October 27, 2008 / 6:37 AM / 10 years ago

Edward Asner's life: The greatest story never told

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - One of the best Hollywood biographies has never been told and probably never will be.

Actor Ed Asner arrives at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for a tribute "Betty White Celebrating 60 Years of Television" in Los Angeles August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

That would be the story of Edward Asner, who will star in “Generation Gap,” a new Hallmark Channel movie that airs on Friday at 9 p.m. In the film, Asner plays a widowed grandfather and former military man who reluctantly agrees to reform his rebellious teenage grandson over the course of a single summer. Rue McClanahan and Alex Black co-star.

While the story is not particularly memorable, Asner’s performance is reason enough to watch. “I feel very strongly I have not lost it,” said Asner, who turns 79 next month. “I’m a better actor now than I’ve ever been, though I can’t leap tall buildings.”

Even so, he is more than capable of giving an honest and convincing performance. “If you got me there to deliver the line and to demonstrate what I’m feeling and what I’m projecting in terms of dialog, you’ve got the right party,” he said.

Not that anyone should need convincing. No man has won more Emmys for performance than Asner, who has seven. It is not hard to make the case that, in the world of TV particularly, he has been the preeminent actor of his generation.

So why can’t we read about it, particularly since bookstore shelves overflow with the biographies of lesser lights? You’d think that Asner, the son of a scrap metal dealer who went on to star in one of TV’s best comedies (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), one of the best dramas (“Lou Grant”) and two of the best miniseries (“Roots” and “Rich Man, Poor Man”) would have some great yarns to spin. Not only from his time in front of the camera but behind it. He has been a president of the Screen Actors Guild and a sometimes-controversial activist for social justice.

It’s come up, Asner said about a biography. “I had two feeble attempts earlier and they were not gratifying.”

The first time, he said, he couldn’t convince publishers that the writer he had in mind was right for the book.

The second time, the writer submitted a sample chapter to the publisher about Asner’s spat with the late, right-leaning Charlton Heston. “The attitudes of the agents and publishers by this point had turned so much more conservative, half of them rejected it forcibly. Didn’t want to hear about it.” The writer became so depressed he suffered a nervous breakdown, Asner said.

Maybe it’s just as well no biography is written, he said. He would not want to tell half-truths, suppress his anger, harm innocent people or shy away from naming names. “It seems a waste of time to do a biography which, to me, is cheating.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner and Cloris Leachman pose as they arrive at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles, August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

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