Ed Asner has played the hard-nosed, but softhearted TV producer, Lou Grant, in four different series: Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Lou Grant, and Roseanne. At seven Emmy’s, he’s won more than any other male entertainer, and is tied with his former co-star Moore. A two-term president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Asner fights for causes he believes in, including gun control, banning the death penalty, and making sure people with autism find meaningful work. ABILITY’s Lia Martirosyan and Chet Cooper spoke with him at his L.A. home.
Ed Asner: What do you do?
Lia Martirosyan: I show up, editing and journalism.
Asner: You saved my life.
Martirosyan: Have I?
Asner: Where would I be without a good editor?
Martirosyan: This is true. (Asner’s eye begins to run.)
Asner: Both in writing and in film. Would you hand me those Kleenex up there? Thank you. For a small fee you each can have one. (laughter)
Chet Cooper: Before or after?
Martirosyan: It’s only valuable after.
Cooper: On eBay.
Martirosyan: Or Craigslist? eBay and Craigslist, here we come.
Asner: What prompted you all to come see me?
Cooper: Great question. We were going to ask you that.
Asner: What do you mean? I didn’t invite you. What would I want you in my house for? (laughter)
Cooper: We were gonna ask you, “Why are we here?”
Asner: I have no idea. Get out! (laughter) Do you like my bear up there?
Cooper: Is that from the Inuits?
Cooper: Is that from Charlie? Do you know Charlie? There was a famous Inuit artist who had lost an arm, had his arm cut off, but he did dancing bears.
Asner: Did he? I don’t know where the documentation on that bear is. I’ve got it stuck away some place. But I love him.
Cooper: I was a partner in an art gallery, and we specifically sold Inuit carvings from the Northwest Territories of Canada. We would work with the different tribes and they would ship them down. It was in Newport Beach. I love that art.
Asner: I love it, too. I’ve got a lot of Northwest masks and everything we haven’t hung yet which I bought in my first trip to Vancouver. Where are you from?
Martirosyan: Well, I was born in Armenia, but I live out here in LA.
Asner: It’s a lot like Armenia.
Martirosyan: Actually, Glendale… familiar with it?
Asner: Little Armenia. (laughs)
Cooper: Okay, the reason we’re here is your connection with autism.
Asner: You know, Autism Works Now recently had a Temple Grandin & Friends: Musical Benefit for autism.
Martirosyan: You and your son, Matt, were honored there.
Cooper: I took a Kleenex.
Asner: Put it back! (laughter) [Asner’s late co-star] Ted Knight talked about driving by a guy on the freeway who was picking his nose. Ted honked his horn, and when the guy looked at him, Ted yelled, “Put that back!” (laughter)
Martirosyan: Where were you born?
Asner: In the Kansas City, MO, hospital, but I lived in Kansas City, KS.
Martirosyan: And you grew up in that area?
Asner: Oh, yeah.
Martirosyan: So how old were you when you came out to Hollywood?
Asner: I came to Hollywood in ‘61. I was 32, a man.
Martirosyan: What brought you out here?
Asner: I started acting in Chicago, carried on for six years in New York, and by then I’d had enough of New York. I did a Naked City [TV show] here in Los Angeles, and saw agents and producers and my appetite was whetted to move out here, and that’s what we did. While shooting Naked City, which I worked on for about a week, I called my wife back in New York and said, “I think I want to check the place out more. And then I spent another week talking to agents and people and called her back and said, “I want to move out here.” So we sublet our apartment in late February, early March. My mother and brother pooled their money to buy us a new Chevy Impala, and my wife hired some movers. We rented a 14-foot U-Haul and stuffed it to the gills. Everything was perfect. We had about 1,000 pounds left over, which we consigned to Mayflower to deliver. And every goddamn piece of furniture that we sent was damaged by them. A sofa, a beautiful cherrywood harvest table, gouged, gouged. Unbelievable, criminal.
Cooper: Mayflower’s our main sponsor for the show. (laughter)
Asner: Well, they can go to hell. (laughter) We stayed with a friend for about a week in Hollywood, and then went looking around and found an apartment above the garage on an estate in the Hollywood Hills. Rudy Vallee’s estate was at the end of the street, and he had tried to get the city council to change the street name to Rue de Vallee, but they wouldn’t do it. I don’t know who owned the estate we were on. We had a little TV, and my wife would make dinner and we’d watch it. The second night we were there we heard a rustling outside. She went and peeked through the blinds of the window. There was a large avocado tree growing right next to the apartment, and she beckoned me over. Two raccoons were on their backs, chewing avocados. And I said, “This is for me.” I’ve been chewin’ on avocados ever since I got here.
Martirosyan: Are you doing much acting these days?
Asner: I tour with a one-man show, and I do movies, if you’re making them. I’m quite viable, in every sense of the word.
Cooper: What’s the one-man show?
Asner: It’s called FDR. I’ve been doing it for about four years. It’s done well. Now I’m in a rehearsal period with a writer-producer from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ed Weinberger. That’s a one-man show and we’re trying to work it up into viability. It’s called A Man and his Prostate. We hope it’ll attract flies. Lia: Prostates always do. (laughs)
Asner: Mine certainly has. In fact, it flies.
Cooper: Where is it playing?
Asner: We performed it in Missouri in June.
Cooper: Do you show President Roosevelt using a wheelchair?