Gene Siskel
Eugene Kal "Gene" Siskel (January 26, 1946 February 20, 1999) was an American film critic and journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 for the Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, and the flagship publication of the Tribune Company. Formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper" , it remains the most read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region and is...

. Along with colleague Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

, he hosted the popular review show Siskel & Ebert At the Movies from 1975 until his death.

Early life and career

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Siskel was raised by his aunt and uncle after both his parents died when he was ten years old. He attended Culver Academies
Culver Academies
The Culver Academies is a college preparatory boarding school and summer camp in the United States. The Culver Academies is composed of three entities: Culver Military Academy for boys, Culver Girls Academy , and the Culver Summer Schools and Camps . Collectively known as Culver Academies located...

, graduated in Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 in 1967, where he studied writing under Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

-winning author John Hersey
John Hersey
John Richard Hersey was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and journalist considered one of the earliest practitioners of the so-called New Journalism, in which storytelling devices of the novel are fused with non-fiction reportage...

, who helped him land a job at the Chicago Tribune in 1969. In 1975, Siskel teamed up with Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

, film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
The Chicago Sun-Times is an American daily newspaper published in Chicago, Illinois. It is the flagship paper of the Sun-Times Media Group.-History:The Chicago Sun-Times is the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the city...

, to host a show on the local Chicago PBS station WTTW
WTTW channel 11 is one of three Public Broadcasting Service member public television stations serving the Chicago, Illinois market; the others are WYCC and WYIN. WTTW began broadcasting on September 6, 1955 and it is owned and operated by Window to the World Communications, Inc., a not-for-profit...

 which eventually became Sneak Previews
Sneak Previews
Sneak Previews was an American film review show, running for over two decades on Public Broadcasting Service . It was created by WTTW, a PBS affiliate in Chicago, Illinois. It premiered on September 4, 1975 as a monthly local-only show called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You, and was renamed in...

. Their "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" system soon became an easily recognizable trademark, popular enough to be parodied on comedy shows such as In Living Color
In Living Color
In Living Color is an American sketch comedy television series, which originally ran on the Fox Network from April 15, 1990 to May 19, 1994. Brothers Keenen and Damon Wayans created, wrote, and starred in the program. The show was produced by Ivory Way Productions in association with 20th Century...

, cartoon strips like Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin and Hobbes is a syndicated daily comic strip that was written and illustrated by American cartoonist Bill Watterson, and syndicated from November 18, 1985, to December 31, 1995. It follows the humorous antics of Calvin, a precocious and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his...

(April, 1988) and in movies such as Hollywood Shuffle
Hollywood Shuffle
Hollywood Shuffle is a 1987 comedy film that satirizes the racial stereotypes of African Americans in film and television. The film tracks the attempts of Bobby Taylor to become a successful actor and the mental and external roadblocks he encounters, represented through a series of interspersed...

and Godzilla
Godzilla (1998 film)
Godzilla is a 1998 science fiction monster disaster film film co-written and directed by Roland Emmerich. It is a loose remake of the 1954 giant monster classic Godzilla. The storyline was conceived from a screenplay written by Emmerich and Dean Devlin. The film relates a tale of a nuclear incident...

. Sneak Previews gained a country-wide audience in 1978 when it was carried on PBS.

Siskel and Ebert left WTTW and PBS in 1982 for syndication
Television syndication
In broadcasting, syndication is the sale of the right to broadcast radio shows and television shows by multiple radio stations and television stations, without going through a broadcast network, though the process of syndication may conjure up structures like those of a network itself, by its very...

. Their new show, At the Movies, was produced and distributed by Tribune Broadcasting
Tribune Broadcasting
The Tribune Broadcasting Company is a group of radio and television stations located throughout the United States which are owned and operated by the Tribune Company, a media conglomerate based in Chicago, Illinois and named for the flagship Chicago Tribune newspaper.- History :Tribune Broadcasting...

