Eugene Kal "Gene" Siskel (January 26, 1946 – February 20, 1999)
was an American film critic and journalist for the
Along with colleague Roger Ebert, he hosted a series of popular review
shows on television from 1975 to 1999.
1 Early life
2.1 Teaming up with Ebert
5 See also
7 External links
Siskel was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was the son of Ida (née
Kalis) and Nathan William Siskel. His parents were Russian Jewish
immigrants. Siskel was raised by his aunt and uncle after both his
parents died when he was ten years old. He attended Culver
Academies and graduated from
Yale University with a degree in
philosophy in 1967, where he studied writing under Pulitzer
Prize-winning author John Hersey, who helped him land a job at the
Chicago Tribune in 1969.
His first print review was for the film Rascal, which was written one
month before he became the paper's film critic. His review of the film
was favorable but received no stars by default since the paper did not
use a star-rating system for films at the time. Siskel served in
the US Army Reserve, graduating from basic officers training in early
1968 and serving as a military journalist and public affairs officer
for the Defense Information School. For a time afterwards, Gene was
Playboy magazine publisher, Hugh Hefner.
Teaming up with Ebert
In 1975, Siskel teamed up with Roger Ebert, film reviewer for the
Chicago Sun-Times, to host a show on local
PBS station WTTW
which eventually became Sneak Previews. Their "thumbs-up, thumbs-down"
system soon became an easily recognizable trademark, popular enough to
be parodied on comedy shows such as Second City Television, In Living
Color, Bizarre, and in movies such as
Hollywood Shuffle and Godzilla.
Sneak Previews gained a nationwide audience in 1977 when
it as a series to the
PBS program system.
Siskel and Ebert left
PBS in 1982 for syndication. Their new
show, At the Movies, was produced and distributed by Tribune
Broadcasting, the parent company of the
Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV.
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 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, the predecessor to Sneak Previews, is included in For the
Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. In this 2009
documentary film, he is seen debating with Ebert over the merits of
the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Normally, Siskel and Ebert would refuse to guest-star in movies or
television 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 title character of which was a film critic who
hosted a television show. In the episode, Siskel and Ebert split
and each wants Jay Sherman, the eponymous critic, as his new
partner. They also once appeared in an episode of the children's
television series Sesame Street. Siskel also appeared as himself on an
episode of The Larry Sanders Show.
Siskel was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor on May 8, 1998.
He underwent brain surgery three days later. He had announced on
February 3, 1999 that he was taking a leave of absence but that he
expected to be back by fall: "I'm in a hurry to get well because I
don't want Roger to get more screen time than I."
Siskel died from complications of another surgery on February 20, at
the age of 53. After Siskel's death, the producers of Siskel &
Ebert began using other film critics, on a rotating basis, as an
audition for a permanent successor. Ultimately, Ebert's Chicago
Richard Roeper was hired and the show was renamed
Ebert & Roeper at the Movies. The last film that Siskel reviewed
on television with cohost Ebert was
The Theory of Flight
The Theory of Flight on January
23, 1999. The final film that he reviewed in print was the Freddie
Prinze Jr. romantic comedy She's All That, which he gave a favorable
Siskel was a diehard
Chicago sports fan, especially of his hometown
basketball team, the
Chicago Bulls, and would cover locker-room
WBBM-TV news broadcasts following Bulls championships
in the 1990s.
Siskel was also a member of the advisory committee of the Film Center
at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a strong supporter
of the Film Center mission. He wrote hundreds of articles applauding
the Film Center's distinctive programming and lent the power of his
position as a well-known film critic to urge public funding and
audience support. In 2000, the Film Center was renamed The Gene Siskel
Film Center in his honor.
One of his favorite films was Saturday Night Fever; he even bought the
famous white disco suit that John Travolta wore in the film from a
charity auction Another all-time favorite was Dr. Strangelove.
and a favorite from childhood was Dumbo, which he often mentioned as
the first film that had an influence on him. On the
other hand, Siskel said that he walked out on three films during his
professional career: the 1971 comedy
The Million Dollar Duck
The Million Dollar Duck starring
Dean Jones, the 1980 horror film Maniac, and the 1996 Penelope
Spheeris film Black Sheep.
