Roger Ebert was a man who "reeked of integrity," said the actor John Cusack, one of the many Chicago celebrities to gather last night and remember the late critic in a memorial that was more informal—with more storytelling than tear-jerking—than his funeral Monday.
The event, at the Chicago Theatre, began with a video in which Ebert narrated his life, the Sun-Times reported. But it was an evening of stories, and private memories, and funny moments over meals, even if his longtime colleague Richard Roeper wondered: "How do you tell a story about the best storyteller you ever met?" Here are some of those stories.
John Cusack: Cusack explained that when he was starring in the The Sure Thing, at age 17, director Rob Reiner took him to the Carnegie Deli. The only seat open was next to Gene Siskel and Ebert, who were set to review the movie. Ebert sensed Cusack's discomfort, leaned over and whispered: "I like your movie."
Richard Roeper: Roeper told some stories that Ebert himself recollected: One about being mistaken for Buddy Hackett, another about thinking a pilot on a plane wanted to meet him only to realize that Siskel had tricked Ebert. Roeper recalled a time he was at a diner with Ebert and Michael Moore as they debated politics "and the menu." At one point: "Michael Moore leaned back and said, 'Holy shit, you're more liberal than I am."
Marlene Iglitzen: Another storyteller for the evening was Siskel's widow, Iglitzen, the Chicago Tribune reported. She explained that Siskel and Ebert were once so antagonistic that Siskel had to be urged to even invite Ebert to his wedding. And then Ebert didn't show up. The two became closer when Ebert married his wife Chaz. "Gene was thrilled that Roger had an epic romance off the screen," Iglitzen said, according to the Sun-Times.
Bruce Elliott: Per the Tribune, the owner of the Old Town Ale House went for a racy tale and "told an anecdote to illustrate Ebert's love of large breasts." Elliott reminisced about what Crain's Chicago Business described as his "pre-sobriety and pre-Chaz" days.
Thea Flaum: The creator of one of Ebert's TV programs explained that Ebert used to come over to her house on Sundays to go over his script, and only once complained: "You know, Thea, I do have a Pulitzer Prize."
Gregory Nava: The Hollywood Reporter explained how Nava illustrated "how Ebert would approach an unknown filmmaker after a screening and introduce himself: 'Hello, my name is Roger Ebert, and I loved your movie.' Nava continued: 'You could fill this theater with filmmakers who had this same experience.'"
Chaz Ebert: Ebert's widow, who wore pink as opposed to the black she wore at his funeral earlier this week, borrowed a line from Ebert's screenplay Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to open: "Roger, this is your happening, and it's freaking me out."