Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
Jun 18, 1942
Film critic Roger Ebert born. On this day in 1942, Roger Ebert, who will become famous as the movie critic who used his thumbs to pass judgment on Hollywood’s latest offerings on his long-running TV show, is born in Urbana, Illinois.
While a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the 1960s, Ebert was the editor of the school newspaper, the Daily Illini. He began his professional career in 1966, as a reporter and feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times, where his interest in movies led him to visit the set of Camelot, the 1967 film starring Richard Harris as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Guinevere. In the spring of 1967, after the Sun-Times movie critic Eleanor Keane left the paper, Ebert was given the job. Ebert’s first review as critic was of the French New Wave film Galia (1966).
In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. That same year, he teamed with another critic, Gene Siskel, on a monthly show on local television called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You. By the time the show later moved to PBS (Public Broadcasting System), Siskel and Ebert had established their now-famous format: two men sitting in theater seats discussing the newest movies and giving each of them a positive--”thumbs up”--or negative--”thumbs down”--review. In 1982, the show began a nationwide syndicated broadcast as At the Movies; four years later, the title changed to Siskel & Ebert, which it would keep for the next 20 years.
Siskel and Ebert’s colorful criticism--and their good-natured disagreements--turned their show into a long-running hit, and made them well-known personalities in their own right. Their run lasted until early 1999, when Siskel died at the age of 53, from complications of surgery to remove a brain tumor. Ebert co-hosted with a series of guests until mid-2000, when Richard Roeper of the Sun-Times became his permanent co-host. Ebert & Roeper aired through the summer of 2006, when Ebert underwent surgery to remove cancer in his jaw. Ebert kept fans in the loop about his condition and recovery with written updates on his Sun-Times Web site.
In July 2008, the show’s owner, Buena Vista, decided to pull the plug on Ebert & Roeper, which Roeper had been continuing with guest critics.
Ebert had remained active behind the scenes, but had not been able to appear on air because of his illness.
In early 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. In February of that year, surgeons at Northwestern Memorial Hospital were able to successfully remove the cancer with clean margins. He later underwent surgery in 2003 for cancer in his salivary gland, and in December of that year, underwent a four-week follow-up course of radiation to his salivary glands, which altered his voice slightly. As he battled the illness, Ebert continued to be a dedicated critic of film, not missing a single opening while undergoing treatment.
Ebert underwent further surgery on June 16, 2006, just two days before his 64th birthday, to remove additional cancerous tissue near his right jaw, which included removing a section of jaw bone. On July 1, Ebert was hospitalized in serious condition after his carotid artery burst near the surgery site and he "came within a breath of death". He later learned that the burst was likely a side effect of his treatment, which involved neutron beam radiation. He was subsequently kept bedridden to prevent further damage to the scarred vessels in his neck while he slowly recovered from multiple surgeries and the rigorous treatment. At one point, his status was so precarious that Ebert had a tracheotomy performed on his neck to reduce the effort of breathing while he recovered.
Ebert had pre-taped enough TV programs with his co-host Richard Roeper to keep him on the air for a few weeks; however, his extended convalescence necessitated a series of "guest critics" to co-host with Roeper: Jay Leno (a good friend to both Ebert and Roeper), Kevin Smith, John Ridley, Toni Senecal, Christy Lemire, Michael Phillips, Aisha Tyler, Fred Willard, Anne Thompson, A.O. Scott, Mario Van Peebles, George Pennacchio, Brad Silberling, and John Mellencamp. Michael Phillips later became Ebert's replacement for the remainder of Roeper's time on At the Movies, until mid-2008, when Roeper did not extend his contract with ABC.
In October 2006, Ebert confirmed his bleeding problems had been resolved. He was undergoing rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago due to lost muscle mass, and later underwent further rehabilitation at the Pritikin Center in Florida." After a three-month absence, the first movie he reviewed was The Queen. Ebert made his first public appearance since the summer of 2006 at Ebertfest on April 25, 2007. He was unable to speak but communicated through his wife, Chaz, through the use of written notes. His opening words to the crowd of devout fans at the festival were a quote from the film he co-wrote with Russ Meyer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: "It's my happening and it freaks me out." Also in April 2007, in an interview with WLS-TV in Chicago, he said, "I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers — so what?" On April 23, the Sun-Times reported that, when asked about his decision to return to the limelight, Ebert remarked, "We spend too much time hiding illness."
June 24, 1987
Jackie Gleason dies. Actor Jackie Gleason dies on this day in 1987.
Raised by a single mother who worked at a subway token booth in New York, Gleason dropped out of high school and began performing on the vaudeville circuit in his teens. Signed to a movie contract by the time he was 24 years old, Gleason played character roles in a handful of movies in 1941 and 1942, but found much more success in television. He became one of TV's most popular stars in a number of shows, including The Jackie Gleason Show, which ran throughout most of the 1950s and '60s.
On the show, he created the character of Ralph Kramden, a bus driver who became the beloved star of the spin-off television show The Honeymooners.