Siskel compiled "best of the year" film lists from 1969 to 1998, which
helped to provide an overview of his critical preferences. His top
1970: My Night at Maud's
1971: Claire's Knee
1972: The Godfather
1973: The Emigrants
1974: Day for Night
1976: All the President's Men
1977: Annie Hall
1978: Straight Time
1980: Raging Bull
1983: The Right Stuff
1984: Once Upon a Time in America
1986: Hannah and Her Sisters
1987: The Last Emperor
1988: The Last Temptation of Christ
1989: Do the Right Thing
1991: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
1992: One False Move
1993: Schindler's List
1994: Hoop Dreams
1997: The Ice Storm
1998: Babe: Pig in the City
From 1969 until his death in early 1999, he and 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, but 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. Six times, Ebert's top selection did not appear on
Siskel's; these films were 3 Women, An Unmarried Woman, Apocalypse
Now, Sophie's Choice, Mississippi Burning, and Dark City.
Only once during his long association with Ebert did Siskel ever
change his vote on a movie during the review. The film Broken Arrow
had initially been given a "thumbs up" but after hearing Ebert's
criticism, Siskel changed his mind to "thumbs down" to make it
unanimous. However, he had changed his opinions on films years
after his initial review, such as Tremors, which he gave a negative
review to in 1990 but later gave the film a glowing positive review in
1994, stating "I wasn't sure what I missed the first time around, but
it just didn't click."
Both critics had specific sensitivities and feelings that would often
vary in extremes to certain kinds of bad films. Ebert was very
sensitive to films about race and ethnicity, and Siskel was sensitive
to films about families and family relationships and had a special
hatred for films like House Arrest (1996) and Like Father Like Son
(1987), both of which were about parents and their children.
Ebert once said of his relationship with 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
In 1998, the
MTV satire show
Celebrity Deathmatch did a clay-animated
fight to the death between Siskel and Ebert. Siskel wins by spinning
Ebert around by his thumb until the finger binds that held their
thumbs together broke, sending Ebert flying into the support beam of
the commentator's booth. When both men appeared together on The Late
Show Starring Joan Rivers,
Joan Rivers 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 him and
Ebert, Siskel unhesitatingly replied: "I'm a better reviewer than he
is," but a few moments later, he said that anyone who read an Ebert
review would read "an extremely well-written review."[this quote needs
At the 1999
Academy Awards 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 gave a brief,
impromptu tribute to Siskel in which she said: "Gene, honey, wherever
you are, here's to you." and included the traditional "thumbs-up"
gesture, to a great round of audience applause.
List of people with brain tumors
^ "He Changed The Way We Look At Movies -
1999-02-21. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
^ Farewell To Siskel Honors Private Side Of Public Man Chicago
Tribune, Februari 23 1999
^ a b Mcg, Robert (1999-02-21). "Gene Siskel, Half of a Famed
Movie-Review Team, Dies at 53, The New York Times, February 21, 1999".
Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
Chicago Tribune List of Siskel Reviews (Notes Rascal as First Print
Review)". October 15, 1999.
^  "Siskel & Ebert: Secret Ladies' Men"
^ a b Siskel & Ebert episode: "Tribute to Gene Siskel"
^ TV.com Episode summary:
The Critic - "Siskel & Ebert & Jay
^ Life Itself. Dir. Steve James. Part.
Roger Ebert and Chaz Ebert.
^ "Gene Siskel". Nndb.com. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
^ Siskel, Gene (January 29, 1999). "
She's All That
She's All That Review
Chicago Tribune List of Siskel Reviews (Notes
She's All That
She's All That as
Last Print Review)". October 15, 1999.
^ Calhoun, Bob (1999-03-07). "Ebert review". Rogerebert.suntimes.com.
^ Ebert and Roeper[permanent dead link]
^ Review: Black Sheep[permanent dead link]
^ a b "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". Innermind.com.
2012-05-03. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
^ Berardinelli, James (February 22, 1999). "A Thumb Falls Silent: A
Short Tribute to Gene Siskel". Reelviews.net. Retrieved
^ "Remembering Gene".
Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on
^ "Oscar Night Salute To Siskel Was All Whoopi".
March 23, 1999.
Gene Siskel on IMDb
Gene Siskel at AllMovie
Gene Siskel: The Balcony is Closed Article on Legacy.com
Gene Siskel's Top Ten List By Year (1969–1998)
Bio on Biography.com
Gene Siskel at Find a Grave
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
Sneak Previews (1975–82)
At the Movies (1982–86)
At the Movies (1986–2010)
Ebert Presents: At the Movies (2011)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Who Killed Bambi?
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens
The Great Movies
Ebertfest: Roger Ebert's Film Festival
Life Itself (film)
Gene Siskel Film Center