KEKA COLLECTION BOOK BLAST: GUEST POST by Cynthia Dagnal-Myron

The World According to Ebert
(Yes, it’s YOUR turn Roger)
Cynthia Dagnal-Myron
The Roger I knew…with producer Russ Meyer
JUNE 1 2 , 2011 12 :32 PM
Okay, let’s go there, finally.

Why does Roger Ebert “tweet” my posts?

Easy but sincere answer? Damned if I know.

Not so easy and scarier answer? I think he still  remembers  that  tiny  little
ghetto girl who walked into the Chicago Sun Times totally unprepared and
‘way too young and naïve for the job.

There was something about my innocence, I think, that touched his heart.
And for some very, very strange reason…I still do. Or… my  writing  does.
And that touches and astonishes me than he’ll ever understand.

There is, of course, a long story behind all this. And he will remember all the
details better than I do, so in advance, Roger: mea culpa. I get fuzzier on the
details by the day. But let’s start from the beginning as I remember it.

I arrived at the Sun Times having done some audacious little articles for local
alternative newspapers and magazines–oh, and  Rolling  Stone  and  Creem,
too.  And  also  still  believing  that  reporting  was   “writing,”   based   on   the
amazing OpEd pieces and reviews and “creative nonfiction” that  I’d  read  by
seasoned vets like the venerable Herman Kogan.

They wrote about life, love, places they’d been and places in the heart that we
all knew about but couldn’t put into words the way they did. I wanted to do
that.
I didn’t know that you had  to  work  your  way  through  a  lotta  “just  the  facts,
ma’am” to get to do that. My being hired at the Sun Times  after  teaching  for
two years and being published for maybe less than that was rather like being
shipped off to Afghanistan without going through basic training.

And I arrived during very tumultuous times. The evening paper, The  Chicago
Daily News, was rumored to be “folding” any minute. What that  would  mean
to everyone at both papers was difficult to predict, but most of the vets  were
sure that if the Daily News went down, the top  brass  would  use  that  as  an
opportunity to do some serious moving and shaking at the Sun Times, too.
I  paid  absolutely  no  attention  to  any  of  that.  I  knew   nothing   about   the
newspaper “business.” And I was living a fantasy life, traveling with bands I’d
once idolized, interviewing movie  and  TV  stars,  going  to  parties  and  red
carpet affairs most people only see on TV. I was on TV, and  radio,  often.  My
life was the stuff of dreams and diary entries.

Now, I had been warned that the party couldn’t last by some  very,  very  smart
men. Lester Bangs, the legendary Creem writer/editor lovingly lampooned  in
Almost Famous, was one. But he wasn’t a Sun  Times  colleague,  so… that’s
another story.

Among the Sun Times folk there was a wonderful reporter named Eliot  Wald,
who left to write for SNL and the movies before passing away  far  too  young.
He warned me that it wouldn’t be long before the music I wrote about wouldn’t
be “my” music  anymore.  And  that  once  that  happened,  I  wouldn’t  be  very
good at writing about it anymore, either.

He almost sounded like my mother, always warning me that I needed to  find
that  “fall  back”  job,  or   at   least   move   from   critic   to   something   more
“substantial,” before I was too old to rock and roll.

The second was Gary Houston who was unceremoniously  “let  go”  from  the
newspaper just in time to star in the very first production of Grease. He didn’t
have to tell me anything. He was the kind of writer—and character–I liked.

And they fired him for it.

And then I was asked, when Grease became the hottest ticket in town, to
interview him for the newspaper that had fired him. The show was a hit, a
movie was in the offing and Gary was their “inside man.” Wow.

When I hemmed and hawed and  stammered  trying  to  do  a  fast  phone
interview, he chuckled and told me that that was what he liked about me. I
could still feel ashamed of awkward assignments like that.

