Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert
Grand Central • $27.99 • ISBN 9780446584975
on sale September 13, 2011
Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert has written more than 15 books, worked for the Chicago Sun Times since 1967 and been on television for 40 years. While his memoir Life Itself covers every major moment in Ebert’s life, it is more than anything an example of why he has become such a preeminent cultural voice.
Ebert went through three major surgeries for thyroid cancer, resulting in the removal of his lower jaw and the loss of his ability to eat or speak. He found solace in his blog, and many of his posts are included in Life Itself, where they read both as chapters of his life and as insightful standalone essays. The posts and narratives are a mix of highs and lows, all plumped by Ebert’s indestructible humor and candor. For example, Siskel’s death is one of the saddest parts of Ebert’s life, but his memories of working with Siskel are hilarious:
On the set of the show, between actually taping segments, we had a rule that there could be no discussion of the movies under review. So we attacked each other with one-liners. Buzz Hannan, our floor director, was our straight man, and the cameramen supplied our audience. For example:
Me: “Don’t you think you went a little over the top in that last review?”
Gene: “Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are.”
“Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy.”
“Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin’ stompin’ charm. Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?”
“You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from Saturday Night Fever.”
Buzz: “Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?”
“He wanted to wear it today, but it’s still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in.”
Buzz: “Ba-ba-ba-boom !”
While Life Itself is a full-scope treatise of Ebert’s life, complete with an intimate discourse on surgery and death, it does not read like Ebert’s “last words.” It’s clear he has plenty more to say.
Will you be reading Ebert’s memoir when it comes out in September?