Ed Asner's Still Crusty After All These Years

Returning to Broadway, Actor Is Outspoken as Ever

By Simi Horwitz

Published September 27, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ed Asner was seated in a makeshift living room in a large, garishly lit rehearsal studio in the Snapple Theater on West 50th Street that formerly housed a beauty school. He had just emerged from a costume fitting and was eager to discuss “Grace,” Craig Wright’s new play about the misadventures of an innocent young couple (Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington) who plan to open a chain of Gospel motels in Florida.

The drama follows their evolving relationships with a deeply troubled neighbor (Michael Shannon) and a German-born exterminator, Karl (Asner), who is attempting to come to terms with his own tormented past. “Grace,” now playing at the Cort Theatre, represents 82-year-old Asner’s return to Broadway after a 23-year absence following his appearance in a revival of “Born Yesterday.”

“The play challenged my belief in God,” Asner said of “Grace.” “I don’t believe in God, though I’m not prepared to call myself an atheist either. You know the old phrase: ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I’ve never been in a foxhole and if I ever find myself in a foxhole I’ll let you know if I believe in God or not.”

The Kansas City–born actor and activist, who is still best known as TV’s crusty editor Lou Grant, is at once edgy and charming in person, speaking in a low gravelly voice that at some moments is barely audible. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, albeit one with a decidedly Midwestern influence. “My father was so religious he wouldn’t even eat in the shul,” Asner said. “But we didn’t walk to shul. We took the car.”

As a teenager, Asner toyed with the idea of a career in journalism. But when a teacher said he’d never make a living at it, he turned to acting. Not that this seemed to be that much of a viable prospect either. “I was too much of a Jewish bourgeoisie and acting wasn’t realistic,” he said. “I went into acting as psychotherapy, and it’s still a work in progress.”

Asner is no longer a religious Jew, though he identifies with Judaism culturally, “meaning I would hope if they began killing all Jews I’d rise to the occasion to say, ‘I’m pretty tasty.’” Long pause. “But if I’m a good progressive human being I’d say the same if they were killing all gypsies. I’d put on a gold earring and scarf and say, ‘hey, stranger, what about me?’”

At one moment during our conversation, Asner’s cell phone rang, interrupting us. He answered and spoke in a concerned voice: “Hello. How are you? Is everything all right?” Then, after a moment: “I was watching a pigeon. Either he was too young or he had been hit by a car. He was hovering by the subway grate as if the warmth made him feel better. It’s a funny thing about being around birds in the city and not trying to do something. I left him hopping around. And if your goose wasn’t hopping around I wouldn’t worry about it. I love you. Bye.”

When he was done with the conversation, Asner explained that the caller was his youngest son, who was at the Southern Connecticut State, studying environmental science and feeling deeply concerned about his pet Canadian goose, who had disappeared.

During a career that has spanned almost six decades, Asner has appeared in nearly 300 films and TV programs, and has earned seven Emmys, five Golden Globes, and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. From 1981 to 1985, Asner served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), during which time there were no strikes, and minorities and seniors gained visibility, he said. But it was the 12 years of playing Lou Grant that made him a household name, initially on the comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977) and then in the dramatic series “Lou Grant” (1977-82).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.