Three great anecdotes from Roger Ebert's moving new memoir, 'Life Itself'


Film critic Roger Ebert‘s new memoir, Life Itself, comes out tomorrow, and it’s a great read — thoughtful, entertaining, and emotional (here’s our review). The book is rambling and a bit eccentric, but in a good way. It’s packed with nicely written accounts of his memories and adventures. Here are a few highlights to give you a taste.

–Ebert famously co-wrote the screenplay for Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. In the summer of 1977 the Sex Pistols asked Meyer to direct them in a movie, and Meyer asked Ebert to write the screenplay. “Within a week, I had a rough treatment ready,” Ebert writes in Life Itself. “It included an opening scene in which a millionaire rock star leaps from his chauffeured Rolls and kills a deer with a bow and arrow. He is witnessed committing this act by a young girl who reappears at the end of the film to assassinate the star and shout the immortal line, ‘That’s for Bambi!’ [Pistols manager Malcolm] McLaren’s working title was Anarchy in the UK, but now I suggested Who Killed Bambi?.” Ebert eventually met the Pistols and actually had lunch with Meyer, McLaren, and Johnny Rotten. “Meyer was emphatically unimpressed by Rotten’s aggressive rudeness,” Ebert recalls. The movie never got made.

–Ebert once had dinner with then-up-and-coming TV star Oprah Winfrey. She was being pursued by both ABC and syndicator King World, and Oprah was worried about syndication. “We were at Hamburger Hamlet on [Chicago’s] Rush Street,” Ebert writes. “I took a napkin. ‘Here’s what I’m making at Tribune right now,’ I said, writing down $500,000. ‘Gene makes the same. So figure twice that. We’re on half an hour, you’re on an hour. Times two. You’re on five days a week, we’re on once. Times five. You’re in prime daytime, we’re in fringe weekends. Worth at least twice as much. Five hundred thousand dollars times two, times two, times five, times two.’ Oprah studied the napkin and said, ‘I’m going with King.’ She would eventually make much more.”

–One time Ebert and Gene Siskel were on Carson right after Chevy Chase, who was promoting Three Amigos! at the time. “We chatted a little,” Ebert writes, “and then Johnny said, Roger, what’s your least favorite Christmas picture? … I paused. ‘Three Amigos!‘ I said. There was an uneasy audience reaction. Audiences expect guests on talk shows to always be nice. Chevy saved the moment by cracking, ‘Looking forward to your next picture.’ … After the show, Chevy appeared in the door of my dressing room with a poker face. I was at a loss for words. ‘I don’t think it’s so hot either,’ he said.”

What do you think? Are you excited to read Ebert’s memoir?

(Follow me on twitter: @RobBrunnerEW)

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Comments (10 total) Add your comment
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  • Jerry

    The Three Amigos is awesome.

    That is all.

  • Liza

    These are probably the most well known and rehashed stories about Roger Ebert floating around. I wanted to read something new but now I guess I’ll have to buy the book for more interesting stories about this intriguing man’s life. Maybe that was the point, touche EW, touche.

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