by Jim Longworth
I would imagine that most wealthy nonagenarians spend their days relaxing at the beach or at their mountain villa, but not Ed Asner. After appearing in over 150 TV shows, 70 films, and countless plays, Ed had, as of late last month, no less than fifteen current projects in post production and five more announced.
Of course, anyone who knew Ed wasn’t surprised by his energy or his level of professional activity. It’s what we expected from the man whose blue collar upbringing taught him the value of hard work. And with role models like two older sisters who were social workers, and a football coach who once explained to him the rights of laborers, it was also predictable that Ed would work hard fighting for others.
Ed was an actor who didn’t just talk the talk, he also walked the walk, speaking out against everything from repression to suppression, and raising money for a plethora of charities and causes, even when it meant being criticized and blackballed. It’s no wonder, then, that The Hollywood Reporter just named Ed as their 2021 Icon. That issue came out on August 25. Ed passed away four days later. Ed Asner was 91.
I first got to know Ed back in 2010 when he was filming “Elephant Sighs” in North Carolina, and stopped by to tape an episode of Triad Today. We stayed in touch regularly by phone after that, including discussions about politics and his reason for writing The Grouchy Historian: An Old Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs, which was published in 2017. We spoke shortly before the book was released.
Ed: My co-author Ed Weinberger and I were unhappy with how the right-wing was constantly claiming the Constitution was theirs, and we decided some counter-thrust should occur.
Jim: What’s worse, right-wing nuts who abuse the Constitution, or a President who hasn’t read it?
Ed: (laughs) What’s the difference. Trump is a P.T. Barnum like I’ve never witnessed in my life. There’s a sucker born every minute, and I think he’s corralled most of them.
Ed’s political beliefs got him in trouble with conservatives who called him everything from a communist to a socialist, to unpatriotic. But he never waivered in those beliefs throughout his career, and what a career it was. Following a brief stint in the Army, Ed performed with the Playwrights Theatre, then made a living by playing character roles in episodic television and films, before being cast as Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
He then headlined the spin-off series Lou Grant, and became the only actor in history to win an EMMY for playing the same role in two different series, one a comedy, and the other a drama. He won seven EMMYs in all, served as President of the Screen Actors Guild, and was named to the Television Hall of Fame.
During Ed’s visit to Triad Today in 2010, we discussed his youth, his career, and his social activism. Here are some highlights:
Jim: By now it’s common knowledge that your buddy Gavin McLeod was asked to audition for the role of Lou Grant, but deferred to you instead, because he thought you’d be better in that role. It’s also a well known fact that you blew your first audition for MTM.
Ed: They told me I gave a very intelligent reading, which is a euphemism for saying “it stunk”. I did a second reading, and this time they asked me to be crazy, wiggy, and wild. I did and they loved it. Then they asked me back to do the same thing with Mary. Afterwards, Mary said to the producers, “Are you sure about him?”, and they said, “Yeah, that’s your Lou Grant.”
Jim: MTM was a huge hit, then you did five seasons as the star of the spin-off, Lou Grant”. No one had ever attempted to take a sitcom character and have him headline a drama as the same character. There must be a reason why no one had tried.
Ed: There was. We were going from 180 degrees difference, and nobody, producers, writers, crew, nobody knew what it was like to try and take a half hour comedy show with three cameras, and make it a one hour drama with no audience. It took us two years to get it right.
Jim: In Lou Grant, you play a big city newspaper editor who was sort of a throwback to the days of muck raking.
Ed: I love muck (both laugh).
Jim: Do you think that show made a difference in addressing social issues?
Ed: I know it did. For example, we did a show on dog fighting, and it helped change laws in four or five States.
Jim: While flying high with Lou Grant, you sent money for medical supplies to the rebels in El Salvador who were fighting against a dictator that the Reagan administration supported. All of a sudden, the White House and the news media painted you as some sort of communist. Why did you do it?
Ed: Because our government was supporting a dictator who sponsored death squads. They went around killing the peasants unless they supported the evil government. These squads killed nuns, they killed priests, but the American media led folks here to believe that my sending medical aid was a communist move on my part.