And after he had given me lots of quotes to use without my having to ask him
anything–because he knew what they were after having worked for them–he
told me to be careful. And I knew, just because they were firing amazing guys
like him, that I might be a goner, too.

The  third wise man, easily the wisest of all…was Roger. Now,  the  Roger  we
know  now  is  a little different from the  Roger  I  knew  then.  But  if  he  hadn’t
been that Roger, he wouldn’t be the Roger he is now. Let me try to explain this
as diplomatically as I can. The old Roger just knew he was  “the  shizznits.”

And that’s because…he was.

No, really, he was. No ifs, ands or buts. The guy knew  exactly  what  he  was
doing and how to do it better—and faster–than anyone else. And for me, he
was God the way Clapton was for some other people.

Every day he blew into the office like a hurricane and typed his latest oeuvre
in minutes. Often giving us a “play by play” of the day’s  events  as  he  wrote
them and almost always, as I still recall  with  envy,  without  needing to  do  a
second draft.

Then, he’d hit “send,” tell us a few hilarious  celebrity  stories  he  had  either
been part of or heard about through his also enviable Hollywood grapevine…
and blow back out to do…whatever it was he did when he wasn’t in the office.
One of the things he did when he wasn’t in the office…he did  with  me.  And  a
few others, when we could sneak away. We  went  to  some  of  the  restaurants
within walking distance of the Sun Times and just sat there  eating  and  talking
and drinking and laughing. Only when Roger was there, he  was  the  king  and
we were all his subjects. Not because he said so, but because we felt that way.
And  if  you listened closely during those conversations over linguini  with  clam
sauce  or …something else Italian (I only remember  that  particular  restaurant
for some  reason—not the name,  just  the  food)  you  would  hear  The  World
According to Roger. And if you remembered any of it after hoisting a few, and
took  the  advice  he  gave  you,  chances  were  you’d  do  very,  very  well  for
yourself in journalism and otherwise.

He has told me that listening to me back then made him happy. Listening to
him…made me realize that I was  in  the  wrong  business.  You  had  to  eat
journalism the way you ate those clams. With gusto, loving every bite. I…like
many a writer before me…did not like sticking to just the “facts.” Unless they
were the facts I chose to write about the things I chose to write about.

When they sent me to  the  “news”  side  a  few  years  later,  as they  always
eventually did to help nervous novices become “real” reporters, I almost had
a nervous breakdown. In fact, I did have one, but I  was  too  young  to  know
what it was or to tell anyone or ask for the help I needed to avoid it.

I muddled through for a while. And then I  was  sent  to  the  airport,  just  after
what was then the worst airplane crash in Chicago history, knowing first of all
that the daughter of one of our colleagues had probably  been  on  that  plane
and second of all that I was expected to interview the victims’ relatives.

It was my “worst case scenario.” I was absolutely  mortified.  And  terrified.  I
remember  I  did  it  the way  rape  victims  “dissociate”  and  go  through  the
motions. And of course that…is not good. But I was able to  do it  because  I
discovered what a lot of reporters know and use to defend themselves when
people ask they how they can stand to do it.

I discovered that the relatives wanted to talk about  their  loved  ones.  They’re
in shock, still, and they want to say the names, tell the stories to keep reality at
bay just a few moments  longer.  I  got  great  stuff.  But  I  felt  like  I  needed  to
vomit for hours, after.

That’s because I was also sent to the suburban home of a deaf couple who had
lost their child.  And  I  was  not  entirely  sure  that  they  knew  about  the  crash
yet. There, after the father tearfully bleated through  the  door  for  me  to  please
leave  them  alone— in  that “deaf”  voice  I  will  never  forget– a  relative   finally
came to the door told me, firmly  and rightly so,  to  get  lost.  I  knew  the  editors
would have wanted me to interview that relative at least, but…I didn’t.

I got lost. In more ways than one.

