Ed Asner helped usher in the secular rabbi, making America warmer and a little more Jewish

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Salon 31 August, 2021 - 06:00pm 3 views

When did Ed Asner die?

Death. Asner died of natural causes at his home in the Tarzana neighborhood of Los Angeles on August 29, 2021, at age 91. wikipedia.orgEd Asner - Wikipedia

In his 2002 book "The Haunted Smile," historian of comedy Lawrence Epstein coined a phrase that defines that archetype expertly: "secular rabbi." Full of tough love and gentle wisdom, secular rabbis — a sitcom staple since the 1970s — preside over a cast of zany, misfit, insecure characters and step in at crucial moments to offer moral guidance, encouragement, and sometimes a good joke to break the tension. The actors who play them are typically, but not always, Jewish. (Asner's parents were Orthodox Jews who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia and Lithuania.) The characters themselves are almost always coded as Jewish, too, but rarely referred to explicitly as Members of the Tribe.

Asner's Lou Grant character was one of the first secular rabbis in television history. Grant, who debuted on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in 1970, was the director of a nightly news broadcast: a crusty Midwesterner in the mold of Studs Terkel or Mike Royko. In the pilot episode, he hires Mary Richards — a plucky, independent, but guileless woman — as his associate producer, thrusting her into the cutthroat world of television journalism. Grant believed in her talent, and he gave her responsibilities few women were given at the time. He stood behind Mary whenever she got overwhelmed or succumbed to self-doubt. Beneath his irascible exterior, Grant was part mensch, part feminist male ally.

Asner's character resonated so strongly with audiences that when The Mary Tyler Moore Show finished its remarkable seven-year run — having given rise along the way to two notable spin-offs featuring Mary's best friends, Rhoda and Phyllis — Lou Grant became one of the first hour-long dramas in television history to be spun off from a sitcom.

No longer surrounded by a television newsroom full of eccentrics, Grant transformed into a stern, wise newspaper editor who stood for truth and justice in a world that expected moral compromise. He guided his pool of reporters through thorny ethical questions as they wrote about pressing social issues. The appeal of the show hung on Grant's humanness . . . or, to use the appropriate Jewish term, his Menschlichkeit

Between "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and his own program, Asner won five of his seven primetime Emmy Awards — more than any other male actor — for his portrayal of Grant. (The others were for standout performances in two legendary miniseries: "Roots" and "Rich Man, Poor Man.") All told, Asner's character was a huge hit for more than a decade.

Lou Grant also set the standard for a generation of sitcom secular rabbis that followed. James L. Brooks, who co-created "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," cast Judd Hirsch in a similar role as Alex Rieger on "Taxi." Rieger was an astute observer of human nature who helped a garage full of cab drivers with big dreams cope with their even bigger failures. The 1970s and 1980s saw (among others) Hal Linden playing a patient, caring precinct captain leading a motley crew of detectives on "Barney Miller"; Gabe Kaplan as a playful, warm-hearted educator who returned to his old neighborhood to teach remedial students in "Welcome Back, Kotter"; and Allan Arbus as soft-spoken psychologist Sidney Freedman keeping a madcap group of military doctors from falling apart on "M*A*S*H." 

After a cohort of loud-and-proud comedians like Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks, who worked tirelessly to make Jewishness part of mainstream American culture, this new generation of characters (and the writers who created them) worked covertly to achieve the opposite transformation, making America more Jewish instead. Collectively, they helped smuggle Menschlichkeit — under the cover of the sitcom — into the broader American culture. By the late 1980s, though, the archetype had clearly run its course. Producers abandoned Baby Boomer ideals and optimism in favor of Gen X disillusionment and cynicism.

