On Sunday I and the other officers of the Houston Film Critics Society received an e-mail from Alan Cerny, HFCS Secretary, asking if we'd heard of the death of one of our founding members, Eric Harrison. A quick Facebook check and a few phone calls later, the bad news was confirmed: Eric had passed away.
We still don't know the details at this point, and they really don't matter. Eric was a very respected figure, not just in our society but in the wider realm of entertainment journalism. As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a writer for the Chronicle, Houston's lone remaining daily newspaper, he had a wider reach and influence than many -- including myself -- could hope for.
And on a personal level, I owe him a great deal for helping a noob movie critic get his shit together.
Eric got his start at the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering Appalachia and then the Camden, NJ area before going to the Los Angeles Times in 1988. He became their Atlanta bureau chief in 1992, covering the 1996 Olympics and the Olympic Park bombing. His stories won several awards, and then in 1997 he took a year off to obtain a Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan. That marked the beginning of his film writing career, and he spent the next two years immersing himself in the movie industry and writing reviews and essays about film.
Eric came to the Houston Chronicle in 2000 after almost 12 years at the Times. He was the chief film critic there until 2005, though he'd eventually (like so many print critics) get his walking papers in 2008. In 2007, he became a founding member of the HFCS (alongside yours truly, though I assure you Eric was a much more prestigious "get"), where he was integral in getting our little group off the ground and taken seriously.
For the last several years, Eric had been freelancing for the likes of the Dallas Morning News and Houstonia magazine, as well as blogging at MovieHouston.com and writing about the industry at Movie-News.com. He was nothing if not prolific, and I was always impressed by his work ethic.
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I also marveled at Eric's unfailing ability to slide into his seat at a screening just as the lights were going down. It's a skill I have yet to master.
That we were both UT alumni predisposed me to like him, but I also had a more personal reason. When I moved from reviewing movies from "the Box" at Film Threat and started covering mainstream releases (in 2004), I was told by my editor to get in touch with local publicists so I could be added to the notification list for press screenings. Not having the slightest clue how to go about this, I contacted the two critics at the Chronicle at the time, mostly because their email addresses were easy to find.
On of them -- not Eric -- evidently saw the arrival of an online critic with no real experience and the naivete to ask a favor as a threat, gave me one phone number and then basically told me to piss off. Eric, on the other hand, sent me his full list of local contacts, as well as the names and numbers of every local theater manager. He also offered me a template for how to go about contacting them, wished me luck, and -- remarkably, as I would come to realize -- suggested I email him with any other questions I might have.
Eric was not without his faults, nobody is, but he was always a generous and thoughtful guy, and I was proud to call him a colleague. Rest in peace, man.