On this day in 1942, Roger Ebert, who will become famous as the movie critic who used his thumbs to pass judgment on Hollywood’s latest offerings on his long-running TV show, is born in Urbana, Illinois.
While a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the 1960s, Ebert was the editor of the school newspaper, the Daily Illini. He began his professional career in 1966, as a reporter and feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times, where his interest in movies led him to visit the set of Camelot, the 1967 film starring Richard Harris as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Guinevere. In the spring of 1967, after the Sun-Times movie critic Eleanor Keane left the paper, Ebert was given the job. Ebert’s first review as critic was of the French New Wave film Galia (1966).
In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. That same year, he teamed with another critic, Gene Siskel, on a monthly show on local television called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You. By the time the show later moved to PBS (Public Broadcasting System), Siskel and Ebert had established their now-famous format: two men sitting in theater seats discussing the newest movies and giving each of them a positive–”thumbs up”–or negative–”thumbs down”–review. In 1982, the show began a nationwide syndicated broadcast as At the Movies; four years later, the title changed to Siskel & Ebert, which it would keep for the next 20 years.
Siskel and Ebert’s colorful criticism–and their good-natured disagreements–turned their show into a long-running hit, and made them well-known personalities in their own right. Their run lasted until early 1999, when Siskel died at the age of 53, from complications of surgery to remove a brain tumor. Ebert co-hosted with a series of guests until mid-2000, when Richard Roeper of the Sun-Times became his permanent co-host. Ebert & Roeper aired through the summer of 2006, when Ebert underwent surgery to remove cancer in his jaw. Ebert kept fans in the loop about his condition and recovery with written updates on his Sun-Times Web site.
In July 2008, the show’s owner, Buena Vista, decided to pull the plug on Ebert & Roeper, which Roeper had been continuing with guest critics. Ebert had remained active behind the scenes, but had not been able to appear on air because of his illness.