Sometimes, it feels as if we are eavesdropping on day-to-day conversations rather than just hearing the usual litany of platitudes and regrets.
Roger loved the Academy Awards. He never sat inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or the Kodak Theater to watch the show. Instead, he preferred to cover it as a journalist, standing outside on the red carpet to interview people as they entered the theater. He said he never wanted to ask, "Who are you wearing?" Sometimes that question would just pop out when the noise from the burgeoning crowds was so loud it was almost impossible to hear any other question. Most times though, he tried to lob something of substance about the movie, or the significance of the actors being there. But alas, he would exclaim, by the time the actors were being pushed and pulled along the red carpet, the last thing they wanted to do is expound on some existential angst.
Once the red carpet line was over, Roger would rush inside to the press room. He squeezed in among hundreds of other journalists who watched the show on TV monitors suspended from the ceiling. There, they dashed off their copy trying to make the late deadline. I think he got an adrenaline rush from the crowds and the chaos and from writing on deadline about movies he had been discussing all year. So despite the fact that his role was hard work and probably much less glamorous than his readers envisioned, it was work he loved to do. "After all," he would say, "who wouldn't want to go to the prom."
We didn't know it at the time, but there would be no more "proms" for Roger. I join his fans in lamenting the loss of his essays about the Oscars. I loved his exuberance over the 2009 Oscarcast. He thought Hugh Jackman made a great host, and took great pleasure in seeing "Slumdog Millionaire" take home so many awards. It is captured in this article. Last year, he launched his last "Outguess Ebert" contest. He was so confident when he wrote it that he predicted he would get every category right for the first time. (He didn't, but he did predict "Argo" would win Best Picture.) That column drew 159 comments from readers who either wanted to debate his predictions or praise them. He thrived on lively debate and encouraged it. (Once he wrote an article about Creationism that drew more than 3,000 comments. He read each and every one of them.)
The thing I remember most vividly about the contest last year is that he launched it from his hospital bed. He had fractured his hip and knew that attending the Oscars was not in the cards for him. So we sat in his hospital room, holding hands and cheering on all the filmmakers as they were called. He questioned me closely about the Spirit Awards, which were held in a tent in Santa Monica the day before. He remarked how much more closely the nominees for the Spirit Awards and the Oscars had become and how, in the old days, the independent films often were not nominated for Academy Awards. But it was difficult for him to get physically comfortable, and he worried that he might not be able to watch the whole telecast from his wheelchair. He gave me a perplexed look, as if to say, "What is happening to me?" But we didn't talk about it; we just continued to watch the show.
This year I will attend the prom with our grandson Mark-Taylor as my date. Roger would have been so proud that Taylor wants to go with me. He usually couldn't get the grandchildren (except our granddaughter Raven) to talk about the Oscars. But in recent years he noticed that they were becoming more interested in them. Are the Oscar organizers doing more things to draw a younger audience or are our grandchildren just growing up? Roger always thought the occasion was so special that the Academy shouldn't pander. He said the high production values would distinguish it from other shows
On Sunday night, I will sit in the theater thinking of him as I watch the show. I know my heart will experience a twinge knowing how much he would have thrilled over some of the movies in the Best Picture category: "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "Nebraska," "Her," "American Hustle," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Philomena," "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Captain Phillips." And toward the end of the evening, I will wonder if somewhere up there, he is watching, too.
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