Jim: Bowing to political pressure, CBS then cancelled Lou Grant, and you were virtually blackballed for a while afterwards. Did you ever regret what you did?
Ed: I second guess it all the time. My great regret is that a show with ideas was removed from TV. The causes we covered on Lou Grant are still untreated, and that’s the guilt I carry.
Jim: So why didn’t you ever run for Congress and fight those causes as an elected official?
Ed: I should have because all you have to do is serve one term and you get a good health plan for life (laughs). In fact, everybody in this country should run for Congress and get a good health plan. I also think people who run for the Senate should do what NASCAR drivers do, and put the names of their corporate sponsors on their suit. Look, a lot of folks back then thought I was positioning myself to be Governor, but I have far more power speaking out as an actor than I ever would as a Congressman or Governor.
Jim: Why DID you become an actor?
Ed: Two reasons. It was good therapy, and it was romantic safe adventure. Acting is safe adventure.
Jim: Well, just before we started taping, I noticed that you were trying to be romantic with my wife.
Ed: I was merely resuming where I had been before (both laugh).
I last spoke with Ed this summer to get his thoughts on the passing of our friend Gavin McLeod. Now, less than three months later Ed is gone too. His lasting legacy is one of entertaining and serving others without pretense, and he will be missed. Of course, were he with us now, I’m sure Ed would want the last word, so here’s one more of our exchanges.
Jim: What would it take for you to stop being grouchy?
Ed: I don’t want to stop being grouchy. I think being avuncular is very attractive, and I like filling those shoes, so mind your own God damn business! (both laugh)
SEE ALSO: Ed Asner Interview!
Local Kid Shows / Movie Stars on TV / Saturday Morning Shows / Video Vault / TV Goodbyes / Fabulous Fifties / Unseen Scenes / Game Shows / Requested Forgotten TV Shows / The Super Sixties / The New * * Shows / 1980's Wrestling / TV Blog
|TV's Embarrassing Moments / Action Shows of the Sixties / TVparty Mysteries and Scandals / Variety Shows of the 1970s / The Eighties / The Laugh Track / 1970's Hit Shows / Response to TVparty / Search the Site / Add Your Comments|
Hit Shows of the Seventies: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy / Gene Roddenberry in the 1970s / 1977-1978 Superhero & Science Fiction TV Shows / Funniest SNL Skit Ever! / Remembering Suzanne Somers / Prisoner: Cell Block H / Why John Amos Left Good Times / Reviving Match Game / How Betty White's 'Happy Hommaker' Came About / Remembering Cindy-Williams / Creating The Rockford Files / TV Dads Talk Sex & Fatherhood / TV Shows We Watched 50 Years Ago / How Maude Came About / Rare Audio of Bette Davis' Broadway Bound Flop 'Miss Moffat' / Orson Welles' Last Interview / Remembering Ed Asner / Bruce Vilanch on Writing for Donny & Marie / Writing For Fernwood 2 Night / Kris Kristofferson vs Barbra Streisand on A Star Is Born? Kinda... / Remembering Gavin MacLeod / Cher Reviews Her Iconic Outfits Since 1965 / Best Columbo Episodes / Star Maidens Sci-Fi Series / Sonny Bono's Last Show 1974 / Interview with Cindy Williams (Lavern & Shirley) / One of the Most Controversial Episodes of All In The Family / Outside Chance / The Night Johnny Carson Broke Down / Gavin MacLeod on His MTM Castmates / Norman Mailer & Muhammad Ali / Charles Nelson Reilly Flops on Broadway / Chuck Norris