It is very difficult to separate the character of the hero of the television series ‘Lou Grant’ (1977-82) from the actor who played him. Ed Asner, who passed away this Sunday at the age of 91, will always be associated with the irascible but good-natured editor of the ‘Los Angeles Tribune’, although he had a career that dates back to the 1950s and continued long after Lou Grant was released. fired.
While the series aired, Asner was an outspoken activist against US support for the junta in El Salvador. He marched on the steps of the state department to announce the formation of Medical Aid for El Salvador and donated the first aid check of $ 25,000 for communities devastated by the war. Dozens of right-wing organizations called on their members to boycott the products that sponsored the program.
Asner was also elected head of the Screen Actors Guild on two occasions, a position he frequently used as a forum to share his political views, which pitted him against Charlton Heston, who replaced Asner in a high-profile power play. “My presidency of the Screen Actors Guild, along with being one of the founding members of Medical Aid for El Salvador, created a conflict that eventually led to the cancellation of the ‘Lou Grant’ series,” he wrote. “It was in 1982 , during the height of Reagan’s power. “
It all sounds like an episode of ‘Lou Grant’, in which, at Lou’s instigation, star reporters Joe Rossi (Robert Walden) and Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) gathered data on how lobbyists coerce a television network to cancel a show due to his star’s political leanings.
Many of the storylines in the groundbreaking show reflected Asner’s views. Among the most controversial topics are abortion, prostitution, child pornography, racism, homophobia, negative treatment of Native Americans, Vietnam veterans, Vietnamese immigrants, illegal aliens, support of the United States to the military boards, the corruption of the big companies and the spills in the third world. Looking back, it’s a wonder that the show lasted only five years and that Asner was still a star.
In fact, his fame as Grant did not initially earn him many roles on the big screen. Years later, Asner commented, “I still find resistance to making movies. I’m not sure if it’s a combination of so much television in my life or that I identify as much as Lou Grant that they hoped to bury me in the wrappings of a character. They are much more afraid of hiring me than they are on television. Also, I am not a protagonist, so it would be more difficult to sell. “
Asner had originally appeared as Lou Grant on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ in 1970. Grant, an eminent former journalist, was the producer of macho news programs on WJM-TV. Sometimes he was the exasperated boss, sometimes the wise advisor, traits Asner carried over from comedy to drama. Added to this, Asner transformed the comic character into a serious journalist, uncompromising in his defense of press freedom and, despite his brusque exterior, genuinely concerned about the people.
Asner was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a traditional Orthodox Jewish family. He was the son of Lizzie (née Seliger) and Morris David Asner, a poor immigrant who defined himself to his friends as a man in the “used materials business.” His was the only Jewish family in the neighborhood, so young Ed learned to defend himself verbally and physically.
He played soccer in high school and organized a basketball team that toured much of liberated Europe. After moving to Chicago in the 1950s, he was a member of the Playwrights Theater Club, until he moved to New York to try his luck. There, from 1954 to 1957, he appeared as Mr. Peachum in Bertolt Brecht’s off-Broadway production and in Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera,” in a cast starring Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya.
In the early 1960s, on television, he benefited from his physical resemblance to the stereotypical view of KGB guys during the spy series boom. At the same time, he began to appear in feature films in supporting roles, mainly as a policeman. While playing a crafty lieutenant in Elvis Presley’s latest and worst feature film, ‘Change of Habit’ (1969), he met Mary Tyler Moore, who was playing a nun who at one point performs a sit-in in a grocery store because the prices are unfair. When Asner refuses to arrest her, she yells, “Police brutality!”
In 1970, despite Moore’s initial reluctance, which she wasn’t sure was funny enough, Asner was cast as Lou Grant on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which ran for seven seasons and for which he won three. Emmy Awards.
Asner continued to appear regularly on television, appearing in two weekly comedies, ‘Hearts Afire’ (1992-93) and ‘Thunder Alley’ (1994-95), the latter sporadically, as an ineffective curmudgeon who is easily overpowered by his daughter and her grandchildren. At the same time, he began to work assiduously as a voice actor in animated television series (Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Zorro, The Boondocks, Gargoyles and The Cleveland Show, among others) and in films such as Up (2009), exploding wonderfully his rough personality into a character who was at once protective, private, and sensitive. Despite having played curmudgeon characters so often, it may seem paradoxical that he has also stepped into the shoes of Santa Claus several times. The most popular, in Elf (2003).
As a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, he stood firm in a very conservative industry. “Socialist means something that will curb the excesses of capitalism: the increasing wealth of the rich and the diminishing wealth of the poor,” he said. “I would like to see national health insurance, public education (up to college), fair housing and enough food.”
Asner had two daughters and a son from his first marriage to Nancy Sykes, which ended in divorce; and a son from a relationship with Carol Jean Vogelman.