Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Roger Ebert: Film Critic & Mensch, A Eulogy…by Robert M. Katzman 4/4/13

 
© April 4, 2013
 
Roger Ebert died of cancer today. I knew him.
 
In the late 1960’s, when I owned Bob’s Newsstand in Hyde Park, I sold the Chicago Sun-Times every day, and always read his column. I was a teenager. I loved the movies and would eventually see about 200 a year, both foreign and domestic. When the University of Chicago Downtown Extension offered Film Criticism classes taught by Roger, I signed up for it twice, in 1970. I was 20, he was 27.   
 
I signed up for his class twice, because my newsstand burned down before the first class was over, and I had to rebuild it. Now there’s a note excusing me from class that a teacher would seldom receive.                                                                            

We became very friendly, I joked that I sold more copies of his column every day than anyone and he was a nice kind man, and funny, too. Many times I told him to gather his columns into a book and that I’d sell it in my newsstand, and he laughed.  But when my newsstand also became a bookstore, I did carry his books.
 
Twenty years after my store closed, in 2004, and I wrote my first book about that life, and then advertised it on Amazon, knowing nothing about marketing or anything modern, I sent Roger a note about the book, thinking he’d appreciate the irony of my also becoming an author.  Except now I was  54 and he was 61 and world famous.  I didn’t expect a response.  We hadn’t communicated in any way for years. I just did it for the hell of it.
 
In the year I had my book on Amazon, I sold exactly one book, to a Mr. Roger Ebert, who also sent me a copy of his latest as a gift.  He was a very busy man.  Why did he bother?
 
It wasn’t what he said that struck me so much, but it was what he did.  He made me feel like I mattered, still mattered, to him.
 
What really counts is how people, powerful people, treat you when no one’s looking.
 
But, I regret, we shared more than a love for the movies. Both Roger and I were victims, as thousands of others were, of the experimental X-ray therapy for swollen thyroid glands in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. But in reality, it was radiation poisoning. In my case, 1951, when I was one.
 
Gene Siskel, also a customer of mine at that time, by chance was also a casualty of the same situation. I liked him, too. That’s a different story.
 
I lost my left jaw to salivary cancer, as Roger also did, when I was 18. I have had extensive reconstructive surgery, endlessly it seems, and have remained cancer free for decades. Doctors tell me I’m lucky, and I suppose I am. Meaning still alive and a grandfather. Here, briefly, is an example of why Roger Ebert meant so much to me, besides what I already described:
 
After 20 years, the Bob’s Newsstands chain closed and I was 35 and virtually unemployable. Roger, somehow, found out, already knew that I, too, was a writer. He called me and told me he’d try to get me a job at the Sun-Times.
 
A month later, a guy called me from the Times and offered me a job. What follows doesn’t matter. What does is that I was effectively nobody, but not to Ebert and he kept his word to me. I loved him for it. He had character, and how many people really do?
 

About Roger. He was, in my experience, a typical, honest, helpful and gracious small town person. I’ve been everywhere, countless small towns and frequently in trouble of some sort. Small town people–complete strangers–always came to my rescue. Pretty stunning in retrospect.

To me, small towns are the soul of America, and the “roger ebert” kind of decent people living in them are as common as wheat waving in a field. I don’t miss the critic, as I type this tribute, tho’ that was something about him I deeply admired. I just miss the guy.

This part I’m adding six years later in 2019, because I think it is probably a forgotten nugget of his worldview:  

 Impishly, he once said that too many movies were dependent on SOLIs. What the hell is a SOLI?  A “semi-obligatory musical interlude” to make a movie seem cool or romantic. He felt they were a cliche` forty years ago.

Damn it, Roger, I’m gonna miss you. Not like pretend in the movies, but in real life–you were a standup guy.

Love, from a newspaper-selling guy from way back, to another, real, newspaper guy.

Bob

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
A Savage Heart  and Fighting Words

Gritty, corrupt, violent, sexy, and the real dirt.
Here’s how: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
However, I have a PO Box, now and unless you live in Wisconsin (add 5.1% sales taxes), I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
weigh almost 2 #’s each, and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.   About 525 pages each. 

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                 

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

(262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

9 Comments »

Comment by Don Larson

April 4, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

Bob,

I am sorry for your loss. I believe I understand how deeply you grieve over lost family and friends.

I never met Roger in-person. I did see him in the San Diego Airport in August 1996 or 1997. We were taking our daughter back after summer break to catch her plane back to college in Illinois. I saw Roger sitting there by the Gate and mentioned to our daughter to go over and shake his hand. She did and he was a very friendly and gracious person to her.

I hesitated in meeting him, trying to respect his privacy and not helping to bring more attention to him by gathering a crowd. Maybe I should have personally acknowledged him back then?

Well, I sent a prayer his way a few times while he was ill and one today after his passing was announced. That’s acknowledgement in spiritual form and perhaps more important.

Don

Comment by Sheryl Rak

April 4, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

Beloved, on many levels <3

Comment by Bill Skeens

April 4, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

Nice tribute to your friend Bob. My thoughts are with you and with Roger.

Comment by J Steve Adler

April 5, 2013 @ 7:44 am

Bob, yours is one of many, many similar tributes I have heard since Rogers death. It is clear that he has left a legacy of kindness in addition to his clear enjoyment of life as a writer and critic. Thanks for your memories, too . . . .

Comment by Paul Eisenbacher

April 5, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

Bob
I was also sorry to hear of the death of Roger Ebert. I only so him a few times on the occasions of the Chicago Film Festival. He always stayed to talk to those waiting in line to see the various movies. He loved the movies and all that went with them. We talked before about the important values in life. My three are compassion, commitment, and character. He possessed all three all his life. As well as you my friend. A fine eulogy indeed. Stay well. Paul

Comment by A. E. Jennings

April 5, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

Bob,
I did not know Roger or Gene, but I loved their show – and am and always will be a fan of the movies, although I don’t know how many I’ve seen!
Roger Ebret sounded like a truly good human.

Comment by Ami

April 6, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

Roger was a true Mench, from what I’ve read. Gene was a Mench, I once had a chance to chat with him briefly at an event, just few months before his passing. You — I know you well, and you’re a Mench, Bob.

Thanks for your great writing. Stay healthy, we need you for many more years!

Comment by Nina Goren

April 29, 2016 @ 5:14 am

Thanks so much for sharing, Bob

Comment by sue ellen

April 10, 2019 @ 10:03 am

So many great stories. My good friend, who was a few years older than me went out with him before he married his wife. He was a wonderful writer. Even when I didn’t agree with one of his reviews I read them and enjoyed them, because they were so thoughtful and beautifully written.

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