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Roger Ebert was an American film critic best known as one half of the popular Siskel and Ebert film critic television show.
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Certainly his bosses didn't sense anything; his appointment was buried on page 57 of the paper's April 5, 1967 edition.
As he had in school, Ebert soon developed a reputation at the paper as a hard worker and fast writer, someone whose quick mind and quicker typing skills drew the envy of his colleagues. By the mid-1970s, Roger Ebert was already entrenched as a highly regarded movie critic and magazine writer. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, and was approached by a local television producer about bringing his work to the world of television. The idea seemed like a novelty at the time: bring together two highly charged film critics from competing newspapers and let them air out their opinions each week for the cameras.
Ebert was an obvious choice. So was Gene Siskel, a movie critic for the Chicago Tribune, whose more reserved, less bombastic style clashed nicely with Ebert's more outgoing flair. The show, initially titled Opening Soon at a Theater Near You, first aired in September 1975 and proved to be an immediate success. By the end of its first season, the program was showcased on more than 100 public television stations. Three years later, PBS, which had secured the rights to the program, brought the show to 180 markets.
While the show's popularity certainly fattened the wallets of the two critics, it wasn't until the early 1980s that the program began to make them rich. In 1982, the pair earned $500,000 each for the season. Four years later, after Walt Disney Co. purchased the program, the two critics doubled their salaries.
As the show's stars became household names, their influence took off. One way the pair flexed their muscles was by drawing attention to issues that stirred their passions. Their campaign for an adult movie rating helped sparked the creation of the NC-17 rating. Other themed shows condemned colorization, and pushed for full-screen letterbox images on video releases and more usage of black-and-white film. They also championed independent and foreign-language films, as well as documentaries otherwise doomed to fall through the cracks.
Both men continued to write for their respective papers. Ebert also authored an assortment of books that expanded his thoughts on film. But it was their television work, (producers finally settled on the title At the Movies) that put them on the map. Viewers loved their clashes, their highly opinionated debates over plots, performances and direction. They also loved their famous "thumbs up, thumbs down" approval meter—an idea that Ebert claimed he developed.
In 1992, after a series of relationships, Roger Ebert's personal life settled down when he married Charlie "Chaz" Hammel-Smith, a divorced mother of two.
Not surprisingly, Ebert's relationship with Siskel mellowed as well. Over the years, the once fiercely competitive writers grew extremely close. Ebert's Chicago-area brownstone was adorned with pictures of his good friend, who passed away in February 1999 from a brain tumor.
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