The Wizard: "And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others."
In that regard, it is obvious that Roger Ebert had a great heart. To use a couple of film titles, he had a sweet impact on the minds of the Rich and Famous and Ordinary People.
Kasi Lemmons went on to direct Oscar nominees Don Cheadle and Taraji P. Henson in Talk To Me. This was a 2007 biopic that I gave a good review to on national radio.
Last week, The Tonight Show and the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination were in the news. Both that TV show and our 1968 national tragedy are in this biopic. Cheadle played Ralph "Petey" Greene. He was an outrageous, outspoken and intelligent radio host -- the kind Howard Stern is today. Greene became such a popular 1960s celebrity with his brand of comedy that he was booked to go to NBC in New York City and be a guest on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. This was a major booking. Also, the political turbulence of the times and the evil of bigotry changed his life. Ralph "Petey" Greene reached out to and helped his Washington DC community after Dr. King was killed. I recommend you rent Talk To Me -- especially if you think that Don Cheadle is one of the finest actors we have around today. Which I do.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor co-stars as Petey's friend and manager, Dewey Hughes. Broadway's newest musical comedy hit is Kinky Boots with songs by Cyndi Lauper. It's based on a 2005 British comedy in which Ejiofor played "Lola," the enterprising drag queen who inspires poor craftspeople in a small town to make her some kinky boots.
Ms. Lemmons' look at the ex-con who became a radio star, community activist and an Emmy Award winner is funny, surprising, touching, revealing and still relevant in its focus on the world of broadcast and how its corporate branch deals with racial diversity.
There are still so many of us minorities of all colors who deeply appreciate Roger Ebert's appreciation of Eve's Bayou. If I was an entertainment reporter on a national TV show, I'd contact Kasi Lemmons for statements on the loss of Ebert and the impact his journalistic attention had on her career in 1997.
Roger, thanks for putting a national spotlight on films like Eve's Bayou. And Spike Lee's Malcolm X. And 2005's Man Push Cart directed by Ramin Bahrani.
About those days in Chicago that changed the course of my career. I admit it. Around that time, I thought I could still head to a big city and get a supporting role in a good sitcom. I went into my interview of Jack Lemmon having done my homework. I asked him about working with James Cagney. Not in Mr. Roberts, for which Lemmon won his first Academy Award. But as a bit player in a TV production. Cagney was the star. Lemmon played a left-handed sofa fountain clerk. He wasn't left-handed. Cagney thought he was and found out otherwise while shooting 1955's Mr. Roberts with the excellent new actor.
"How did you know that?," Jack Lemmon asked me.
I told him that I read it in the autobiography Cagney by Cagney. He gave me a terrific interview that got the attention of our show's national office on the West Coast. After our 5-minute taped TV interview, Jack Lemmon pulled me aside. He said, "We can always tell who's done some homework and who's just read the press release." In those days, it was rare to see a black person at movie press doing interviews. He urged me to stick with it. "You're good," he said graciously. The photo that the 2-time Oscar winner and I took together is one of my prized possessions.
Within the next couple of years, my interviews of Sally Field, Meryl Streep (Sophie's Choice), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) and Jessica Lange (Tootsie and Frances) and Dolly Parton (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) aired nationally on PM Magazine. I'd taken Jack Lemmon's advice.
That advice came after I had one funny afternoon at the movies with Siskel & Ebert.