Nothing but Drama All the Way: He Is Lou Grant. He Is the Voice of Carl Fredricksen in Up. He's Had Hundreds of Roles on Film, TV and Stage. but at Heart He's a Kansas City Boy, Shaped by the Tension between His Orthodox and Secular Worlds

Article excerpt

Ed Asner, as newsman on the CBS series of name, at a rehearsal Lou Grant the same in 1980.



on growing up in Kansas

My father came to Boston from a shtetl near Belarus before 1900. Because of landsmen [relatives/friends from the same town in the old country], he decided to go to Kansas City, where he got a horse and a wagon and started collecting junk. Also because of landsmen, my mother arrived in Galveston in 1913 from a shtetl near Odessa and headed up to Kansas City, a Mecca at the time. They met within the year and married shortly after. My oldest brother was born in 1915, and the family began. There were three more; I was the youngest. We lived on the Kansas side, and all the Jews were on the Missouri side. We had a kosher house. So we occupied two worlds simultaneously.

I remember the first time, being the youngest of my clan, I went to--the big movies always played in Kansas City, Missouri--and one night I was allowed to go with a couple of my siblings and cousins, and on the way they stopped at a drive-in and I had my first pork tenderloin sandwich. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was quite young, eight or 10,1 guess. But no pork tenderloin ever tasted like that again. It was swimming in grease, so naturally it had to be great.

I went to cheder after school four days a week, and I was the prize pupil; at one time I had a 5,000-word Hebrew vocabulary, but it meant I could never play football, basketball or baseball after school and felt very isolated. A year after my bar mitzvah I stopped going. I went to a high school of about 2,000; maybe eight or 10 Jews were there. Shiksas were always a great threat to the family. As I got older, I was split between the goyisha world and my daily life and my father. I was a starting tackle on the high school football team, and the game with Leavenworth was scheduled for KolNidre. The coach asked the principal to talk to the rabbi; I guess they thought I could get a papal dispensation. I didn't. The morning of the game, my father begged me not to play but my brothers obtained maternal dispensation for me, so I ended up at the game. At Yom Kippur services the next day, my father, who sat in the first row, marched to the back of the shul when I came to sit next to him. At the end of the day, he came back to the front. I embraced him and it was over. But I was filled with guilt.

I also tried to join two fraternities but was rejected because I was Jewish. In my senior year, one of them invited me to join, and like a schmuck, rather than exhibiting pride in who I was, I joined and allowed myself to be paddled by dwarfish underclassmen. So, I constantly found myself failing my faith for the wrong reasons. …