Katie: Thumbs Up For Roger Ebert

Here in Chicago -- where I'm reporting a story on Barack Obama's days as a community activist and attending a benefit for the American Cancer Society -- there's cause for celebration. It's not the kind with fireworks, it's a quieter, gentler kind of celebration.

Roger Ebert has returned to the movies. I always found him to be wonderfully kind and supportive. This week, he's hosting his Ninth Annual Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois, in Champaign/Urbana, about two hours south of here. The festival opened Wednesday night, and Mark Caro, an entertainment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote that when Ebert entered the movie theater, "the applause started softly near a rear entrance … and rippled outward until all in the crowd were standing on their feet smacking their hands together."

It was Ebert's first public appearance since he was operated on last summer for cancer of the salivary gland and the jaw. He's had a tracheostomy and is awaiting further surgery. So for now, he can't talk.

But he still has his brain and his typing fingers, he wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, adding, "I am spared the need to explain why every film is 'overlooked,' or why I wrote 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.'"

He admits that he "ain't a pretty boy no more," paraphrasing a line from "Raging Bull." He has a gauze bandage around his neck and his mouth droops.

What I love is his attitude. He said that people had suggested he not attend, that paparazzi would take "unflattering pictures," and that he'd attract the attention of the gossip tabloids. His answer? "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." (Wonder where he got that line?) "We spend too much time hiding illness."

So let's strike one for candor and substance over style, none for paparazzi poised to pounce. Not to mix metaphors, but he's taken the wind out of their sails.

Too bad I can't catch Sunday's screening: "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." But if all goes as planned with his medical treatment, next year he'll be able to explain why he wrote it.