When "Lou Grant" was canceled after five critically acclaimed years, many observers, including Asner himself, wondered whether politics were to blame. A lifelong progressive, Asner was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Through his work with a variety of non-profit organizations, he fought for free speech, single-payer health care, wildlife conservation, and support for undocumented migrants, among many other causes. He also served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In real life, Ed Asner, like Lou Grant, treated matters of truth, justice, and care for those in need with the utmost seriousness and devotion.

So beloved were both the character and the actor that a mere three days before he died, a fan asked Asner, on Twitter, whether it was too late to revisit his most famous character. Is there, in these difficult times, a resurgent need for a mensch like Lou Grant? Is the success of shows like "The Good Place" and "Ted Lasso" an early indication that sitcoms might be ready to embrace earnestness and emotional intelligence again? Ever a secular rabbi, Asner offered the fan a little bit of comfort and optimism: "Never too late," he answered. Sadly, it was.

Gwydion Suilebhan, a playwright and screenwriter, is the Executive Director of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and the Project Director of the New Play Exchange for the National New Play Network.

Steven Gimbel is Professor of Philosophy and affiliate of the Jewish Studies program at Gettysburg College.

Read full article at Salon

Inside Ed Asner’s Second Marriage: Learn About the Late ‘Lou Grant’ Star’s Spouse Cindy Gilmore

Closer Weekly 01 September, 2021 - 07:20am

Ed Asner accomplished a lot throughout his lengthy life, including becoming the male actor with the highest number of Emmy wins in Hollywood history. Ed was also successful in his personal life, having married his wife Cindy Gilmore in the late 1990s.

The late Lou Grant star’s marriage with Cindy was his second, as he was previously wed to his first spouse, Nancy Sykes, from 1959 to 1988. The former couple became the parents of their three kids, Matthew Asner, Liza Asner and Kate Asner, throughout their years-long relationship.

Following their split, he dated a few famous women — including Carol Jean Vogelman, with whom he welcomed youngest son Charles Vogelman — before falling in love with Cindy. Ed and Cindy made their romance official when they said “I do” in August 1998.

Over the years, the Mary Tyler Moore Show star and his spouse made a handful of public appearances together, including at the premiere of his hit movie Elf in 2003. The year prior, Ed and Cindy stepped out at the 8th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, where he received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Though things seemed to be going well for the pair, Ed and Cindy called it quits after nearly a decade when they separated in November 2007. According to Daily Mail, Cindy filed for legal separation at the time, citing irreconcilable differences as the reason.

The former couple were involved in a bitter split, with Ed threatening to take away Cindy’s alimony payments in 2008. TMZ reported the update at the time, stating the Up voice actor alleged Cindy wasn’t making a big enough effort to support herself.

Despite the report, it was years before Ed and Cindy officially went through with their breakup. Per Daily Mail, the Dead to Me alum filed for divorce in 2015, more than eight years after they initially ended their marriage. Documents revealed they reached some sort of financial settlement by 2009.

Following the split, Ed spent the later years of his life focusing on fatherhood and his Hollywood career. Tragically, the beloved icon died at age 91 on August 29, with his children confirming the news on Twitter. “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel,” read the family’s statement. “With a kiss on your head — Goodnight dad. We love you.”

Born in 1936, Cindy is currently in his mid-80s. The blonde beauty was six years younger than her ex-husband, who was born on November 15, 1929.

Similar to Ed, Cindy is also in the entertainment business! However, she isn’t an actress. Per IMDb, she has producing credits for Gypsy and Sister Act.

Though she didn’t welcome any children with Ed, Cindy is the mom of one to her daughter, Robin Gilmore, per reports. Unfortunately, it’s unclear when Robin was born and who her father is.

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Actor, Activist Ed Asner Dead At 91

WCCO - CBS Minnesota 01 September, 2021 - 07:20am

Actor, Voice Actor Ed Asner Passes Away at 91

Anime News Network 01 September, 2021 - 07:20am

Asner was born in November 1929 in Kansas City, and his acting career started in theater.

Asner was also an author, a trade unionist, a philanthropist, and a political activist.

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