, the parent company that owned the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV
WGN-TV, virtual channel 9 , is the CW-affiliated television station in Chicago, Illinois built, signed on, and owned by the Tribune Company. WGN-TV's studios and offices are located at 2501 W...

. Sneak Previews continued on PBS for 14 more years with other hosts. In 1986, Siskel and Ebert left Tribune Broadcasting to have their show produced by the syndication arm of The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. Founded on October 16, 1923, by Walt and Roy Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into...

. The new incarnation of the show was originally titled Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, but later shortened to Siskel & Ebert. At the Movies also continued a few more years with other hosts.

A very early appearance of Siskel, taken from Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You, predecessor to Sneak Previews, is included in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism
For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism
For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism is a 2009 documentary film dramatizing a hundred years of American film criticism through film clips, historic photographs, and on-camera interviews with many of today’s important reviewers, mostly print but also Internet...

. In this 2009 documentary film he is seen debating with Ebert over the merits of the film version
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American drama film directed by Miloš Forman and based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey....

 of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (novel)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a novel written by Ken Kesey. Set in an Oregon asylum, the narrative serves as a study of the institutional process and the human mind, as well as a critique of Behaviorism and a celebration of humanistic principles. Written in 1959, the novel was adapted into a...


Normally, Siskel and Roger Ebert would refuse to guest star in movies or televisual series (except for talk shows) as they felt it would undermine their responsibility to the public. However, they both "could not resist" appearing on an episode of the animated television series The Critic
The Critic
The Critic is an American prime time animated series revolving around the life of film critic Jay Sherman, voiced by actor Jon Lovitz. It was created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, both of whom had worked as writers on The Simpsons. The Critic had 23 episodes produced, first broadcast on ABC in 1994,...

, the title character of which was a television film critic. In the episode, Siskel and Ebert split and each wants Jay Sherman, the titular critic, as his new partner. They also once appeared in an episode of Sesame Street. Siskel also appeared as himself on an episode of The Larry Sanders Show
The Larry Sanders Show
The Larry Sanders Show is a satirical television sitcom that aired from August 1992 to May 1998 on the HBO cable television network in the United States. It starred stand-up comedian Garry Shandling as vain, neurotic talk show host Larry Sanders, and centered on the running of his TV show, and the...



In 1998, Siskel underwent surgery
Surgery is an ancient medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate and/or treat a pathological condition such as disease or injury, or to help improve bodily function or appearance.An act of performing surgery may be called a surgical...

 for a cancerous brain tumor. He announced on Wednesday, February 3, 1999 that he was taking a leave of absence
Leave of absence
Leave of absence is a term used to describe a period of time that one is to be away from his/her primary job, while maintaining the status of employee...

 but that he expected to be back by the fall, writing "I'm in a hurry to get well because I don't want Roger to get more screen time than me".

On Saturday, February 20, 1999, Siskel died from complications of another surgery at the age of 53. After Siskel's death, the producers of Siskel & Ebert hired other film critics and began using them on a rotating basis as an audition for a permanent successor. Ultimately, Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper
Richard Roeper
Richard E. Roeper is an American columnist and film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times and now a co-host on The Roe Conn Show on WLS-AM...

 was hired and the show was renamed Ebert & Roeper at the Movies. The last film Siskel reviewed on television with co-host Ebert was The Theory of Flight
The Theory of Flight
The Theory of Flight is a 1998 film directed by Paul Greengrass, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh. Carter plays a woman with motor neurone disease, and the film deals with the sexuality of people with disabilities....

on Saturday, January 23, 1999. The final film that he reviewed in print was the Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Prinze , known professionally by her birth name of Sarah Michelle Gellar , is an American actress, singer and executive producer...

 romantic comedy Simply Irresistible
Simply Irresistible
Simply Irresistible is a 1999 American romantic comedy film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sean Patrick Flanery. It was directed by Mark Tarlov and was written by Judith Roberts. Simply Irresistible is notable as the last movie reviewed by film critic Gene Siskel...

