Sunday, August 29, 2021

Ed Asner Leaves Legacy of Acting, Love, and the Importance of Autism Research

“Ohhhh, Mr. Grant.” I can just hear the tremble in actress Mary Tyler Moore’s voice right now as I recall the way that she implored the stoic, curmudgeonly journalist turned newsroom manager, perfectly portrayed by Ed Asner, for his approval at fictional WJM-TV. And today, the beloved actor has left the stage at the age of 91, as reported by the New York Times this afternoon.

Not in recent memory has one actor so singlehandedly carried a cast of Emmy-winning actors than Ed in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Writers Allan Burns and James L. Brooks gave us more than seven seasons of entertainment. You know you’re thinking this right this very minute. “Mary, you’ve got spunk…I hate spunk!” One unforgettable scene or quote after the other.

If you only know Lou Grant from a comedy show, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or a drama, “Lou Grant,” you still don’t know Ed Asner, although he does seem like perfect casting for the role he filled in a way no other actor could. And yet, the actor is acting.

In real life, Ed Asner is hardly a disagreeable loner who tolerates nothing inconvenient. He genuinely has more patience and kindness in his being than you’d ever anticipate.

On two episodes of “The Good Wife,” he played Guy Redmayne, an obnoxious, wealthy (Texan) who was willing to back Alicia as a political candidate but during his office visit, he was going to try for as many unwarranted intimate gropes and grabs as he could get away with.

Ed’s IMDB biography notes three episodes of “Studio One,” to his credit. This 1957 production featured him as an uncredited juror and “third actor” in another episode. From such humble beginnings, from which all great actors had to launch, he paid his dues, made the rounds, and was cast in the peremptory “starting out parts” as all icons had to do at one point.

He caught a break in 1960 as he made five appearances in “Route 66” portraying both named police officers as well as “second man.” Again, the path to stardom is never paved with an escalator. In the early 60s he was popular on all the “Doctor” shows, including “The Doctors and the Nurses,” “Dr. Kildare,” and “Ben Casey.” Then there were the cursory western shows, e.g., “Gunsmoke” and “The Virginian,” on and on. Then came the detective shows and his gruff voice made him perfect in “The Wild, Wild West,” “The FBI,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Fugitive,” and “Ironside.” Over 10 years he had seven appearances in “Insight,” and in one particular episode, he played God.

Then in 1970, the magic happened, and James L. Brooks thought up “Lou Grant.” For the next 12 years you’d find Ed on CBS every week. By the early 90s, he was still a strong TV favorite on multiple series where he made 6, 12, and 17 appearances as a regular character—or their voice.

Ed’s voice was so powerful and in demand that no one had to see him in front of a camera for years and he was able to become part of animation history. He was Hoggish Greedly in “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” for six years, the voice of Hudson in “Gargoyles” in 39 episodes over three years. And who could you ever want to cast in the role of the voice of J. Jonah Jameson in “Spider-Man: The Animated Series”? He was so versatile he was Granny Goodness in “Superman: The Animated Series.”

In 2009, children fell in love with his voice all over again in the animated movie, “Up,” in the role of Carl Fredricksen. Pixar instagrammed a lovely tribute to Ed this afternoon:

Ed was our real life Carl Fredricksen: a veneer of grouch over an incredibly loving and kind human being. Russell, Dug, and all of us at Pixar will miss him terribly. Ed loved voicing Carl, and our time working with him will remain some our most beloved memories. His adventure was ours for a moment in time.

A magnificent Getty Image (Frazer Harrison) of Ed and the character he voiced was shared in the online source

A poignant on-screen role came on “Hot in Cleveland” in 2012 in the role of Jameson. That was the show that gave Betty White’s post-prime acting career a shot in the arm, in between about 20 movie roles. Audiences cannot forget that White’s character, Sue Ann Nivens, in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” always had her sights set on Lou Grant.

Of all his roles, my favorite is an obscure one, in the character of Luke Spellman in the Hallmark Movie, “The Christmas Card.” Its debut in 2006 made it the top-rated holiday movie for Hallmark that year and it was said to have been broadcast 15+ times in 2017, as testament to its poignancy. Ever as relevant today as it was then, the movie stems from a young woman from Nevada City sending Christmas cards to soldiers at their duty stations, thanking them for their service, an annual tradition for her.

As you could predict, Sgt. Cody Cullen experiences a trauma during battle and when he’s discharged at the end of his term, he travels to Nevada City to explore life and thank in person the yet unknown young woman who’d sent him the card at just the right time.

Despite your likely assumptions, the movie is strong, important and not one bit sappy, even by the most deniably hard-hearted standards. It’s just well done; in fact, Ed Asner won a Primetime Emmy for his role as Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie in this film. That Emmy was one of the seven that Asner has won over the years.

