my opinion, he was way wrong about Full Metal Jacket.

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  23. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Jeff@20: Well, it does seem as if reviewing fiction, in particular, as become a logrolling game. (I haven’t thought of logrolling in the political sense in years; of course, it’s passe in the politics of speech as money and corporations as people, my friend.) And on Amazon, people like David Brooks and Ann Coultergeist review their own books as well as each others’. Dave Eggers managed to bring this dirty little secret into the light by calling his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, possibly the greatest book title ever. Reviews of political nonfiction can be trusted by discerning what sort of thinktank the reviewer is associated with, and how that association aligns with the book author’s contentions. Gunther Grass reviews fiction for The Paris Review every once in a while. If he likes it, I read it. William Gibson and China Mieville are quite relaible as blurbists on speculative fiction of any kind; I figure anybody that writes as well as those guys probably has good taste. I have a whole library of works by RA Lafferty, who almost nobody ever heard of, simply because I saw a paperback in a bookstore called The Devil is Dead that had a complimentary blurb from Michael Moorcock, whose books I originally read because of a recommendation I saw someplace from Roger Zelazny, whom I read because of a comment from Harlan Ellison. A good review from a writer I admire is generally enough for me to give something a try.

    M. Kakutani. I read a review she wrote of a memoir by Franzen in which she called the book “portrait of the artist as an odious young jackass.” Had to admit that was pretty damned funny, and having waded through a couple of Franzen’s pretentious (IMO) efforts, though not the memoir (please!) I figured it was pretty accurate. Franzen’s witty riposte was to call Kakutani “the stupidest person in New York.” I believe Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump still live there, so Franzen’s assessment is obviously pretty stupid itself, not to mention anemic in the wit category. Also, Kakutani has some strange dislike for Zadie Smith, whom I think is a deft and clever writer. Kakutani calls Smith “clunky”. Generally, her nastiest gutjobs are reserved for male writers, Roth, Rushdie, DeLillo, Safran Foer, Updike, Lethem, and an amazingly dead giveaway, Nabokov. Really, lady? Is it the plotting, the characterization, or the writer’s dongles? She also dislikes Martin Amis’ books. I think Martin Amis seems like the identical dickhead twin separated at birth from Hitchens (matching neurasthenia and overblown self-regard) I think he’s a gifted and imaginative fiction writer. Final word on Kakutani: leave it too Norman Mailer to be as rude as possible. Mailer called Kakutani “a female kamikaze”. In her own words, she said this about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: “Contrived and improvisatory, schematic and haphazard.” To which I say: “inconsistent and internally contradictory”.

    Of course that’s a poll tax, and as such, it is patently illegal. But establishing Fudigelicalictment as the official religion of one’s state seems to dwarf screwing with the polls for pure enormity of unAmericanism, illegality, and unConstitutionality. The NC argument for the former seems based upon some idea that Congress has no Constitutional basis for passing laws with binding national

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  24. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I thought Full Metal Jacket a very good movie, but I agree to some extent with What Ebert said about the plot being episodic and uneven, more like short stories than a novel. For me, once Private Pyle shoots Sergeant Hartman and himself, the movie loses propulsion, especially having just offed its two most compelling characters (and two best acting performances, in Ermey and D’Onofrio).

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  25. MarkH said on April 5, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Pros, you said it about Full Metal Jacket @25. After the latrine carnage caps boot camp, the rest is anticlimatic, I guess. I find Matthew Modine miscast in most everything he’s in anyway.

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  26. Danny said on April 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Pros, on the Ebert takedowns.. I disagree with him on “Stargate” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” ‘cuz I thought they were both fun flicks, but I loved what he had to say about Transformers II:

    “If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.”

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  27. LAMary said on April 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Elvis Mitchell still does reviews and interviews on KCRW, one of the local NPR stations in LA. You can probably find the online broadcast.

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  28. LAMary said on April 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Here’s where to find Elvis Mitchell.

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  29. MarkH said on April 5, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Me @26 EDIT: anticliMACtic! Sheesh.


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  30. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Nah, Mark. You and Danny are anticlamatic, not any movie. Sorry, that was just too easy.

