It's a bit like the sheepdog buddying around with the wolf, when filmmakers can be so chummy and admiring of a critic. Ebert's thumbs-up was a resounding seal of approval, his thumbs-down a kiss of death, yet his easygoing nature and his passion for film made him as much a part of Hollywood as the actors, filmmakers and studio bosses.
"We love Roger. Isn't that funny?" said Warner Bros. distribution executive Jeff Goldstein.
"You couldn't ask for a more extraordinary champion of films both large and small," said Sony Pictures spokesman Steve Elzer. "We all paid attention to whatever direction his thumb was pointing."
Ebert eloquently defined his passion for film in a speech read by his wife, Chaz, at his Directors Guild honor.
"The movies come closer than any other art form in giving us the experience of walking in someone else's shoes," she read on Ebert's behalf. "They allow us an opportunity to experience what it would be like to live within another gender, race, religion, nationality, or period of time. They expand us, they improve us, and sometimes they ennoble us."
Along with reviews, Ebert did interviews and profiles of Hollywood's top talent, including legends such as John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Alfred Hitchcock. He crossed to the other side during a leave of absence from the Sun-Times in 1969 to write the screenplay for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," which drew an adults-only X rating and became a cult favorite.
In 1975, Ebert and Gene Siskel, film critic for the rival Chicago Tribune, teamed for a show that began on Chicago's PBS station, then went nationwide — the two trading opinions on new movies from a set resembling a theater balcony. They continued their TV partnership with a syndicated show, each giving thumbs up or down on the films and engaging in lively sparring matches on air even as they remained close friends off camera.