Friday, April 5, 2013

Oral history of Siskel and Ebert: constant squabbles, dirty tricks, coin tosses to settle arguments over coin tosses — and a secret handshake

Photo: Victor Skrebneski
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were hotly competitive and so argumentative that producers of their show had to carry quarters to settle their arguments, and, in some cases, to settle second arguments over the terms of the coin toss itself.
     Yet Siskel and Ebert grew to be so close that they adopted a secret handshake in which each could feel the other's pulse.
     Slate has published some excerpts from a 25,000-word account of the singular relationship between film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, which occupied 25% of the first issue of the Chicagoan, published in 2012:
     Enemies, A Love Story: The oral history of Siskel and Ebert was written by Josh Schollmeyer, an executive editor at Playboy, who spent more than year conducting nearly 50 interviews, poring over tapes and transcripts, and unearthing new insights into the most intriguing and influential partnership Chicago has ever produced.
     (The entire 25,0000-word article can be purchased for your e-reader for TWO BUCKS!)
     Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:
Gene and Roger were on a flight one time, and Gene handed a piece of paper to a flight attendant and said, “Please give this note to Roger.” The note read, “Mr. Ebert, would you like to see the cockpit?” Gene had signed it, “The Captain.” Roger was quite pleased that the captain would invite him—and not Gene—to tour the cockpit. He walked up to the cockpit door and started knocking on it. All of a sudden, another flight attendant grabbed him and scolded, “You can’t go in there! Nobody goes in the cockpit!” She had to escort him back to his seat. Gene was rolling up and down the aisle with laughter.
—Nancy Stanley, makeup artist, At the Movies/Siskel & Ebert/Ebert & Roeper/At the Movies redux (1982–2010) __________________________________________________
That same conference room had this long table that Gene used to occasionally rest under. It was so long, in fact, that it covered him completely. One day, he went under the table to catch a few winks while I was typing his and Roger’s scripts for the teleprompter. Not long afterward, Roger came in the room, and without noticing Gene, he made a phone call to arrange an interview with Nastassja Kinski for a piece in the Sun-Times. When Roger left, Gene got up and hit the redial button. He proceeded to tell Nastassja Kinski’s representative that he was Roger’s assistant and that Roger had to cancel the interview. Then he looked at me and said, “Not a word!”
—John Davies, associate producer, Sneak Previews (1981–1982)

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