    Alfred E. Jindal’s brilliant plan to make Loisiana state taxes 100% regressive. Exorcise yourself Jindal. That ain’t outreachdumbass.

    I thought Stargate wa decent sci fi, despite despising any character played by James Spader. I mean, I always wished pretty in pink ended with Spader’s Steff getting his ass kicked by Molly Ringwald, John Cryer and Annie Potts, and the king of John Hughes wimpy boyfriends, Andrew McCarthy. That would have been great. I’ve never seen How to Lose a Guy, but I like McConaughey and I lofe Goldie Hawn Jr. I just can’t stand that sort of movie.

    Thanks for the links to Elvis Mitchell. I really like that guy. He also shows up with a half-hour show on TCM sometimes. Any guy that looks like Family Man Barret and worked for NYT is alright by me.

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  31. Sherri said on April 5, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    As I’ve said here many times, the NCAA is a deeply corrupt institution. The latest example? No, not the Rutgers coach. That’s way too normal. It’s this.

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  32. MichaelG said on April 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    I remember reading Roger Ebert’s reminiscence several years ago. What a wonderful little piece. I had forgotten Royko’s softball stories. My uncle played for a team called the Lawndale Hams. There was a neighborhood called Lawndale and I suppose the team must have been sponsored by a packing house.

    I attended the U of I during the time Ebert was there. He was a senior when I was a sophomore. I ran into him several times but was never a friend or anything. The best story I can remember occurred one Saturday night at a party. I may have told this before but anyway . . . The cops would raid a party with little or no provocation. Probably a neighbor would call them complaining about noise. They would descend on the party with a big net looking to catch all the underage drinkers. Like me. This night, the cops were spotted when still approaching the place and the alarm was sounded. Ebert, who as editor of the Daily Illini, enjoyed some prominence and didn’t want to be caught up in things even though I’m pretty sure he was over 21. The last I saw of him that night was his big ass disappearing out a window in his successful effort to escape. I was lucky enough to get away as well.

    I read the Dan Wetzel tee shirt story just now after reading Roger Ebert’s story. What a contrast. Wetzel is a piss poor writer.

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  33. MarkH said on April 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Regarding Ebert, not long ago I was watching a compilation of At The Movies on YouTube, and was struck how Ebert dissed the Coen brothers’ films, until Fargo came out. Then he went big and named that the top movie of that year. He was particulary dismissive of Raising Arizona and Siskel for his relentless defense of it. The Fargo review is great Siskel and Ebert, where Roger does endorse Siskel’s view of the Coens’ greatness:

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  34. Deborah said on April 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    I know I’ve told this story here before but my sister in law claims to have dated Ebert when she was a student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, I think they were in the same class but he may have been a year or two ahead of her.

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  35. Prospero said on April 5, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    Sherri@31: Pitino’s teflon is as non-stick as Ronnie Raygun’s. Stories like that one and the Miami fiasco always remind me of AJ Green suspended by the NCAA for four games (including two Georgia lost and would have won in all likelihood had AJ played–he was the best receiver and maybe the best player in the country, and he’s proved that by his pro performance). That was in the middle of the NC investigation and the investigation of the famous pimp/agent party in South Beach. unCoach Rice should be clapped in stocks in public while the players throw basketballs at him.

    I didn’t realize that about Ebert and the Coens. I think Raising Arizona is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. And Blood Simple, which I believe preceeded Fargo, was the better of the two. The absolute best Coen Bros. movie is Miller’s Crossing. Albert Finney and Gabriel Byrne in an Irish mob movie together. Amazing. Followed by O Brother, Where Art Thou. One way or another the Bros. C. owe much of their success to Frances McDormand.

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  36. Dexter said on April 6, 2013 at 12:30 am

    prospero, who could ever forget the scene in the woods?

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  37. Dexter said on April 6, 2013 at 12:31 am

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  38. Dexter said on April 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

    Friday was Opening Day at Comerica Park. I always think of Nick Feldman on Opening Day. He was a Detroit legend 25 years ago, always riding that bike, in a Tigers suit or long red underwear.

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  39. Prospero said on April 6, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Dexter: I always think of Purnal Goldy. Remember the HR call on the radio, by George Kell in his first MLB at AB.

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