The death of Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago film critic Roger Ebert has already been eulogized far and wide. Most of the accolades concentrate, rightfully so, on Ebert’s storied career as a newspaperman and critic and his well-written reviews and essays.
But here in the microcosm, we can remember him a little differently, because as a youth in Urbana, Ill., Ebert was pure goshwow fanboy.
He sent locs to prozines, complaining that too many of their covers featured semi-nude women. “You seem to be in a sort of a rut,” Ebert wrote to Future magazine in 1958. :”You’ve had a girl on the cover of the last five issues — this may have been ok for TWS [Thrilling Wonder Stories], but not for good ol’ Future. Don’t feel too badly — Infinity has had girls on all but one of its seventeen covers! Astounding has had one girl in the last twenty-seven issues, and she was a scientist with a turtle-neck sweater and a jacket on.”
Once he found fandom, the young Ebert plunged in. He bummed rides to Midwestcon, the Cincinnati relaxacon, with Bob Tucker, where he went around with a wastebasket on his head.
And fandom can take credit for his subsequent career. Ebert wrote for fanzines. including Dick Lupoff’s Xero, Ben Solon’s Nyarlahotep and Bill Bowers’ Star*Dust, as well as his own dittoed zine, Stymie. Although most of the examples I can find seem to be poetry, Ebert acknowledged fandom for teaching him his craft.
Like many of us, Ebert found his way into fandom in the pages of Amazing Stories, where “The Clubhouse” featured fanzine reviews. “I sent off a dime to Buck and Juanita Coulson for a copy of Yandro,” he recalled. “This was one of the most important and formative acts of my life…. It was in the virtual world of science fiction fandom that I started to learn to be a writer and a critic….
“Today I can see my name on a full-page ad for a movie with disinterest,” the famed critic wrote, “but what Harry Warner or Buck Coulson had to say about me — well, that was important.”
In the 1970s, Ebert sold a couple sf stories to Amazing and its sister magazine, Fantastic. He did not, however, stay connected to fandom once he grew up and became a famous film critic. I’m told that various Chicago conventions tried to induce him to attend, and he was never interested, but he was ours once, and always remembered it as affectionately as those of us who still pub our ish: “In the mimeographed pages of a fanzine … there existed a rare and wonderful discourse, and it was a privilege to be part of it.”
(Ed. Note: Here is the issue of Amazing Stories, May, 1972, with Roger’s story listed on the cover:
Ebert loved movies. Siskel was, by far, the better writer, but there was no one who loved movies as much, or understood them on such a deep, emotional level, as Ebert, and that came through in his writing.
I only knew of Roger Ebert as a film critic, never as a fan. His fan-days were a decade or so before I plunged into fandom. But I could tell from his movie reviews that he *had* to be a fan at heart, based on his likes and dislikes, even in the way he phrased his opinions. His passing is definitely a loss for the family of fandom.