Roger Ebert in 2006 at the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House
Roger Ebert was such a good writer that he earned a Pulitzer Prize — the first film critic to earn the honor. And because he made major contributions to the art of film, George Eastman House bestowed upon him in 2006 the title of George Eastman Honorary Scholar.
Mr. Ebert passed away on April 4, 2013 at age 70, following a long battle with cancer. He leaves behind a great legacy, which was elevating film criticism to an art form. He influenced our thinking about cinema, from scriptwriting to acting, and motivated us to talk about it, either over coffee with friends or via scholarly discussions online.
When Mr. Ebert visited Eastman House, he was keenly interested in our film preservation efforts and publicly told the Dryden Theatre audience,
“George Eastman House is among the holy places of cinema, where films are loved and preserved.”
He also noted, “I won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, but I know I’m supposed to sound more noble now that I’m a George Eastman Honorary Scholar.”
Roger Ebert and I in the Dryden Theatre lobby
On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and talking with Roger Ebert, who kindly participated in a press conference with our local news outlets – he was approachable, generous and, for certain, a font of knowledge in regard to film.
Over the last few years, I stayed in contact with Mr. Ebert, who remained a passionate supporter of the museum. When the museum gave an award last year to Richard Gere, I needed a single quote that would sum up the breadth of Gere’s career. I wrote to Mr. Ebert and he came through immediately for us.
When the Eastman House acquired the Merchant Ivory Productions film archive in 2010, I needed the perfect quote for the press release, to reflect the importance of these treasures and the brilliance of the Merchant Ivory team. I asked Roger Ebert for that quote, and he readily shared one:
“Working fruitfully over five decades, the team of Merchant and Ivory held steady with a vision centering on the adaptation of great literature to the screen. Without compromise, observing the highest standards, they made intelligent and worthy films that remain memorable.” And he signed the email, “Cheers, R”.
And the above quote is quite relevant since this past week we lost the writing powerhouse of the Merchant Ivory team, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
James Ivory, also a George Eastman Honorary Scholar, is joining us in person at the Dryden Theatre tomorrow evening. With his help, we will salute these legends and be proud of their connections to our film collections as well as their place in film history.