. He gave it a thumbs-down.

Siskel was survived by his wife, Marlene, and their children, Kate, Callie, and Will and is interred at Westlawn Cemetery
Westlawn Cemetery
Westlawn Cemetery is a Jewish cemetery located in Norridge, Illinois. The cemetery covers and roughly 46,000 people are buried there.-Notable interments:*Jack Ruby, convicted of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald...



At the 1999 Academy Awards
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 ceremony, after its In Memoriam montage of deceased stars and film contributors (which did not include Siskel as he was not an Academy member), host Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg is an American comedian, actress, singer-songwriter, political activist, author and talk show host.Goldberg made her film debut in The Color Purple playing Celie, a mistreated black woman in the Deep South. She received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress and won...

 gave a brief, impromptu tribute to Siskel which included the traditional "thumbs-up" gesture, to great audience applause.

The Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which presents world-class independent, international and classic cinema, was renamed The Gene Siskel Film Center in honor of him in 2000.

When asked by a journalist to list his three favorite things about Chicago, Siskel named Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
Michael Jeffrey Jordan is a former American professional basketball player, active entrepreneur, and majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats...

, Mayor Daley
Richard M. Daley
Richard Michael Daley is a United States politician, member of the national and local Democratic Party, and former Mayor of Chicago, Illinois. He was elected mayor in 1989 and reelected in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, and 2007. He was the longest serving Chicago mayor, surpassing the tenure of his...

, and the Film Center. Siskel was a member of the Film Center's Advisory Committee and a strong supporter of the Film Center mission. He wrote hundreds of articles applauding the Film Center's distinctive programming and he lent the power of his position as a well-known film critic to urge public funding and audience support. His favorite movies of all time were Saturday Night Fever
Saturday Night Fever
Saturday Night Fever is a 1977 drama film directed by John Badham and starring: John Travolta as Tony Manero, an immature young man whose weekends are spent visiting a local Brooklyn discothèque; Karen Lynn Gorney as his dance partner and eventual friend; and Donna Pescow as Tony's former dance...

(he even bought the famous white disco
Disco is a genre of dance music. Disco acts charted high during the mid-1970s, and the genre's popularity peaked during the late 1970s. It had its roots in clubs that catered to African American, gay, psychedelic, and other communities in New York City and Philadelphia during the late 1960s and...

 suit from it at a charity auction) and Dr. Strangelove. Another favorite from childhood was Dumbo
Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released on October 23, 1941, by RKO Radio Pictures.The fourth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, Dumbo is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl for the prototype of a...

, which he often mentioned as the first movie that made a mark on him.

He only walked out on three films during his professional career: the 1971 comedy The Million Dollar Duck
The Million Dollar Duck
The Million Dollar Duck is a 1971 Disney comedy film that was directed by Vincent McEveety, and stars Dean Jones, Sandy Duncan and Joe Flynn.-Plot:...

starring Dean Jones
Dean Jones (actor)
Dean Carroll Jones is an American actor. Jones is best known for his light-hearted leading roles in several Walt Disney movies between 1965 and 1977, most notably The Love Bug.-Early years:...

; the 1980 horror film Maniac
Maniac (1980 film)
Maniac is a 1980 American slasher film , about a disturbed and traumatized serial killer who scalps his victims. It was directed by William Lustig and written by Joe Spinell and C. A. Rosenberg...

; and the 1996 Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris is an American director, producer and screenwriter. She is best known as a documentary film director whose works include the trilogy titled The Decline of Western Civilization...

 film Black Sheep. Only once during his long association with Ebert did Siskel ever change his vote on a movie. The film Broken Arrow
Broken Arrow (1996 film)
Broken Arrow is a 1996 American action film directed by John Woo, written by Graham Yost, and starring John Travolta and Christian Slater. The original music score was composed by Hans Zimmer, and features guitarist Duane Eddy. It deals with the theft of an American nuclear weapon.The film received...

had initially been given a "thumbs up," but after hearing Ebert's criticism, Siskel changed his mind to "thumbs down" to make it unanimous.

