But in my home, Ed Asner was admired for more than his canny character acting. Asner was a union man. He was president of the actors' union, a visible and vocal supporter of the United Farm Workers, and an outspoken critic of the brutal Reagan regime. With Ralph Waite, Asner co-founded a group of actors that supported human rights issues in El Salvador, where the US was lethally meddling at the time. It is widely believed that Asner's outspoken activism led to the cancellation of the popular, Emmy Award-winning "Lou Grant," and that he was blacklisted from the entertainment business for many years.
In Ed Asner, American Socialist, The Nation's John Nichols writes:
"When we can discuss socialism rationally. It will be as if a heavy curtain has been lifted from man’s eyes.” Those were not the words of Karl Marx or Eugene Victor Debs, though either of those radical thinkers might well have uttered them.
Those were the words of Ed Asner, the actor who became a household name in the role of gruff but lovable Lou Grant, the boss at a TV station, in the 1970s TV comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He then carried the character over, with a new job as a Los Angeles newspaper editor, to one of the most socially conscious programs in the history of television, the eponymous Lou Grant of the late 1970s and early ’80s.
When he died Sunday, at age 91, after a storied career that included multiple runs on Broadway, dozens of TV and movie roles, and even a star turn as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in the Academy Award–winning 2009 film Up, the Associated Press obituary described Asner as a “liberal.” Asner chose more robust language. A self-proclaimed “old-time lefty,” he proudly embraced the label “socialist” at a time when many of the most radical people in public life avoided it.
This 1982 profile from the Washington Post is a great read: "The Actor as Activist". It closes with this.
Yesterday he announced that he and his colleagues in entertainment would play an increasingly active role in political matters, that they have no expertise, it's true, but "we are all American citizens and our visibility gives us a special responsibility."And does he think that in the process they're losing their identities as actors? "I hope to furbish my identity as a concerned human being," Asner said. "If it costs the actor, then so be it."
|With Dennis Weaver, 1978|
|Eastern Airlines strike, 1989|
|With Cesar Chavez|
* "Sopranos" fans might want to check out a young Nancy Marchand, whose character Mrs. Pynchon was modeled after Katharine Graham, owner of the Washington Post.
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