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Ed Asner with one of FDR’s cars (Photo courtesy of Ed Asner )
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The voice on the other end of the phone was familiar: crusty, engaging, opinionated. It was so Ed Asner, with a little bit of “Mr. Grant,” too.
That was his iconic role of veteran newspaperman Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the ’70s and its hour-long spin-off drama Lou Grant in the early ’80s. Younger audiences will know him as Santa Claus in the film Elf and as the voice of Carl Fredricks in the animated films Up.
Asner has won more Emmy Awards than any other male actor: seven, including five for the role of Lou Grant. The others were for the mini-series Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. He was also nominated a total of 16 times.
Asner was chatting up his up-coming appearance in his touring show of bringing his show A Man and His Prostate which will play Old Saybrook’s Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center on Wednesday, Aug. 16 and Thursday, Aug. 17. The Kate is where he also did his solo show FDR in 2010.
The show is not about his prostate—which is doing just fine, he says. The show is based on experiences by the his friend Ed Weinberger, who was writer-producer of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Asner says the story follows Weinberger’s travails when the comedy writer was vacationing in Italy and developed medical issues involving his prostate. The show deals with “a life-changing week in a foreign hospital including a rectal exam, enemas, the fear of post-surgery impotence and sex after 70.”
“I call it the male response to The Vagina Monologues,” he says referring to Eve Ensler’s show about the female anatomy that was a huge international success.
“But guys don’t talk about these things,” says Asner. “Maybe it’s because it could reflect on their waning sexuality.”
It’s not like having a heart operation, he says, where a chest scar is a badge of honor, if not conversation among men—“But no one seems to be eager to talk about their prostate operation.”
The Kansas City, Missouri-born Asner says he hopes the show opens up those lines of communication. After all, he says, nearly a quarter of a million Americans are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and about 27,000 die from it.
The humor in the show—and there’s plenty of it, he says—makes it easier to take, “though the women in the audience laugh louder and longer than the men. You might say also say that women are relishing getting back at men a little bit hearing of their spouse’s health issues.”
As for his own health—he turns 88 in November—he says she feels just fine.
“Oh, I have this problem and that and a bad shoulder and I’ve had five hip operations, but what are you going to do?” he asks. “I don’t think I can trade in the vehicle.”
Of local interest, Asner notes that as a young actor starting out in his career in 1959, he performed at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. That season he had small roles (Sampson, Bardolph, and Soldier) in The Merry Wives of Windsor, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Romeo and Juliet, with founding artistic director John Houseman staging the first two shows.
A Man and His Prostate makes for a more amusing evening than the show he did several years ago, which also played The Kate. That was Asner’s solo show at the age of 80 where he played his hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
And what would FDR and he make of the current state of presidential affairs?
“What’s happening to my country is the main question I have to ask,” he says. “Why? Where did we [expletive] up so badly that we have to be punished so?”
Asner says he was proud of the FDR show and reminding audiences—especially young people—of the lasting legacy of a truly great American president.
“Compared to now it’s like talking about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table...”
Frank Rizzo is a freelance journalist who lives in New Haven and New York City. He has been writing about theater and the arts in Connecticut for nearly 40 years.
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