Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I've Got This Thing for Ed Asner...

Ed Asner as Lou Grant
I've had a crush on Edward Asner since way back in the late 70s, when Lou Grant was my favorite TV show. Lou Grant was an A+ drama spun off from an A+ comedy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where Asner originally played Mary's crusty-yet-benign boss in the newsroom at WJM, a small television station in Minneapolis. Lou Grant moved Lou out of TV and into the print journalism biz, as he went west to Los Angeles to take over as city editor of a daily newspaper called the LA Tribune. Lou worked for his own crusty-yet-benign boss, blue-blood Mrs. Pynchon, played by the wonderful Nancy Marchand.

Lou Grant won some 12 Emmy Awards in its day, including two for Asner as Best Actor, as well as a Peabody and two Humanitas Prizes. Asner has won a total of seven primetime Emmys, with one for his performance in Roots, one for Rich Man, Poor Man, and three for his supporting role as Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore.

More recently, Asner provided the voice of crusty-yet-benign Carl Fredericksen, the man who attaches balloons to his house to fly away in Pixar's Up and returned to Broadway last year alongside Paul Rudd in a play by Craig Wright called Grace.

So why am I writing about Ed Asner now? Because he's scheduled to be in Chicago this weekend as part of a 60th anniversary celebration of the Playwrights Theatre Club, which began in 1953 and paved the way for the famous Second City troupe. The reunion event will bring together other luminaries with Playwrights Theatre Club connections like Helen Axelrood, Rolf Forsberg, George Goritz, Zohra Lampert, Sheldon Patinkin, Joyce Piven, Joann Shapiro, David Shepherd and Carol Sills, all part of a panel discussion to be moderated by Chris Jones from The Chicago Tribune.

Second City is holding this celebration at 3 pm on Sunday the 23rd at the UP Comedy Club at 230 West North Ave, on the second floor of Piper's Alley. And it's FREE. You can make reservations by contacting The Second City box office at 312-337-3992 or reserve online at The doors open at 2:15.

Here's what The Second City had to say about the Playwrights Theatre Club when it announced the event:
"The Playwrights Theatre Club was started in Chicago in the early 1950s by a group of young theater pioneers. Founded by David Shepherd, Paul Sills and Eugene Troobnick, Playwrights Theatre Club appeared on the scene in June 1953 with a production of Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. In two years, the company presented nearly thirty productions, with the company members, several of whom lived in the theatre, making all sets and costumes themselves. In addition to show rehearsals, company members regularly played Theater Games (now considered the basis of improvisational theater) created by Sills' mother, Viola Spolin. This training prepared the group for their rechristening as The Compass Players in 1955. The Compass Players opened their doors in a new, larger and air-conditioned space on July 5, 1955, presenting regular improvisational theater shows, the predecessor to the legendary form The Second City is known for today. Roger Bowen, Elaine May and Barbara Harris are among the many notable performers in the original Compass Players."
I won't be able to be there -- I've got a performance of the 10-Minute Play Festival at Heartland Theatre at the same time -- but I will be thinking about Ed Asner and celebrating his career in my own way, all the same. Maybe I'll watch some episodes of Lou Grant on Hulu (as I continue to hope they'll fill in the last two seasons so I can see the "Double Cross" episode, one of my favorites. My other favorite, "Hollywood," was in season 3 and available right now. WOOO!) Or maybe I'll watch Up, where the animated Mr. Fredericksen looks a great deal like the current version of Mr. Asner (see below). But however I choose to visit the Ed Asner archives, I'll be thinking about you, Ed!

Edward Asner, 2013
Note: While I was writing this piece, I discovered that Bernie Sahlins, legendary Second City founder who was also scheduled to be part of this event (he was a founder of the Playwrights Theatre Club, as well), had passed away just two days ago at the age of 90. No word yet on how that will affect the planned 60th anniversary event but there is also no word that it has been canceled. In fact, it may serve as a memorial of sorts for Sahlins, given that he was expected to be there and so many of the others attendees are his old friends. Stay tuned.


  1. I so love Ed Asner too. (As you know.) Just like you, I want to see all 5 seasons of "Lou Grant." There are certainly splendid things in the three that are available, but the last two bring us Billie's engagement and wedding, Mrs. Pynchon's stroke and slow recovery, Lance Guest as the new reporter in Season 5, "Double-Cross" of course, and most of all, wonderful Lou himself.

  2. Did you catch the "crusty yet benign" description from National Lampoon's version of TV Guide? They described half the shows on TV that way, but it really did fit Lou Grant (the character).

    I am beginning to think that the last two seasons of Lou Grant (the show) will not be coming to Hulu, considering how long it's been since they added the first three. I continue to wonder what the problem is with those last two seasons, noting that a few episodes from the others are also not there, and if music clearances or something like that is the holdup, then individual episodes should still be available with a few holdouts like the other seasons. I wonder what it is. Somebody important passed away in between getting the rights to 1-3 and 4-5 and now they can't get the right signatures? Music clearances from stem to stern? I wish I knew and I wish they would clear it up.