Iconic Actor Brings his One-Man Show, 'Ed Asner's FDR,' to the Edison Theatre This Sunday

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

While many people are most familiar with Ed Asner playing the character Lou Grant, first on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and then “Lou Grant,” his body of work and list of accomplishments are extraordinarily deep. He’s won more Emmy awards than any other male actor—seven, including five for the role of Lou Grant—and is the only actor to have received an Emmy for playing the same character in both a comedy and drama. In 1996 Asner was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. The iconic actor will come to St. Louis with his one-person show, “Ed Asner as FDR,” as a fundraiser for the New Jewish Theatre on Sunday, April 27, at Washington University’s Edison Theater.

Ed Asner Courtesy of New Jewish Theatre

Ed Asner
Courtesy of New Jewish Theatre

Asner’s FDR picks up where “Sunrise at Campobello” leaves off, taking audience members through FDR’s presidency in a particularly turbulent time in American history: The Depression, leading up to and through WWII, fireside chats, his wrangling with the Supreme Court and Congress, personal life with Eleanor, Pearl Harbor and more. His “benevolent dictatorship” led to his being elected to four consecutive terms, and he was only president to serve more than eight years.

Ed Asner as FDR Courtesy of New Jewish Theatre

Ed Asner as FDR
Courtesy of New Jewish Theatre

Long before Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat into the air, Asner was an acclaimed actor. He won Emmys for both his portrayal of the benevolent ship captain in “Roots,” and again for “Rich Man Poor Man,” surely two of the most respected mini-series of all time. He’s appeared in more television shows and voiced more cartoon characters than you can count, including his recent work as Carl Fredrickson in Pixar’s, “Up.” He was also President of the Screen Actors Guild and received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Career Achievement and Humanitarian Accomplishment. His longtime commitment and activism for the common man and individual rights is legendary.

ALIVE spoke with Asner about FDR, how kids react when they learn he’s the voice from ‘Up,” and his latest project.

ALIVE: Tell me about the show. Is it based on “Sunrise at Campobello?” Did you write it or is it a commission?

Asner: It takes place in the years after “Sunrise at Campobello” ends. In other words, it takes Roosevelt through his campaign—through his election, thorough the supreme court, until World War II. The play existed. It’s also by Dory Schary and was performed briefly by Robert Vaughn—I guess in the ’60s—and I did it as a reading on a Theater-at-Sea cruise. I knew the head of the Theater Guild, who suggested we try it out as a one-man show. That was four years ago at least. So we’ve been doing it ever since.

ALIVE: What was it that attracted you to FDR’s story?

Asner: Well, I think he’s probably the greatest president, and he’s never been sufficiently honored as far as I know. I like the presumption in thinking I could be him.

ALIVE: What do you find most challenging about performing the show, or performing one-person shows in general?

Asner: Well, stamina. And really I don’t look like him. I don’t sound like him that much, but hoping that by the end of the show, people will think that they have had a glimpse of the procession of FDR years.

ALIVE: What would you say was the essence of FDR? If you could sum him up in a sentence?

Asner: No obstacle too big.

ALIVE: You were the 38th recipient of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild for Career Achievement and Humanitarian Accomplishment. How meaningful was that for you, not only as an actor but also as an activist—somebody who’s always sought to right the world in your own way?

Asner: Well, I thought I got it much too early. I’ve got a lot of life left to live, and to start accumulating the plaudits and the acclaim—well, I could hardly think I was out of business. But I appreciated it very much. You never think you deserve these things and at the same time you get pissed off if you don’t get them and some other schmuck gets it. That’s S-C-H-M-U-C-K.

ALIVE: You were introduced to a whole new generation when you voiced Carl Fredrickson in the movie “Up.” Have you met kids who are excited by that?

Asner: Oh, yeah. It’s the wonder and awe when they hear that I’m the guy who’s responsible. They are quite pleased. It’s very gratifying.

ALIVE: Do you have any new projects coming up? Anything in the works?

Asner: I just did a trailer for a movie called “Amityville High,” and hopefully that will get off the ground. I play a detective in that. Not that important of a character but I hope it succeeds.

“Ed Asner’s FDR” plays on Sunday, April 27, at Washington University’s Edison Theater. Tickets are $50 general admission. Sponsor tickets are available at several levels beginning at $150 for two tickets. All sponsor tickets include a variety of benefits, including admission to the sponsor reception following the performance, with Mr. Asner in attendance. Sponsor seating is limited. Tickets are available through the New Jewish Theatre website, or by calling 314-442-3283.

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