Activist Video Archive

Preserving progressive, multicultural voices of Los Angeles area activists and philanthropists.

Preserving progressive, multicultural voices of Los Angeles area activists and philanthropists.

Ed Asner

Part One

Part Two

Ed Asner was born in Kansas City to uneducated immigrant parents from Russia and Lithuania. His family benefited from Jewish social service organizations that helped the young family gain a footing in the United States. Throughout his childhood, he was cautioned to characterize his father's profession as that of a merchant in used metals. Ed knew full well, however, that his father was a junk dealer. This lack of pretention has served him his whole life.

Ed was the youngest of five children and was much inspired by his older sisters, both of whom were college educated and became social workers. Ed was co-editor of his High School newspaper and, as a teenager, did radio plays where he first discovered the power of his voice. 

During college, Ed worked in factories on assembly lines, his first experience with unions and union organizing. Support of union workers would be a through line of his political life.

Ed enrolled at the University of Chicago in political science. At University, a friend suggested he audition for a role in Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot. Cast as the lead, Ed's life at the University revolved around the theater until military service intervened.

At the end of his Army enlistment, Paul Sills asked Ed to return to Chicago and join his Playwright's Theater Club. Already, the blacklist and the Senate HUAC hearings were casting a chill in all of the arts.
By the time Ed left Chicago, he had performed in both classics and contemporary plays and was an accomplished theater actor anxious to try his craft in New York City.

In New York, he made a name for himself in the Three Penny Opera playing Peachum and eventually started to get roles in television, most notably, the popular series Naked City

When an episode of Naked City brought him on location to Los Angeles, he signed with the great agent Jack Fields, and decided to move west. In Los Angeles, he found a community of like minded progressives who helped to build and shape Americans for Democratic Action, the ACLU and other progressive groups.

Ed marched with Air Traffic Controllers when Reagan decertified their union. He was active in the Oscar Romero Relief Fund and on the Board of Medical Aid to El Salvador. But public support of not only medical aid, but the FMLN in El Salvador, brought him controversial attention and publicity, and made him enemies in Washington, and among conservatives in the Entertainment Industry. As a result, his popular series Lou Grant, a spinoff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was cancelled.

Around the time of his involvement in organizations supporting insurgent factions in Central America, he was also elected President of the Screen Actors Guild, where conservative Charlton Heston railed against Ed's presidency.

Ed has won 7 Emmy over his television career, and is best known recently for his lead role in the wildly popular animated feature film, Pixar's Up! 

In addition to his professional versatility, Edward Asner has consistently served and committed himself to the rights of the working performer in addition to advocating for human rights, world peace, environmental preservation and political freedom. A passionate and informed spokesperson for the causes he supports, Asner is a frequent speaker on labor issues and a particular ally for the acting industry's older artists.  Some of the many honors he has received throughout his career include the Anne Frank Human Rights Award, The Eugene Debs Award, Organized Labor Publications Humanitarian Award, ACLU's Worker's Right's Committee Award and the National Emergency Civil Liberties Award.

“Everything that is tearing us down today will become a memory, and this memory will be shared as an anecdote or a story or a poem or a play or a warning. It will be shared with another human being, who will then understand that he is not alone in his sadness. This is why we show up for others and tell our tales and listen to others. The great congregation meets daily, and you are someone’s angel today.”

-Tennessee Williams/Interview with James Grissom

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