I just could not understand why I wasn’t  happy.  It  was  a  dream  job— in  fact,  it
was getting  more  dreamlike  all  the  time.  I’d  gone  to  a  reception  for  Prince
Charles.  I  had taken  Queen– the  rock  band,  and  thanks   to   Roger–  to   the
Chicago premiere of Close Encounters  of  the  Third  Kind.  I  was  the  first  face
audiences saw after the credits in Continental Divide, John Belushi’s not-sogreat
movie   about   a   real   reporter   at   our   newspaper   that   was   shot    at    our
newspaper  with  other  real   reporters.   I’d   dated   Mr.   Universe —  you   know
that…Arnold Whatisname. Kirk Douglas had sat on my lap—never mind why.

Heck,  I  was  sitting  right  next  to  Rick  MacArthur  when  he  called  mummy
speaking fluent, frantic French, demanding  that  they  buy  Harpers  before  it
folded. I had not actually—God, how  embarrassing — realized  that  our  Rick
was one of those MacArthur’s. The ones who pay for damned near everything
PBS does. His father wrote The Front Page, the quintessential play about Old
School reporters for Chrissake, but to me his son was just another crazy dude
I saw moshing at some of the punk bars in town on the weekend.

I remember I turned to him that day and  said,  “Rick … what  are  you  tryin’a
pull, dude?” or something equally ridiculous. He  said,  “You’ll  see…”  with  a
twinkle.  And  I  remained  blissfully  ignorant  until  I  saw  him  on  the   Today
Show the next Monday talking about what he’d been talking to mummy about
behind me that morning.
I guess he showed me all right. You go, rich boy…

The beginning of the end for me was when the Daily News really did fold.  And
all heck broke loose. As I recall—and again, my memory is a wee bit wobbly—
it was exactly like the scene in  Broadcast  News,  people’s  phones  ringing  or
runners  being  sent  to  fetch  this  one  and  that  one.  And  the  Bataan  Death
March of pink-slipped reporters returning from  “upstairs”  to  pack  decades  of
memories into boxes.

I almost scooped the big guys upstairs, quite innocently, as I recall, a few days
before  the  ax  actually fell.  I  had  been  out  to  have  my  heinously   infected
tonsils removed and had received a strange call from the managing editor of
our paper while I was still groggy with pain killers.

“We didn’t want you to worry. You have a place  at  the  Sun  Times,”  he  said — or
something like that. And  I  thought  it  was  incredibly  sweet  of  the  Big  Boss  to
call me at home. I thought he was reassuring me  because  it  was  taking  me  so
long  to  heal — there  had   been   complications.   Adult   tonsilectomies   can   be
tricky and my throat was badly scarred from years of infections.

When I got back to the office, I told everyone how amazed I’d been to  hear
from him.

The room went quiet. A few people asked me to repeat what he’d said, word
for word. I did. And a few faces went very, very pale.

A few days later some of those  faces  were  tear  streaked.  And  then,  they
disappeared. And in the weeks  to  come  as  editors  came  and  went  and
reporters played musical chairs from department to department, assignment
to assignment…I really thought I was going to lose my mind completely.

Each editor had his or her own ideas about what should be written and how. I
was just finding my own voice to begin  with  and  now … I  was  being  told  to
change it, and to change it in a different way every few weeks.

Some of the editors were good,  but  left  because  the  times  weren’t.  Others
were not good, and  were  asked  to  leave  quickly.  My  sole  island  of  sanity
throughout was…yep. Roger. He blew in…he blew out…he wasn’t the least bit
worried.

He had written Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens with Russ Meyer–yes,
that Russ Meyer. He had this TV show thing he was thinking of doing  and…
well…lots of irons in the fire. If they messed with him,  they  would  be  sorry.
And of course, they knew that. So…they didn’t.

I, on the other hand, was the new kid on the block. And though I’d  been
assured that my job was secure…I was, after all, losing my mind.

