When I read the news about film critic Roger Ebert’s death on Thursday after his 11-year battle with cancer, I immediately thought of The Catlow Theater and its owners, curious to know more about Ebert’s legacy right here in Barrington.
I emailed Catlow owner, Tim O’Connor, who purchased the Catlow with his fiancé, Roberta Repata, in 1988. Tim grew up watching movies. As a kid, he’d stay up late on Sunday nights, watching foreign films that ran after 10 p.m. on a TV out of earshot from his parents’ bedroom. “I grew up in Rogers Park and we had theaters all around us. We had The Granada, The Nortown, The Howard and The Delphi so we just always went to the movies.”
Knowing Tim’s lifelong love of films, I asked for his reaction to the news of Ebert’s passing and he shared a few things he says he and Roberta will always remember about Roger Ebert’s support of The Catlow Theater.
“We are both saddened by his passing. Roger was always helpful to us whenever we needed a favor. We used to chat back and forth a bit about movies back when we were both on Compuserve in the 80s and 90s… before everyone got onboard the internet.
When we first bought the theater, I had asked him if he minded us hanging up his reviews outside in the poster case and in Boloney’s so that people could see what our current feature was about. He told us no problem, in fact, he would be honored. We used to pick our movies based on his ratings back then. He was a great guy and always seemed willing to help anyone with anything, especially if it was movie related. I don’t know anyone who loved movies more than he did. He seemed to have celluloid flowing in his veins.”
“When we ran My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it pulled us out of a huge slump we were having here, and allowed us to take the Catlow off the ‘for sale’ market. We thought it would be great to write a letter to Nia Vardalos and let her know how much her film had accomplished for us.”
“She was a Chicago girl for a while and we thought she’d also like to know that her movie played here for 19 weeks! So, I emailed Roger to find out how to get in contact with her. He told me to send him the letter and he’d give it to her for us. A short time later, she sent us an autographed “Greek Wedding” poster wishing us luck (in Greek, no less!) and it is still hanging in our lobby today.”
“The final helping hand he extended to us was during our Kickstarter campaign. He put a link to our Kickstarter page on his personal Facebook page with one word as the subject… HELP! He did this all on his own and I’m sure it helped us out a great deal having that kind of exposure.”
“We never met in person and we were really never more than distant acquaintances, but I had always hoped that he’d drop in some day so we could thank him in person. I know he wasn’t a believer, but our prayers go out to both him and Chaz anyway. That will be our thank you.”
And, late last night, The Catlow Theater posted this favorite Roger Ebert quote on their Facebook page:
“If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class,” he said. “It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that to me is the most noble thing that good movies can do — and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.” -Roger Ebert.