Roger and Me

I believe that if, at the end of the day, and according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a littler happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime, To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out. – Roger Ebert

I met Roger Ebert once, in 1982, when he and Gene Siskel were just starting to hit it big with their “Sneak Previews” show on PBS. They were in town to speak to a film society function (at the old Red Rock Theaters) and  happily agreed to meet a few of us at the old Port Tack restaurant on west Sahara for a drink after their talk and Q & A. Siskel (who died in 1999 of brain cancer) struck me as a regular guy (who loved talking movies and sports, in that order, and was envious of my job as a trial lawyer). Ebert reminded me of that guy who was always the brightest guy in your dorm — an egghead who was a good egg just the same. Neither of them had a pretentious or supercilious bone in their body.

I remember buying a round of drinks for the group of six or so (including them), sitting in the lounge and good natured-ly kidding Roger about his “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” screenplay. Ebert’s obituary states that he quit drinking in 1979, so maybe he was nursing one to be a good sport, but no matter, because what I remember thirty years on was is much they loved movies, how much they knew about movies, and how easy to talk to they both were (although Ebert, even then, was the more prickly and serious of the two).

Even then, I was amazed that a critic of any sort could actually garner a national following and make a career out of reviewing things. (In retrospect, they were the first and probably the last.) Both said they were pretty amazed as well and pinched themselves on occasion to make sure they weren’t dreaming. What I didn’t value at the time was just how special and iconic both of them were… and how famous they were to become. Together and separately, they changed the way the public at large looks at, analyzes and appreciates movies. Would that every worthwhile writer and critic (oof anything) could say the same.

RIP Roger Ebert (1942-2013).