When Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert died last week at the age of 70, this columnist immediately flashed back when my job included sharing downtown film screenings with Ebert, his then rival/partner Gene Siskel, and other media folks. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, along with covering popular music, my writing output included film features and reviews for this newspaper and other publications.
As a single parent at the time, my daughter Sarah would sometimes tag along for screenings of PG-rated children’s films. At the preview screening of 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” as the lights rose at the conclusion Ebert spied five-year-old Sarah and called out.
“Excuse me, would you mind telling me what you thought of the movie?” he softly asked. I will never forget the sight of Sarah sitting with the famous media icon and expressing her feelings about the four masked heroes in a half-shell (Leonardo was her favorite!), the kindly rat Master Splinter, evil mastermind Shredder and his Foot Soldier minions. What a classic Kodak moment and me without a camera.
After about 8 minutes of bantering, Ebert rose up, smiled and gently shook Sarah’s tiny hand. He first complemented her pig-tails and thanked her for taking the time to share her thoughts about the first in a successful film franchise targeted at her age group.
While I no longer recall Ebert’s critique of that film, news of his death reminded me of that morning screening so many years ago and the big smile that graced my daughter’s face after that little chat. Did that encounter have had anything to do with Sarah’s decision to become a newspaper critic during her high school years and later an actress? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it certainly was the reason the various incarnations of his popular TV program became a TV staple in our home in years following.
• Best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to Drew Enselman from regional rock band, Nomad Planets. Planets’ lead singer Mark Mybeck reported how upon discovery of a major blockage, Enselman underwent successful triple bypass surgery last week, is in great spirits and is doing therapy. While the April 20h Nomad Planets show at Paddy O’Fegan’s has been postponed, the band is optimistic that their beat-keeper will be back in action soon. Keep up with Drew and the band via Nomad Planets at Facebook or www.nomadplanets.com
• Due to the great success of their debut performance a few weeks ago at Bridges Scoreboard in Griffith, the reformed original mid-1960s line-up of Oscar & The Majestics (www.oscarandthemajestics.com) make an encore return to the venue Saturday for a 9 p.m. show including tunes from their internationally released “No Chance Baby" CD of their vintage ‘60s singles, issued by archival label, Sundazed Records.
• Russian pop star turned California rocker -- Marina V -- is my musical guest tonight at 6 p.m. for a special edition broadcast of “Midwest BEAT with Tom Lounges” on 89.1FM-The Lakeshore (stream at: www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org/radio). Marina will talk about her musical journey from Russia to America, her connection with top music industry names, and her performance on Sunday at Chicago Street Theatre in Valparaiso. Listen for chances to call in to win tickets to Marina’ Sunday concert and autographed copies of her new CD, “Inner Superhero.”
• Chicago electronic media pioneer Fran Harris-Tuchman has died at age 97. After appearing in radio productions (1933-1941), she pioneered of the Women's Auxiliary Television Technical Staff (WATTS) in 1942 and kept Chicago's WBKB (now WLS-TV) on the air throughout WWII.