EXCLUSIVE: James Lipton's Last Letter to Roger Ebert

EXCLUSIVE: James Lipton's Last Letter to Roger Ebert

The Inside the Actors Studio host shares his last correspondence with the late film critic and his wife.

By Monica A. Reyhani

Anyone who has ever watched Inside the Actors Studio knows that there was only one critic James Lipton made a part of every show -- Roger Ebert, the legendary film critic, who passed away on April 4th at the age of 70. 

A legend in his own right, James Lipton was gracious enough to share his final letter to Roger and his wife, Chaz, in which he not only shows his admiration for the critic's judgment, but explains his importance to Bravo's longest-running show, Inside the Actors Studio, and the cultural and political zeitgeist. 

Dear Chaz and Roger,

Thank you very much for your kind letter. One receives so few handwritten letters these computerized days that they’re especially welcome. And here I am responding in the very medium I’ve just decried, but the sad fact is that my handwriting is so difficult to decipher that I’ve long since put my epistolary pen aside.

If you’ve had occasion to see any episodes of my series in the past few years, you may be aware of how often, and how gratefully, you’re quoted. I’m not, I regret to say, a film scholar, so I must often turn for counsel to my betters, chief of whom, as my viewers know, is you, Roger.

You may both recall that we met once at Elaine’s Restaurant in New York where I came to your table to confess my indebtedness to you. In the years since then that debt has grown exponentially (always with acknowledgement) -- to the point where, often, my first question to myself as I prepare three or four hundred blue cards (which for eighteen years have served in lieu of the customary TV pre-interview) is: What is Roger Ebert’s view on this film/person/subject, and would my viewers like to know it? The answer is frequently yes, because you’ve illuminated a topic in a way that opens doors for both my guest and me.

In the course of these years of research (two weeks for each guest; I’m a slow study), I’ve learned to appreciate a number of things that, to put it plainly, you do better than anyone else – even the redoubtable Bernard Pivot.

I admire your calm, clear stance -- on movies, on art, on the world around us and, if I read you correctly, on the political implications of the work you’re asked to explore. You might (or might not) be surprised to know how often I read you and exclaim, “Yes!”

Especially in times like these when -- in my admittedly biased view -- the barbarians are at the gates, it’s a great relief to encounter someone who seems to stand steadfastly for a sensible, decent political rectitude. Maybe I’m only reading my views into yours, but I like what I read.

While I have your ear, I’d like to express special thanks for your parade of cinematic statutes, like the One-at-a-time Attack Rule and the Principle of Evil Marksmanship, the latter of which puts me in mind -- and you in the company -- of Mark Twain who, fed up with hearing, “I thought the gun was unloaded,” offered this counsel in his Advice to Youth: “Don’t you meddle with old unloaded firearms; they are the most deadly and unerring things that have ever been created by man. You don’t have to take any pains at all with them; you don’t have to have a rest, you don’t have to have any sights on the gun, you don’t have to take aim, even. No, you just pick out a relative and bang away, and you are sure to get him. A youth who can’t hit a cathedral at thirty yards with a Gatling gun in three quarters of an hour, can take up an old empty musket and bag his grandmother every time, at a hundred. Think what Waterloo would have been if one of the armies had been boys armed with old muskets supposed not to be loaded, and the other army had been composed of their female relations.” In your lexicon, Roger, this would be The Principle of the Unloaded Gun.

If it’s all right with you, I’ll continue to rely on you.

With warmest wishes and boundless gratitude,



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