It was right about then that Roger said or…I remembered him saying…I forget
which…that a reporter who was still a reporter  after  five  years  was  … I  also
can’t remember if the ending  was  “a  failure”  or  “in  trouble.”  But  the  upshot
was that he felt long-time journalists  were  in  danger  of  becoming  jaded  and
unable to “feel” the way you need to feel to care about the stories you write.

I  knew  that  was  just  the  raconteur speaking.  Because  I  also   knew   that   he
would never  stop  loving  movies  or  the  people  who  make  them.  And  I  knew
that I would never stop loving music or  the  people  who   made  it.   I   wanted   to
write about them with as much love and real insight as Roger did,  but … I  wasn’t
Roger. I was new. And that voice  I’d  been  trying  to  find  was  now  beginning  to
stammer.

In fact, I  quit being  able  to  write.  I  quit  being  able  to  think  straight.  I  needed
a miracle.

Mercifully,  after  a  long  period   of  self-loathing   and doubt … I  met  one.  A
fetching young man who fell head over heels in love  with  me  and  helped  me
love myself again, too. About a year later, he decided  to  move  West  to  be a
mechanical engineer at a rather amazing salary for a recent college grad. And
he wanted me to go with him.
Oh, you know I said, “Yes.”

I told my family and friends— they  were  gobsmacked.  And  then … I  told
Roger. He…was not pleased. So I reminded him of what he’d said. And of
how I really felt.


“Lifestyle change,” he said—or something  like  that– with  a pensive  nod.
“That…I can understand.” I was taking his advice, sort of. But his eyes told
me he wasn’t entirely ready to let me go just yet.

Despite that, he and and some of my favorite people (Irishpie, who writes here
sometimes is another), threw me a little going away bash…and I faded  out  of
their lives  and  the  newspaper  business,  forever,  I  thought.  And  then a  few
decades and one very unexpected Arizona Press Club  award  later — I  did  a
very brief reprise at the Arizona Daily  Star that  only  reinforced  the  fact  that  I
do not like writing for newspapers– I  was  watching  the  news  and  heard  that
Roger  Ebert  was  “gravely  ill.”  In  fact,  I  expected   to   be   seeing   obits   by
morning, given the way they spun it.

Frantic for facts—for once–I ran to my computer and read everything  I  could
Google up. And as I am wont to do when I want to know what the hell is going
on with someone so badly that I don’t mind dropping names or pulling rank, I
emailed Roger’s old Answer Man email address with my former name in the
subject line—that’s right, isn’t it, Roger? I think that’s how it happened…

Anyway, he wrote right back. And I was  very,  very  relieved  to  discover  that
contrary to those reports of his impending demise, he was soldiering on. Due
for more operations, but determined.

I exhaled and smiled…and that was that for a while. Until… I  began  to  write
these little blog thingies. I sent him a link to one. He told me how good it was.
And then he tweeted one. And then another and another.  And  then  he  kept
doing it.

And I realized that in his own way he was picking  up  right  where  he  left  off:
believing in me more than I believed in myself. I’m not quite as confused as  I
was then, though. And I can, at last, write about only the things that  move  me.
And one of the things that moves me most is that Roger is still there teaching
and taking care of me the way he always did, even though I don’t really   know
 
why. It’s what he does that matters. The why…not so much.

I still love seeing myself through his eyes…even after all these years…
——————————-
Cynthia Dagnal-Myron is an         

award-winning former reporter
for both the C hicago Sun Times
and Arizona Daily Star whose
articles have appeared in Rolling
Stone, Salon, Working Mother,
Orion and many others. During
her Sun Times years, she
traveled with and interviewed the
top rockers, film stars and other
celebrities of the 70’s and 80’s.
And dated Arnold
Schwarzenegger. Once. Her
latest book, “The Keka
Collection,” is available at
Amazon and Barnes and Noble–Kindle
and Nook versions available. Her
latest short story, Deadline, is a
Kindle book available here:
http://bit.ly/10pqtoV