My friend Don Evans, the founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, is a master of producing great celebratory events honoring Chicago writers, past and present. Don runs his organization on a shoestring budget, yet his productions are always at beautiful venues, free to the public, and features some of the best of Chicago’s creative community as participants.
Last evening’s induction of Roger Ebert into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, held at the new American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue, was one such event. The emcee was Rick Kogan, the fabled Tribune features writer and radio interviewer. Rick told the story about how impressed his father, Herman Kogan, the editor of Panorama, the literary supplement of the Daily News, was when Ebert submitted a short piece to him on Brendan Behan, shortly after the Irish writer’s death in 1964. Panorama published the piece, introducing Ebert to Chicago’s newspaper audience.
A few years later, in 1967, at the age of 25, Ebert was hired by the Sun-Times, as its film critic. His career with the newspaper was enduring and prolific, lasting to his death in 2013. No American newspaper film critic was better than Ebert, who became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.
However it was the medium of television that catapulted Ebert to fame, partnering in movie review shows first with Gene Siskel, and later with Richard Roeper. Last evening Roeper shared some wonderful personal memories about his late friend and colleague. Ebert’s editor for nearly twenty years at the Sun-Tmes, Laura Emerick, reminisced about the brilliance of his writing.
Ebert’s wife, Chaz, was the last and most powerful speaker at the ceremony. Like others she spoke of his writing genius, but she emphasized the greatness of his humanity and his passion for social justice, i.e. Ebert, the man, as a model for all of us to emulate.