His role is that of Luke Spelman, a wise father who knows his daughter’s current fiancĂ©, Paul, is a milquetoast loser, and when Cody saves Luke from being hit by a car, he takes the opportunity to invite him to stay with them for the holidays and fill his shoes at the family lumber mill. And then….Hallmark happens. Watch the film and try not to smile or get caught up in it. Dare you. Not long ago, I had the opportunity to see how Ed Asner’s world was truly focused far away from the sound stages and the bright lights.

Autism spectrum disorder was a personal issue for Ed as his youngest son, Charlie, was diagnosed. Ed dove headfirst into reading and learning everything he could about autism. And he became assuredly one of the most prolific advocates raising funds and awareness for research over the years.

As of 2017, “more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder,” according to a news story describing Ed’s advocacy for research and funding in national events, including one in Tennessee. The journalist explained that not only was son Charlie on the spectrum, so was a grandson, Will. Then, Ed’s oldest son, Matt, has two stepchildren who are also on the spectrum.

Matt is presently the Vice President of Development of the Autism Society of America, after having spent six years with the Southern California group Autism Speaks. Matt founded the annual "Light Up The Blues" concert series, which has included Dave Grohl, John Mayer, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young in the past. Ed has been an ongoing supporter of both Matt and his nonprofit.

The familiar face is a relentless advocate for telling personal stories about how easy it is to miss the signs of autism and then you learn all the efforts ongoing in communities to train some of the most severely impacted young adults to seek and gain employment and assimilate well into communities and offices that are made to welcome them and make those with autism feel comfortable. With education comes understanding and with financial contributions comes additional and substantive knowledge.[Photo: Part of The Ed Asner family]

One of the best uses of five minutes of your time would be to visit the web site of The Ed Asner Family Center. There you will find the rest of this beautiful letter from Ed, a description of their programs and classes designed to increase employment and skills for those diagnosed. Here's just the opening:

I am writing to you today to help me realize a dream that I have. This dream is to establish an oasis of creativity in every neurodivergent community. A place where our most beautiful dreamers of all can have their place to thrive and in doing so learn valuable lessons about themselves and the world. This place will be The Ed Asner Family Center.

Ed is neither all-grouch, nor all-preacher. Rather he was a dynamic, indefatigable advocate of political freedoms, and advocates for individuals with disabilities and other challenges people face on a daily basis.

Over the past several years, thanks to attending events where Kiki Ebsen was performing, my first opportunity to see Ed was at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, where Kiki was staging “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen.” Longtime Ebsen family friend, Larry Borovay, had been integral to bringing the show to the venue. Larry also personally brought his dear friend, Ed Asner, with him to see the show that evening.

At a reception following a powerful production, Ed embraced Kiki and complimented her on what she’d created in her production as on point and memorable. He also praised her voice, saying “I could listen to her sound forever.” The ultimate compliment coming from one of entertainment’s most respected authorities, and a former president of the Screen Actors Guild. [Photo by Joaquin Montalvan]

Another reunion took place that evening between Ed and Kiki’s brother, Dustin Ebsen, who’d designed the multimedia presentation for the evening’s production. When Dustin was just 19 years old, he took his one year’s experience behind the scenes on Buddy Ebsen’s detective show, “Barnaby Jones,” and was hired as a sound editor for the “Lou Grant” show. That experience gave him tremendous real-life education, and together with studies at USC, led to a fulltime career as producer/editor/video editor and colorist.

Watching the passing of the proverbial torch of approval between generations via support for the Ebsen's from Asner found me with more than a little dust collecting in my eyes.

Six months later, as a longtime fan of Los Angeles personality Vicki Abelson’s “Women Who Write” series, came another chance to see another side of Ed. If you’re new to Vicki Abelson, she’s a brilliant, rather irreverent, hysterically witty “hostess with the mostest,” who assembles panels of interesting individuals from all walks of entertainment and throws them together in front of a select group of women (and some men) who fill her grand room to hear the latest about what they’re doing.

Ed was there to promote (mention a little and answer questions on any topic) his latest book, “The Grouchy Historian,” coauthored by longtime TV producer and screenwriter, Ed. Weinberger (sic).

The room went wild when he was introduced and in typical fashion, he referred to the other guests that day, one of whom was coincidentally, Kiki Ebsen, whose husband, Steve Wallace, had joined her for the show. Ed had a very sweet and special series of comments for them, and then he went back to trying to pretend he was a grouchy historian. He’s a historian all right, but grouchy? Not really. Take a look for yourself.

Aging was a natural progression for Ed, and on Sept. 13, 2019, he retweeted Tom Bergeron’s announcement of a 90th Birthday Celebration and Roast for Ed, including Bergeron, Lily Tomlin, the late Cloris Leachman, Mark Hammill, Jon Favreau and others. And he loved it.

