Talented star brought out the best in the grumpy but lovable Lou Grant
Lou Grant smiled and was clearly impressed as he stood in front of his new young associate producer, Mary Richards.
“You know what? You’ve got spunk,” the seasoned news director told her in his small office outside the WJJM-TV newsroom in Minneapolis.
“Well, yes …” Mary said, a little embarrassed but appreciative of the compliment.
Suddenly Lou’s face erupted in anger.
“I hate spunk!”
As Lou glared at Mary, the studio audience laughed, and the first episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-77 on CBS) set the tone for seven years of hilarity.
Lou was grumpy but lovable, tough but vulnerable, impatient but compassionate.
And viewers couldn’t help but laugh and care about him.
Emmy-winning actor Ed Asner made us care.
And Mr. Asner will be missed.
Mr. Asner, the last surviving member of the original “Mary Tyler Moore Show” cast (Betty White, 99, joined the show later), died Sunday morning. Mr. Asner was 91 and full of energy in his later years.
This writer discovered that on two occasions interviewing him, the first time on the phone. At the time, the prolific actor was guest-starring on some TV show — I don’t remember which one. But I’ll never forget his passion for his latest project.
And much like Lou Grant, he said what he thought. He didn’t mince words. Ed was Lou.
I didn’t tell him I was struggling with a cold at the time, but he noticed it in my nasal-like voice and told me, like Lou would have told Mary or WJJM-TV writer Murray Slaughter, “Take care of that cold!”
To the point and protective. Ed was Lou.
The second time I talked with him was in person and on the red carpet at the TV Land Awards at the Santa Monica Airport, where a hangar had been converted into an auditorium for the televised special.
Dressed in a tux, Mr. Asner was smiling and laughing. I asked him about his latest projects, and he spoke with pride and at length about playing Carl, the grumpy but lovable widower, in Disney-Pixar’s “Up” (2009), which would be released a few months later.
Mr. Asner loved playing characters, and he remained prolific in his later years. I loved it when he reprised a villain he played on the classic “Hawaii Five-O” for the rebooted version.
He also guest-starred on shows such as CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” on which he acted with Thousand Oaks actor and avocado grower Tom Selleck, the series’ star.
And Mr. Asner was known for his continuing role on Netflix’s “Cobai High,” inspired by the “Karate Kid’ franchise. He played the stepfather to Lawrence (William Zabka). Mr. Asner’s character delivered tough love, and it’s hard to imagine any actor who knows how to do that better than Mr. Asner.
Mr. Zabka posted a tweet after learning about Mr. Asner’s death.
“Devastated to hear this news,” Mr. Zabka tweeted. “What a legend. What a beautiful human and special friend. I learned so much from him. My love and deepest condolences to the Asner family.”
An actress from a classic TV show expressed her regret over the loss of Mr. Asner.
“I’m heartbroken,” tweeted Maureen McCormick, aka Marcia on “The Brady Bunch,” in a post that showed her with him. “Rest in Peace my sweet, kind and dear friend Ed. You made and will continue to make this world a better place. I love you and will miss you so very much.”
Mr. Asner was born Nov. 15, 1929, in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up to act in productions at the University of Chicago.
Like Lou Grant, Mr. Asner served in the army. He was in the Signal Corps in the early 1950s. Afterward, he pursued acting in New York City and got some acting gigs on stage and TV.
Lou, meanwhile, tried to be patient, but could only put up with so much from his incompetent and egotistical anchorman, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). Watching Lou with Ted was like watching a boiling pot of water, and you could almost see the steam come out of Lou’s ears when he finally had enough.
But it was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” that made the difference. Lou Grant was Ed Asner’s big break.
Viewers instantly loved Lou.
He could be blunt and irritable, but shy and uncertain. He did his best to avoid WJJM-TV’s “Happy Homemaker” star who had a constant crush on him: the irrepressible Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). Tough guy Lou wasn’t sure how to handle Sue Ann.
At the same time, even if Lou wouldn’t admit it, he cared about Ted.
And he cared about Mary. And Murray (Gavin MacLeod). He cared about everyone around him because Lou was the father figure, the guy delivering tough love.
And he was the classic newsman who knew the importance of getting the facts right.
Long before I ever got to interview Mr. Asner, he inspired me, mainly by his acting on his spinoff “Lou Grant.” Here Lou was the Los Angeles city editor wisely mentoring his young reporters and determined to get the stories. I decided on journalism long before that, but was impressed with Lou Grant, a newsman with integrity, a man determined to find the truth.
But for the most part, Mr. Asner will be remembered for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where Lou, despite his gruffness, showed his vulnerability. Viewers felt for him when his wife Edie (Priscilla Alden Morrill) decided to separate from him and later divorced him.
Viewers felt intrigued when Lou and Mary tried to go on a date. It didn’t work because, in the end, Mary couldn’t think of him as anyone else but that father figure, Mr. Grant.
And viewers cheered for Lou when he faced an old girlfriend who treated him badly and looked him up just to borrow money from him. He gave her the money but decided to handle the incident maturely and calmly walk away from the table, showing her she couldn’t upset him. He had grown.
Then at the last moment, Lou said, “To hell with it!,” turned around and pushed the ex-girlfriend’s head down into her dessert. She raised her face, covered with frosting, and the studio audience howled.
You couldn’t help but root for Lou.
And Ed was Lou.