Oral Histories

Interview of Edward Asner

Actor and social activist. Active in protesting the involvement of the United States in Central America in the 1980s.
Interviews not in a series, part two
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Actor and social activist. Active in protesting the involvement of the United States in Central America in the 1980s.
Collings, Jane
Asner, Edward
Persons Present:
Asner and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Asner's home in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research. B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing material on Asner's career as an actor and activist.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Asner was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Early life—Father's junk business—Enjoys reading as a youth—Movie viewing as a youth—Grandfather's wine business—Father's moral code—Father's efforts to drill for oil—Crossover between junk business and prohibition activities—Family's aspirations—Hebrew School—Asner's Bar Mitzvah—Sense of Jewish identity—Moves to a middle-class area—Yearns for adventure and travel after high school—Attends University of Chicago as a political science major—Enjoys the city of Chicago—Housing in Chicago—Decides to pursue acting as a career—Father's insistence that Asner break off an affair with a Gentile girlfriend—Finds a mentor in David Green—Efforts at several jobs—Works on an auto assembly plant—A painful breakup with first girlfriend—More on efforts at miscellaneous jobs—Works in a unionized auto plant—Castigated by director of Antigone—Banished from a university theater group—Joins a newly formed theater group in Chicago—Drafted during the Korean conflict—Placed with the Signal Corps—Sent overseas to a base in France—Forms a basketball league at French base—Invited to join a theater company with Paul Sills in Chicago—Reviews— Playwrights Theater Club—A summer of Shakespeare—Backstage politics—Compass Players.
Defies father's wish that he not play football on a religious holiday—The importance of standing for principals—Family's pride in Asner's football career—The emergence of Compass Players—Elects to go to New York rather than get into Improv in Chicago—Paul Sills—Second City—Very early TV appearances—Plays summer stock—Efforts to break into theater in New York—Disinclined to continue study with Stella Adler—Studies with Mira Rostova—Role of Peachum in Three Penny Opera—Frustration with repetition of role—Efforts to perform in other venues while in Three Penny Opera—Plays Borkin In Ivanov—Future wife, Nancy Sykes—The Blacklist in the entertainment industry in the fifties—A suggestion of screening Salt of the Earth in Chicago causes consternation—Studs Terkel's production of Elizabethan Miscellany in Chicago—The felt presence of the blacklist in the theater world—Plays Prospero in The Tempest—Marries Nancy Sykes—Religious education of children—Plays summer stock at Stratford—Acting career goals—Family's pride in possible upcoming role in the War of the Worlds—Role in Route 66—Role in Naked City—Appears in Ellis Raab directed Hamlet—Goes to LA to shoot Route 66—Appears in Face of a Hero, on Broadway—Feedback from Sandy McKendrick—Harold Clurman—An eventful visit to LA convinces Asner to relocate to LA—Roles in New York just before leaving for LA—Talent agent Jack Fields' work seeking re-instatement of blacklisted actors—Fields' politics make an impact on Asner—The many progressive organizations represented in the entertainment community in LA as compared to New York.
Comes to LA to shoot an episode of Naked City—Signs with Jack Field as agent and re-locates to LA—Drives across county from New York to LA—Type of roles Asner played on TV in early Hollywood career—Sought after for participation in progressive political groups in Los Angeles—Appears in Halls of Anger—Career goals—Conflicts on set of Crime Photographer—Appears on Slattery's People—Buys house—Finds role on Slattery's People repetitive and leaves contract—Resumes varied appearances in episodic TV—Work dries up in the late sixties—Winter rains threaten house—Two film roles suggest that Asner could do comedy—Reads for The Mary Tyler Moore (MTM) Show—Shoots an MTM episode for advertisers to see—Travels to do promos with Moore and Cloris Leachman—Begins rehearsal—A disastrous trial episode in front of an audience—A good response to the live shoot of first episode—The success of the series—Ted Baxter—The inspiration for the MTM characters—The prevalence of scenes for the female characters on the MTM show—Wins an Emmy for the show—Lou Grant as a character—The learning curve on the MTM show—Mary Tyler Moore—The transition to the Lou Grant show—Casting on Lou Grant—Fine tuning the show—Wishes to leave the Lou Grant character—Social issues raised on Lou Grant—Early involvement in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)—SAG strike in 1980—Joins protest against US involvement in El Salvador—A press conference for medical aid to El Salvador in Washington DC—Ongoing struggle with SAG over the issue of absorbing extras into SAG membership—A period of isolation following SAG fight and Central American activism—Professional repercussions of his activism—Cancellation of Lou Grant—Cagney and Lacey—Instances of being blacklisted—Joins Office of the Americas—Travels to Nicaragua—A stream of anti-Asner commentaries from KABC—Participation on Office of the Americas board—Asner's support of Cuba—Atrocities in Central and South America.
The discouraging political scene in Latin America—The turning point in Asner's life and career due to his political stand on El Salvador—Lessons learned from activism on Central American issues—Opposition to the Iraq War—Involvement in 9/11 truth movement—Disappointment with American foreign policy—More on involvement with 9/11 truth movement—Taboo political topics in Hollywood—Political spectrum of Hollywood community—Activism on behalf of the Ballona wetlands—Narrates an anti-nuclear film—The perseverance that social justice activism requires—A bleak political outlook for America.