With the passing of Ed Asner this week, we lost a multigenerational titan of the entertainment industry. Few performers bring such range and talent that they’re able to represent something different to different age groups. While he will always be known to many of us as the tenacious newsman Lou Grant in classic television history, it’s stunning to remember that to many kids, he’s Carl in Up, or Santa Clause in Elf. Every age group has the Ed Asner that they remember.
So many of our readers will remember Asner from his prolific television career, which spanned more than sixty years. It goes without saying (as mentioned above) that much of his reputation stems from his portrayal of Mary Richards’ gruff boss Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show which ran for more than 150 episodes during the 1970s. Asner would then jump to top line Lou Grant in 1977 after the legendary comedy came to an end.
A look back through Asner’s career highlights just how important his work is, in the history of television. While his profile is perhaps best remembered in the 1970s, his earliest roles came in the late 1950s. Throughout the following decade, he graced small screens in the United States in so many of the shows which truly established television as the medium it is today: The Naked City, Route 66, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke and The Fugitive to name just a few.
Asner’s power in front of the camera was recognized with a staggering 17 Emmy nominations throughout the course of his career. His first nomination came in 1971 as one of the ‘Outstanding Performances by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy’ against fellow nominees Michael Constantine and Gale Gordon. Asner would take home the award. He would eventually take home 7 competitive Emmys over the course of his career, from his performances in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant, Roots as well as the 1976 mini-series Rich Man Poor Man.
Asner was born in 1929 in Kansas City Missouri and really was a journeyman in its truest form before his acting career took off with his TV work in the late 1950s. A spin through Asner’s early years sees him working for General Motors and serving in the military as he was developing and honing his presence in stage work.
A truly versatile force of nature, around all his small screen work in the 1960s he also ventured onto the big screen. As a still young actor, he’s credited in a small role in the 1962 Elvis Presley film Kid Galahad and later in the 1969 Presley film Change of Habit (which co-stared Mary Tyler Moore). However, most are probably familiar with Asner’s portrayal of Bart Jason in the iconic 1967 film El Dorado. The Howard Hawk’s western saw Asner going toe to toe with a truly iconic cast, including John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and James Cann.
Known also for his tireless activism, Asner served two terms as the President of the Screen Actors Guild during a very pivitol time during the 1970s and 1980s. It was during this time that his activism over U.S. involvement in El Salvador coincided with the premature cancellation of Lou Grant (which was a critical darling during its far too short run).
Asner’s causes were near and dear to his heart with a great deal of his energy late in life going towards Autism awareness. Asner’s son is on the spectrum as is his grandson, leading to the creation of The Ed Asner Family Center. The Center is described as a “one-stop shop for neurodivergent individuals” specializing in “arts and career advancement programs… as well as counseling and mindful classes…(to) help promote self-confidence”.
Asner worked steadily until very recently. Aside from his well recognized work in Elf and Up, he appeared in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie in 2019 and again in 2021, Cobra Kai and even Modern Family. At present, his IMDB filmography lists eight credits in various stages of completion.
Edward Asner is was a true generational talent. A workhorse and journeyman of the highest order, he graced television screens for almost seventy years and each time he got in front of a camera he gave it his all for the audience and leaves behind him such a legacy of not only memorable characters, but a passion for making the world around him a better place.
RIP, Mr. Grant.
**We were granted an interview with Mr. Asner during the summer of 2021 in promotion of his memoirs, Son of a Junkman: My Life from the West Bottoms of Kansas City to the Bright Lights of Hollywood. It was a high point for the Ticklish Business team as he graciously talked with us about his plethora of experiences, from his Screen Actors Guild tenure and his activism to his experiences with William Schallert and Martin Milner. Keep an eye out for our interview in the coming weeks to pay tribute to this screen legend. It was a true honor and one we won’t forget.
Podcaster, film historian, and general lover of all things classic film and television. Studying the contributions of women behind the camera in classic television.
You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!