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The Roger of a  thousand smiles

BURBANK CA - JULY 29:  Film critics Richard Roeper (L) Roger Ebert appear 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'

BURBANK, CA - JULY 29: Film critics Richard Roeper (L) and Roger Ebert appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC Studios on July 29, 2004 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Robert Roeper;Roger Ebert

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Updated: May 8, 2013 6:52AM



A few things you probably didn’t know about Roger Ebert:

The first time we covered the Oscars together, Roger looked at my shiny dress shoes, shook his head and pointed at the comfortable, black sneakers he was wearing with his tuxedo. “Nobody cares about OUR shoes,” he said. “We’re going to be working for the next 12 hours. You want to be comfortable.”

We were offered the chance to play ourselves in the third “Austin Powers” movie. The script called for a chase scene to go right through the “Ebert & Roeper” set, at which point Roger and I would criticize the film for being derivative and offering nothing that we hadn’t already seen in the first two “Austin Powers” movies.

But going back to the days when Roger and Gene Siskel were asked to appear as themselves in movies, Roger believed it was a conflict of interest — and besides, if we said yes to one offer, how could we turn down the next offer without appearing to be biased?

So we took a pass, and the scene was rewritten and tailored for … the Osbournes.

Roger was so immersed in the world of movies he was sometimes just a little behind the pop culture curve in other areas. About a decade ago, we were at the Miramax Films’ Oscar party when Jimmy Kimmel came up and said he was a huge fan of Roger’s. After Jimmy finished gushing and walked away, Roger turned to me and said, “Was that Wayne Brady?”

Eventually Roger became a great admirer of Kimmel’s work. He and I appeared on a Kimmel holiday special that was a spoof of those old-timey Christmas specials when Bob Hope or Bing Crosby or somebody would “host” a Christmas party at his “house,” which was always clearly a set. “Why, it’s Ebert & Roeper!” Jimmy chortled when he answered the ringing doorbell. Later in the special, we donned Christmas hats and participated in a sing-along of “Here Comes Santa Claus,” which also featured the musical stylings of Mike Tyson.

I don’t know if anyone has a tape of that special. I kinda hope they don’t. But man, was Roger a gamer, doing take after take and even offering some friendly suggestions to the show’s director — Bobcat Goldthwait.

He was a pretty fair singer. Not as good as he thought he was, but not bad. Not bad at all.

At one point Roger was convinced he could win his battle with his weight by walking at least 10,000 steps every day. He had a portable pedometer, and between screenings he’d spring from his seat and take a long, brisk walk around the block, returning just in time for the next screening.

Decades ago, a woman called the Sun-Times and said she wanted to get a recommendation from Roger Ebert, as she and her husband were going to the movies that weekend. The man himself took the call and told the woman about the latest Ingmar Bergman movie, telling her, “It’s the best movie of the year.”

“Oh,” she replied. “That doesn’t sound like anything we’d want to see.”

He told the corniest jokes. More than once. I’m talking Henny Youngman-level humor. But Roger’s comedic timing was so impeccable, and he got so much joy out of telling the jokes, you never wanted to interrupt him or say, “Yeah, you told me that one last week.” Roger was like a kid with a puppy every time he told another joke. Pure smiles.

One Monday evening, after a long weekend’s worth of covering the Oscars and doing promotional appearances, Roger and Chaz and I were on our way back from “The Tonight Show,” riding in a cartoonishly oversized limousine, complete with interior prom lights that would change color every few seconds.

Sick of hotel room service meals, we decided to dine out. Roger’s choice of venue: In ’n’ Out Burger. He wanted the driver to park so we could go inside and eat, but Chaz convinced him it would be best if we just got our burgers and fries and returned to the hotel.

That was some drive-through experience. Took the driver about a week to maneuver us through.

Roger and I were once stuck on a runway at Boston’s Logan Airport, waiting for the weather to clear so we could fly to New York. After about an hour, Roger reached into a carry-on bag, opened it, nudged me and raised his eyebrows as if he were showing me the contents of the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.” Toblerones! He had raided the mini-bar before checking out of his hotel room in Boston.

That was one of the best meals I ever had.



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