Siskel compiled "best of the year" movie lists from 1969 to 1998, which have helped to provide an overview of his critical preferences. His top choices have been:

  • 1969: "Z"
  • 1970: "My Night at Maud's"
  • 1971: "Claire's Knee"
  • 1972: "The Godfather"
  • 1973: "The Emigrants"
  • 1974: "Day for Night"
  • 1975: "Nashville"
  • 1976: "All the President's Men"
  • 1977: "Annie Hall"
  • 1978: "Straight Time"
  • 1979: "Hair"

  • 1980: "Raging Bull"
  • 1981: "Ragtime"
  • 1982: "Moonlighting"
  • 1983: "The Right Stuff"
  • 1984: "Once Upon a Time in America"
  • 1985: "Shoah"
  • 1986: "Hannah and Her Sisters"
  • 1987: "The Last Emperor"
  • 1988: "The Last Temptation of Christ"
  • 1989: "Do the Right Thing"

  • 1990: "GoodFellas"
  • 1991: "Hearts of Darkness"
  • 1992: "One False Move"
  • 1993: "Schindler's List"
  • 1994: "Hoop Dreams"
  • 1995: "Crumb"
  • 1996: "Fargo"
  • 1997: "The Ice Storm"
  • 1998: "Babe: Pig in the City"

Siskel chose "Kagemusha" as his fifth-best film of 1980, but by decade's end, his opinion had elevated it to the tenth-best film of the decade of the 1980s. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" also rose in his subsequent estimation. From 1969 until his death in early 1999, Siskel and his TV partner Roger Ebert were in agreement on nine top selections: "Z", "The Godfather", "Nashville", "The Right Stuff", "Do the Right Thing", "GoodFellas", "Schindler's List", "Hoop Dreams", and "Fargo." There would have been a tenth, except that Ebert declined to rank the documentary "Shoah" as 1985's best film because he felt it was inappropriate to compare it to the rest of the year's candidates. Seven times, Siskel's #1 choice did not appear on Ebert's top ten list at all: "Straight Time", "Ragtime", "Once Upon a Time in America", "The Last Emperor", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Hearts of Darkness", and "The Ice Storm." Seven times, Ebert's top selection did not appear on Siskel's; these films were "Small Change", "Three Women", "An Unmarried Woman", "Apocalypse Now", "Sophie's Choice", "Mississippi Burning", and "Dark City."

Siskel was also a die-hard Chicago sports fan, especially of the NBA's Bulls
Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are an American professional basketball team based in Chicago, Illinois, playing in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference in the National Basketball Association . The team was founded in 1966. They play their home games at the United Center...

, and would cover locker-room celebrations for WBBM-TV
WBBM-TV, virtual channel 2 , is the CBS owned-and-operated television station in Chicago, Illinois. WBBM-TV's main studios and offices are located in The Loop section of Chicago, as part of the development at Block 37, and its transmitter is atop the Willis Tower.-History:WBBM-TV traces its history...

 news broadcasts following Bulls championships in the 1990s.

Ebert once said of his relationship with Gene Siskel:
"Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks. Strike one, and the other would pick up the same frequency. When we were in a group together, we were always intensely aware of one another. Sometimes this took the form of camaraderie, sometimes shared opinions, sometimes hostility."

When both men appeared together on The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show that has aired on NBC since 1954. It is the longest currently running regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States, and the third longest-running show on NBC, after Meet the Press and Today.The Tonight Show has been hosted by...

, Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson
John William "Johnny" Carson was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years . Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987...

 conducted a "together and separately" interview with them, which at one point had each man wear Walkman-style headphones, playing loud music, while the other commented on his partner. When asked what he thought was the biggest difference between himself and Ebert, Siskel unhesitatingly replied: "I'm a better reviewer than he is." But a few moments later, he said that anyone who read a Roger Ebert review would read "an extremely well written review."

External links

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