In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

Thumb dogs

Isle of Dogs

As entertaining as it is to look at Isle of Dogs, I couldn’t get past Anderson’s usual clumsiness when dealing with minorities.

Thumb v5hlmjk9bdehxn2qhafp1ivjx3u

Pacific Rim Uprising

I'm writing this review in a hurry because every hour that I wait makes it harder to remember any specific thing that happens in Pacific…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

I Was a Teenage Newshound

My first professional newspaper job was on The News-Gazette in my home town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was 15. The pay was 75 cents a hour, eventually climbing even higher. I was not an intern. That was a salary. I was a sports writer, graduating to general assignment in the summer, and I pumped out reams of copy. I recall a special section commemorating the opening of a bowling alley, for which I wrote at least 15 stories, all with my proud byline; I even interviewed a pin-spotter and the owner of a shoe rental franchise.


I am inspired to recall those days because of the coverage of my recent film festival in Champaign-Urbana by Melissa Merli. The quality of her writing was splendid, her curiosity was boundless and her word volume was worthy of a bowling alley. Merli interviewed every star or director, wrote about all the movies, covered the panel discussions and the Q & A sessions, wrote about the 70mm projection and even profiled Chuck and Eileen Kuenneth, who met in my University of Chicago film class in 1983, were married in 1991, and were at their fifth or sixth Ebertfest.

Other writers also contributed to the paper's coverage, but it was Merli's story, and she covered it right down to the ground and put a tarp on it. I was awestruck. Outsiders might sympathize with poor overworked Melissa, but many newspaper veterans will understand that she had an ideal assignment: Write all you want about something you care about. The complaint of many journalists in these latter days of cost-cutting is that they have to boil stories into info-nuggets. As you approached Merli's third byline on the same page, you could feel her enthusiasm and her joy in her work. I'd hire her on any paper I edited.

* * *

Someday there will be a memoir to write about my days as a teenage newshound, but here one story will suffice. The paper was put to bed every day at noon, and the city room cleared out for Vriner's, across the street, except for the lowest writer on the totem pole, and Bill Schmelzle, the city editor. We heard the city fire trucks roaring out of their garage. "Call them, see what it is, and give me a graf," Schmelzle told me.

I wrote the graf, which was "railroaded" into print. That means it was set in hot type without benefit of copy editing. I wrote:


"Champaign firemen responded to a still on fire at Morris Brown's junk yard at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday. The blaze was out on arrival."

Later that afternoon, Harold Holmes, the executive editor, called me into his office.

"Roger," he said, "there is someone I'd like for you to meet. This is Mr. Morris Brown."

I shook hands and told Mr. Brown (also a noted bail bondsman). I was sorry to hear about his fire.

"Oh, there's more to be sorry about than that," Holmes said. "Do you know what a still is?"

"It's a machine used for...distilling? Something?" I said.

"Yes, but at the fire department, you see, it's also short for 'stillborn.' That's a fire that's already out when they get there."

"Oh," I said.

Mr. Brown handed me his card, which read: "Can't make bail? You don't need the wings of an angel if you know Morris Brown."

The news staff, which had mysteriously materialized behind me during our meeting, collapsed into laughter.

Popular Blog Posts

Netflix Docuseries "Wild Wild Country" is Fascinating Entertainment

Netflix's "Wild Wild Country" is easily one of the craziest documentaries I’ve ever seen.

SXSW Film Festival 2018: “Ready Player One”

A review of Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One" from the SXSW Film Festival.

We’re Still the Lunatics: A Special Edition of “The ‘Burbs”

An appreciation of Joe Dante's The 'Burbs on the eve of its Blu-ray Special Edition release.

Prestigious, Expensive Adaptation of “The Terror” Debuts on AMC

A review of AMC's The Terror, based on the book by Dan Simmons.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus