Robert K. Elder

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Robert K. Elder (born January 20, 1976) is an American journalist, author and film columnist.

Early life and education

A Montana native, Elder interviewed Ken Kesey for his high school newspaper. The author encouraged Elder to attend his alma mater, the University of Oregon, which Elder did two years later. During his academic career, Elder ran campus publication The Oregon Voice. He also annotated and archived Kesey's personal papers at the university's Knight Library.

Professional career

Elder has published in The New York Times, Premiere, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Oregonian, among other publications. In the late 1990s, Elder worked for several publications and changed his byline to "Robert K. Elder" after working with another Rob Elder at the San Jose Mercury News.

Elder teaches journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, as well as feature writing and entertainment reporting at Columbia College Chicago. A former member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, Elder has taught film classes at Facets Film School.

In 2000, Elder was hired as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune.

In 2005, Elder edited John Woo: Interviews, the first authoritative English-language chronicle of the life, legacy and career film director John Woo. He has also contributed to books on poker, comic books, film design and author Neil Gaiman.

Del Close's Skull

In June 2006, Elder debunked the long-believed Chicago legend that Del Close had donated his skull for use as a stage prop to the Goodman Theatre. While Close had indeed willed his skull to the theater to serve as Yorick in productions of Hamlet, the actual delivery of the skull never happened, due to medical and legal issues and it was, in fact, cremated along with the rest of Close's body.

(Specifically, although Close's executor had begun action to fulfill Close's will, the body lay at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The hospital refused permission fearing legal entanglements which proved to be invalid.)

Elder had written a more general piece earlier in the year in which the legend was propagated as one of several other strange-but-true Chicago-area news bits, but Close student/protege Les Golden called Elder at the Tribune to advise him that in fact the skull that was donated to the Goodman by the executor of Close's will was not that of Close.

After his death, a former roommate of Close, who had worked as a forensic pathologist while in law school in Chicago, was called to come to Chicago to perform the procedure. Upon arriving, he was told by the executor that the skull would be cremated and he provided that information to Golden at Close's memorial service at Second City. The skull provided to the Goodman was, indeed, of vintage age, and lacked Del's parted front teeth.

In his reporting, Elder added, among other things, that the skull in place at the Goodman had a full set of natural teeth (Close wore dentures) and that the screws holding it together were rusty, making the specimen much older than it should have been. After a brief period of denial, those responsible admitted the ruse in The New Yorker.

Recent Work

On April 22, 2009, Elder was among 53 editorial employees laid off from the Chicago Tribune.[1] The following month, Elder was named Contributing Editor to Stop Smiling magazine.

In June 2009, Elder founded the Web 2.0 company Odd Hours Media LLC, which launched the user-generated sites Tales of Romantic Dead Ends and Tales from the Beginning of Love. Both sites went viral very quickly, attracting more than 1 million hits within a few months. In late 2009, Sourcebooks signed the sites to a two-book deal. It Was Over When: Tales of Romantic Dead Ends is available April 2011.

In May 2010, after seven years of research, Elder released the book Last Words of the Executed. The book includes a forward by Studs Terkel. Described as an oral history of capital punishment in the United States, Last Words of the Executed documents the final statements of death row prisoners. Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, said, "This is a powerful, haunting book." In the forward, Terkel wrote, "What I will remember most about this book is its poetry in the speech of people at the most traumatic moment of their lives."

In January 2011, Elder released the book The Film That Changed My Life, a compilation of interviews with 30 esteemed directors discussing the films that shaped their careers and, in turn, cinema history. The book includes interviews with Rian Johnson on Annie Hall, Danny Boyle on Apocalypse Now and Kevin Smith on Slacker. Chicago Tribune film critic and former At the Movies co-host Michael Phillips has called the book, "A great and provocative's addictive." Film critic Leonard Maltin said, "You'll have a have a hard time putting this book down."


  • A Friendly Game of Poker, Chicago Review Press, 2003 (contributor)
  • John Woo, Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2005 (editor)
  • The Neil Gamain Reader, Wildside Press, 2007 (contributor)
  • Last Words of the Executed, University of Chicago Press, 2010 (editor)
  • The Film That Changed My Life, Chicago Review Press, 2011 (editor)
  • It Was Over When..., Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2011 (editor)


External links

Template:Persondata [[category:Columbia College Chicago faculty]