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Gene Siskel
Gene Siskel at the 61st Academy Awards.jpg

Siskel at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989.
Born Eugene Kal Siskel
January 26, 1946(1946-01-26)
United States Chicago, Illinois
Died February 20, 1999 (aged 53)
Evanston, Illinois
Occupation Television journalist/Film critic
Spouse(s) Marlene Iglitzen
(1980–1999)
Children Kate
Callie
Will
Religious belief(s) Jewish
Notable credit(s) Opening Soon at a Theater Near You
(1975–1977)
Sneak Previews
(1977–1982)
At the Movies
(1982–1986)
Siskel & Ebert
(1986–1999)
CBS This Morning correspondent
(1987–1992)
Good Morning America correspondent (1996–1999)

Eugene "Gene" Kal Siskel (January 26, 1946 – February 20, 1999) was an American film critic. Alongside colleague Roger Ebert, he pioneered the classic review show Siskel & Ebert At the Movies.

Contents

Early life and career

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Siskel attended Culver Academies, graduated in Philosophy at Yale University in 1967, where he studied writing under Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Hersey, who helped him land a job at the Chicago Tribune in 1969.[1] In 1975, Siskel teamed up with Roger Ebert, film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, to host a show on the local Chicago PBS station WTTW which eventually became Sneak Previews. Their "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" system soon became an easily recognizable trademark, popular enough to be parodied on comedy shows such as In Living Color and in movies such as Hollywood Shuffle and Godzilla. Sneak Previews gained a nationwide audience in 1978 when it was carried on PBS.

Siskel and Ebert left WTTW and PBS in 1982 for syndication. Their new show, At the Movies, was produced and distributed by Tribune Broadcasting, the parent company that owned the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV. Sneak Previews continued on PBS for 14 more years with other hosts. In 1986, Siskel and Ebert left Tribune Broadcasting to have their show produced by the syndication arm of The Walt Disney Company. The new incarnation of the show was originally titled Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, but later shortened to simply Siskel & Ebert. At the Movies also continued a few more years with other hosts.

Normally, Siskel and Roger Ebert would refuse to guest star in movies or TV series (except for talk shows) as they felt it would undermine their responsibility to the public. However, they both "could not resist" appearing on an episode of the animated TV series The Critic.[2] In the episode, Siskel and Ebert split and each wants Jay as his new partner.[3] They also once appeared in an episode of Sesame Street. Siskel also appeared as himself on an episode of The Larry Sanders Show.

Death

In 1998, Siskel underwent surgery for a cancerous brain tumor. He announced on February 3, 1999 that he was taking a leave of absence but that he expected to be back by the fall, writing "I'm in a hurry to get well because I don't want Roger to get more screen time than me".

On February 20, 1999, Siskel died from complications of the surgery at the age of 53. After Siskel's death, the producers of Siskel & Ebert hired other film critics and began using them on a rotating basis as an audition for a permanent successor. Ultimately, Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper was hired and the show was renamed Ebert & Roeper at the Movies. The last film Siskel reviewed on TV with co-host Ebert was The Theory of Flight on January 23, 1999. The final film that he reviewed was the Sarah Michelle Gellar romantic comedy Simply Irresistible. He gave it a thumbs down.

Siskel was survived by his wife, Marlene, and their children, Kate, Callie, and Will.

Legacy

At the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, after its Memorium Montage of deceased stars and film contributors (which did not include Siskel as he was not an Academy member), host Whoopi Goldberg gave a brief, impromptu tribute to Siskel which included the traditional "thumbs-up" gesture, to great audience applause.

The Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago which presents world-class independent, international, and classic cinema was renamed The Gene Siskel Film Center in honor of him in 2000.

When asked by a journalist to list his three favorite things about Chicago, Siskel named Michael Jordan, Mayor Daley, and the Film Center. Siskel was a member of the Film Center's Advisory Committee and a strong supporter of the Film Center mission. He wrote hundreds of articles applauding the Film Center's distinctive programming and he lent the power of his position as one of the world's most respected film critics to urge public funding and audience support. His favorite movies of all-time were Saturday Night Fever (he even bought the famous white disco suit from it at a charity auction[4]) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.[5] Another favorite from childhood was Dumbo, which he often mentioned as the first movie that made a mark on him.

He only walked out on three films during his professional career; the 1971 comedy The Million Dollar Duck starring Dean Jones, the 1980 horror film Maniac and the 1996 Penelope Spheeris film Black Sheep, 25 years later.[6] Only once during his long association with Ebert did Siskel ever change his vote on a movie. The film Broken Arrow had initially been given a "thumbs up", but after hearing Ebert's criticism, Siskel changed his mind to "thumbs down" to make it unanimous. [7]

Siskel was also a die-hard Chicago sports fan, especially of the NBA's Bulls, and would cover locker-room celebrations for WBBM-TV news broadcasts following Bulls championships in the 1990s.[8]

It was well known in the industry that Siskel and Ebert had a very tumultuous love/hate relationship as Ebert himself has admitted saying:

"Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks. Strike one, and the other would pick up the same frequency. When we were in a group together, we were always intensely aware of one another. Sometimes this took the form of camaraderie, sometimes shared opinions, sometimes hostility".[9]

When both men appeared together on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson conducted a "together and separately" interview with them, which at one point had each man wear Walkman style headphones, playing loud music, while the other commented on his partner. When asked what he thought was the biggest difference between himself and Ebert, Siskel unhesitatingly replied: "I'm a better reviewer than he is." But a few moments later, he said that anyone who read a Roger Ebert review would read "an extremely well-written review."

See also

References

  1. ^ Gene Siskel, Half of a Famed Movie-Review Team, Dies at 53, The New York Times, 21 February 1999
  2. ^ Siskel & Ebert episode: "Tribute to Gene Siskel"
  3. ^ TV.com Episode summary: The Critic - "Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice"
  4. ^ Ebert review
  5. ^ Ebert and Roeper
  6. ^ Review: Black Sheep
  7. ^ James Berardinelli (February 22, 1999). "A Thumb Falls Silent: A Short Tribute to Gene Siskel". Reelviews.net. http://www.reelviews.net/comment/022299.html. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  8. ^ Siskel & Ebert episode: "Tribute to Gene Siskel"
  9. ^ [1]

External links








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