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by Kate McMahon

"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

Much has been written about legendary film critic Roger Ebert since he passed away at age 70 after a valiant battle with cancer. He has been aptly described as a visionary, a master of all mediums, an inspiration and an icon.

I would like to add one word: Genuine.

I had the great privilege of working with Roger in the early 1990s, when his syndicated reviews and articles ran in the New York Daily News, where I was the entertainment editor. I was nervous about meeting and “editing” copy filed by the nation’s most influential film reviewer until he arrived at the News offices on East 42nd Street. (You've probably seen the building - it doubled as the Daily Planet in the 1978 movie Superman).

In person, he was the Ebert of “At the Movies” – a bespectacled burst of energy in his standard navy blue blazer and shock of silver hair, eager to engage in conversation and share his knowledge and passion for film with any and everyone. When New York passersby gave him a “thumbs up” he cheerfully returned it in kind.

He was beyond prolific, and the 200 movie reviews he wrote each year since 1967 were just a starting point. I recall his raw copy from behind the scenes at the Academy Awards and the Cannes Film Festival – lightning quick, thoughtful and witty on deadline. He also wrote interviews, columns, and 17 books, including his 2011 autobiography, “Life Itself.”

Roger loved the movies, newspapers, Chicago, his extraordinary wife Chaz, submitting entries to the New Yorker caption contests, and food. Not necessarily fancy food – but cheeseburgers from his childhood go-to Steak ‘N Shake, root beer, Haagen-Daz vanilla ice cream, and his rice cooker.

Even after he lost his jaw – and his ability to eat and speak – following cancer surgery in 2006, Roger wrote a book entitled “The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker.” That book resulted from his blog and Twitter, which he credited with keeping him vitally connected after losing his speaking voice.

No surprise, as Roger was an original new media pioneer. He was online and interacting with readers in 1983, years before the worldwide web, and was constantly creating new ways to connect through syndication, television, and all forms of online communication, literally 24/7. He loved tweeting, though he refused to use the abbreviations favored by younger Twitter types.

His ability to parlay his authenticity into expanding his global reach reveal why he was more than just a film critic. Or as summed up in the headline in Monday’s New York Times business section: “Roger Ebert as a Builder of an Empire.” There’s a business lesson here for all of us – his unbridled passion and energy, and his willingness/compulsion to embrace new media rather than lamenting the good old tabloid days, were the cornerstones of the Ebert "empire."

(You can read David Carr's excellent assessment of Ebert's "killer business instincts" by clicking here. Carr writes, among other things,. that Ebert "not only survived endless tumult in the craft, he thrived by embracing new opportunity and expanding his franchise at every turn ... He used technology to reiterate and reinvent time and again." Sounds like a template for people in a lot of businesses...)

In July of 1990, I went a critic’s screening of Ghost with Roger. We picked up sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, sodas and settled into our seats in a small, no-frills Chicago screening room.

In his subsequent 2 ½ star review, he criticized the film and other Hollywood ghost stories for “limited imaginations” – assuming a spirit would be looking back to unfinished business on earth rather than being “aghast with glory and wonder.” He challenged the comfortable cinematic cliché of “our dear ones up there on a cloud, eternally ‘looking down’ on us, so devoted that they would rather see what we're cooking for dinner than have a chat with Aristotle or Elvis.”

Not Roger. I believe he is already engaged in those chats and looking for ways to tweet about them.

Comments? Send me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
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