vs Eva Gabor / Dear Detective / Dirty Sally / Peggy Lee & Anthony Newley's Weird Pre-Show Rituals / The Protectors / Chevy Chase Talks Hollywood Cocaine Parties / 1977 Season Show Openings / Love Boat's Oscar Winning Guest Stars / Henry Fonda's 4 Favorite Films / Tom Snyder Interviews Star Trek Cast & Harlan Ellison / The Corner Bar / Tim Conway's 'The Dentist' Sketch / Roy Radin Revue: Drunken Ronnie Spector / Henry Winkler on His Happy Days Audition / Patrick Duffy of Dallas Interview / Time Express / Wonder Woman Leaves Paradise Island / 1972-73 TV Season / George Burns on the Carson Tonight Show in 1989 / Best Season of Dallas Ever? / Cloris Leachman Remembered / Ken Berry Interview / Why Barney Miller Ended / Vivian Vance Almost Joined the Cast of Rhoda / Marilu Henner Talks About Andy Kaufman / Cher on Mike Douglas 1979 / TV Show Book Tie-Ins / 1972 Jackie Robinson Interview / Dr. Strange 1978 TV Movie / Kathy Garver Interview / Space: 1999 / Paint Along with Nancy Kominsky / Mary Kay Place Albums of the 1970s / The Supremes - Mary Wilson vs Diana Ross / When Bruce Dern Killed John Wayne / 1974 Tom Snyder Our Gang Special / Remembering Ken Berry / Bruce / Caitllyn Jenner? / Billy Crash Craddock Interview / Melissa McCarthy Almost Quit Acting Days Before Landing Gilmore Girls / Bar Rescue's Wildest Customers! / TV HITS - By the Numbers / Alex Baldwin On His TV and Film Roles / Ray Charles' BIG Problem With TV / Top Ten Sitcoms of the 1970s / James Cameron Made No Money for Titanic / John Goodman Breaks Down His Iconic Roles / Growing Up In The Playboy Mansion / Ed McMahon Drunk on the Air! / Lucy Interviewed by Barbara Walters / Valerie Harper Cancer / Jeff Bridges Breaks Down His Iconic Roles / Dallas vs Eight is Enough / 1974 MAD Magazine TV Special - Never Aired! / Iconic M*A*S*H Restaurant Coming To Kroger? / When Lucy Got Fired / Partridge Family and Brady Bunch at Kings Island theme park 1972-73 / Awkward Talk Show Moments / Allan Blye Interview / Jack Benny's Last Tonight Show 1974 / Patricia Heaton's Audition for Everybody Loves Raymond / Luke Perry's Last Role / Johnny Cash's Last Interview / Judy Garland's Last Film / Who Was Bob Gordon? / Richard Dreyfuss vs Bill Murray / Jeff Ross vs Everybody / Tennessee Williams 1972 Interview / Ed Asner Interview / Norm Macdonald vs OJ Simpson / Tony Kornheiser Interview / Freddy's Nightmares TV Series / Emmy Award Multiple Winners / Nathaniel Taylor aka Rollo Lawson / Mary Kay Place Albums of the 1970s / That Girl & TV's Single Working Women / Can You Identify These Stars? / Betty White vs Joan Rivers / Paul Lynde's Greatest Hollywood Squares Zingers / Sonny Comedy Revue / Star Trek Animated / Dark Shadows / Hal Linden Interview / Dark Shadows Movies / Dark Shadows Novels / The Night Stalker / One of the Funniest Carol Burnett Show Skits Ever / Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson / Johnny Carson interviews Lucille Ball / Dawn Wells / Betty White : An Appreciation / Bette Davis' 2 Best Interviews 1971 / Barbara Eden Interview / Gavin McLeod / Spider-Man 77 / The Next Step Beyond / The Music Dark Shadows / 1970 TV Shows / Mike Connors Remembered / Mike Wallace, Virginia Graham & Jim Longworth / Dick Clark / Woody Allen Hosts Tonight Show 1971 / Carson Tonight Show / Alan Alda Interview / Jackie Gleason Show / 1973 TV Shows / Thriller / Post Modern Sitcoms / Elvis in Greensboro / Remembering Dick Van Patten / TV Dating Shows / The Jacksons TV Show / Fall Previews of the 70s / Lance Link, Secret