Growing up in Urbana

Roger Ebert Boyhood Home

410 East Washington St., Urbana

Baby Roger with his parents

Baby Roger with his parents

Roger Ebert was born in Urbana on June 18, 1942, the only child of Walter and Annabel Ebert. Roger's father was an electrician at the University of Illinois and his mother was a bookkeeper for the Allied Finance Company and served as president of the Urbana Business Women’s Association. The family made their home in a small, two-bedroom stucco house at 410 East Washington Street.    

St. Mary's Catholic School in Champaign

St. Mary's Catholic School in Champaign

Ebert attended Saint Mary’s Catholic School in Champaign for grade school.  Classes started every day at 8am with theology, his favorite class.  His classes were taught by Dominican nuns whom lived in a small convent behind the school.  The staff included six nuns, some of which taught two grades, a cook, and a housekeeper.  Later in life, Ebert credited the nuns at Saint Mary’s for creating the foundation of his ethical and political beliefs.  He said, “those nuns guided me into supporting Universal Health Care, the rightness of labor unions, fair taxation, prudence in warfare, kindness in peacetime, help for the hungry and homeless, and equal opportunity for the races and genders.”

The Princess Theater

The Princess Theater

Roger Ebert's (top-center) Freshman year at Urbana High School

Roger Ebert's (top-center) Freshman year at Urbana High School

In addition to his favorite restaurant, Ebert found his lifelong love of film and theaters in Urbana. A devotee of the Kiddie Matinee at the Princess Theater, Ebert spent many Saturday afternoons in the cool, dim light of the theater watching the 5-6 color cartoons followed by a double feature, usually a Western and a Bowery Boys cartoon. “For a grade school kid,” he wrote, “going to the movies was one of the few acts you could undertake completely on your own.” A mere 20 cents would procure your “admission, popcorn, and Jujubes leaving a penny left over for the jawbreaker machine.” 

Later in high school, Ebert found himself at the Art Theater “sitting around in the lobby [with] a cup of espresso and [a] black turtleneck feeling dangerously cool.” It was at the Art, in 1958, when Ebert first saw Citizen Kane. “That was the first time,” he recounted in a speech to University of Illinois students, “that it was called to my attention that movies were made by someone with a point of view, a purpose and a style in order to make people feel a certain way about being alive and being in society.”

Growing up in Urbana