Ed took age 90 as seriously as he took 70 and 80—with work. He just filled the past two years with more work! At the time of his death, his latest IMDB filmography shows that several projects were already in post-production for 2021, 2022, and several roles announced for 2023 as well! You’ll be seeing Ed Asner’s face or hearing his voice in new projects for several years to come. And that’s really the way it should be.

In conclusion, I’d like to think of Ed, not as Lou Grant, or an animated voice on a cartoon, not in real life, but taking his place in one of the final scenes on an outdoor shoot in winter. It’s a scene from “The Christmas Card,” and the showpiece of the shot is a beautiful wooden bench, built by hand by the young Army soldier, Cody Cullen, in appreciation for the hospitality of Luke (Ed) and Rosie Spelman (Lois Nettleton).

Earlier in the movie, Luke had taken Cody to this beautiful scenic vista on their property to show him the place where he and Rosie loved spending their quiet time together. On the bench is the phrase that Luke (Ed) used to describe the spot where he and Rosie fell in love: “Where The Magic Begins.”

For Eddie Asner, born November 15, 1929, in Kansas City, Missouri, and growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, he had the perfect midwestern voice to bring to his craft. He served in the U.S. Army in the Signal Corps and when he played a veteran, he had real-life experience for the part.

After at least eight decades of entertaining audiences around the world who had a chance to see him, it’s just the right thing to do to give this man an appropriate sendoff into the next stage beyond this life. Godspeed Ed, and may you always find your way back to “your bench”…Where The Magic Begins. Thanks for all the memories. You are one unforgettable character.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Carl Giammarese and Jim Peterik Delight Audience at City Winery Chicago

The pairing of 60s pop stars Jim Peterik and Carl Giammarese always means a grand evening of entertainment. Audiences might first think it’s a booking of The Ides of March and The Buckinghams and tickets sell out immediately. Or, it could be part of an amazing “Cornerstones of Rock” show at a beloved venue, and again the tickets would sell out immediately.

However, there’s a brand new pairing in town—the “Evening of Stories and Songs” by Jimbo and Carl—singer/songwriters. It’s lesser realized until you have the chance to attend one of the intimate gathering performances, that Jim and Carl have spent all their lives as songwriters. For Jim’s contributions, many of his songs have been jingles for advertising agencies and while you can likely still sing along to “Look out for the bull, look out for the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull,” on Antenna TV, you might not know Jim wrote that.

In the 1980s for many years, Carl Giammarese was the voice of many individual jingles as well as being part of some of Chicagoland’s most identifiable, favorites spots, including Lava Soap, banks, and many more. The group sessions include national commercials for United Airlines (“Fly the friendly skies of United), Pizza Hut, McDonald’s (“You Deserve a Break Today”). And so, the tickets started going fast until they reached capacity.

Whether they were in front of the microphone as lead singers, or leaders of their respective bands, Jim and Carl are fortunate enough to say that they have been able to make music their entire career lifetimes. That’s a rarity in today’s world, being able to pursue your heart’s dream as your day job without interruption.

Jim and his best friends from high school in Berwyn, Illinois, have performed as The Ides of March for over 50 years. Their first breakout hit was “Vehicle,” written by Jim Peterick, and it was a chart-topper in 1970.

Oppositely, The Buckinghams were essentially four guys from the north side of Chicago, and one from the south side. There was much that Carl and John Polous shared as music industry interests, so they might take forever to finish a copy each week. And yet, the two groups have stayed vital and active for the longest period of time in Chicago music history.

On an early 1970s interview show, Jim once joked, after “Vehicle” hit the Top 10 as a breakthrough hit that they’d worked 10 years to become an overnight sensation. But, that’s what it takes to succeed as a musician—perseverance, persistence, a lot of woodshedding, and a faith and belief in yourself that you were born to perform, write, create, and most of all—share your talents with others.

That really seems to be the excitement and motivation behind the success of the “Stories and Songs” series enjoyed by Peterik and Giammarese. In the past three months, both shows have maxxed out their socially safe and carefully staffed venues that serve food and drinks, most recently the City Winery in Chicago on August 16th.

Also making the evening extra special were the musical contributions of Singer/Songwriter Colin Peterik (backing Jim)

and Bruce Soboroff of The Buckinghams (backing Carl) as they did their individual performances.

Then all four of the guys jammed together for a few duo numbers that delighted the audience.

Keep your eyes open for more chances to hear the Dynamic Duo in person. You’ll be able to relax and travel back in time and by the end of the evening, you’ll all have made two really good friends that you will want to continue to keep up with. Enjoy. Follow Carl at and follow Jim at

Special thanks to Philamonjaro Photography for capturing the spirit of the fun evening in all the photos of that night, except where noted.