Chimp / Star Wars Holiday Special / Alias Smith and Jones / 1977 Year in Review / Top Ten 1970-76 / The Rockford Files / All in the Family / Sam Hall (Dark Shadows) Interview / Actor Ed Nelson / Death of Archie / Battlestar Galactica / Wonder Woman / Network Jingles / Class of '74 / Happy Days / Good Times / Mr. Bill / Dinah! / Maude / Doris Day Show / Pamelyn Ferdin Interview / The Bicentennial Minute / Jingles & Catch Phrases of the 1970s / Early Cable TV 1970s / TV commercials for Women / TV Moms / Country Music TV Shows of the 1960s & 1970s / Betty White Show / Ron Palillo / Shirley Jones Interview / Tom Bosley / Rodney Dangerfield / How Sanford & Son Ended / Sanford & Son Spin-Off Grady / Great Memoirs / Virginia Graham Show / The "N" Word on TV / 10 Classic Comedy Routines You Have To Laugh At Before You Die / Hollywood Squares / 1970's Teen Idols & The Hudson Brothers / TV Stars with 3 Hit Shows / The Rookies / Unsold Pilots / Jackie Cooper / The Good Guys / Match Game / Make Room For Granddaddy / Mannix & Gail Fisher / Bette Midler in the 1970s / Bonus 1970's Stuff: Silent Star Marion Mack / Biff Burger / 1970s Fast Food Chains / Latin Casino / Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire / 1970's Daytime Talk Shows / The Fess Parker Show / Brady Bunch Sex Dungeon? / Love, Loss & What I Watched
|Classic TV Commercials / 1950's TV / 1960's TV / 1970's TV / Lucy Shows / Classic Cars / John Wayne / Gene Roddenberry / Rockford Files / Sea Hunt / Superman on DVD / Toy Gun Ads / Flip Wilson Show / Big Blue Marble / Monty Hall / Carrascolendas / Mr. Dressup / Major Mudd / Chief Halftown / Baby Daphne / Sheriff John / Winchell & Mahoney / Fireball X-L5 / Mr. Wizard / Captain Noah / Thanksgiving Day Specials / Disney's First Christmas Special / Saturday Morning Cartoons / The Magic Garden / Amahl & the Night Visitors / Holiday Toy Commercials / Lucy & Desi's Last Christmas Show / Joey Heatherton / Fat Albert / The Virginian / Bewitched / Death of John Wayne / 1974 Saturday Mornings / Chuck McCann / Rudolph Collectables / Shrimpenstein / Local Popeye Shows / New Treasure Hunt / 1966 ABC TV Shows / 1967 TV Shows / 1968 TV Shows / Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes & Baby Doll / Fridays / TV Moms / Red Skelton / George Lindsay / Star Wars / KISS / Lancelot Link / Saturday Morning Cartoons / The Magic Garden / Wonder Woman / Classic Comic Books / Andy Griffith / Cher / TV Shows on DVD / Outtakes & Bloopers / 1967 TV Shows / Romper Room / ABC Movie of the Week / The Goldbergs / Daws Butler Commercials / Saturday Morning Commercials / Captain Kangaroo / Chicago Local Kiddie Shows / Boston Local TV / Philly Local TV / NYC Local Kid Shows / Amos 'n' Andy / Electric Company / Bette Davis / Judy Garland / Christmas Specials / Redd Foxx / Good Times / Sitcom Houses / What's Happening! / Winky Dink & You / Sonny & Cher / Smothers Brothers / Commercial Icons of the 1960s / Soupy Sales / TV Terrorists / Irwin Allen / The Untouchables / Carol Burnett Show / Batman TV Show / Green Hornet / Today Show History / Our Gang / Doris Day Show / 1970's Commercials For Women / Bill Cosby in the 1970s / The Golddiggers / Lola Falana / 1970s TV Shows / David Bowie on TV / Hudson Brothers / Jackie Gleason / Hollywood Squares / Match Game / Bob Keeshan / Gumby / The Flip Wilson Show / Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour / The Bobby Darin Show / The Richard Pryor Show / George Burns / Celebrity Commercials / Rudolph / Movie Posters & More!|