I remember my first journalism class at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles. The classroom was filled with old desks and even older typewriters. (For those too young, a typewriter is a machine that … aw, just Google it.)
We eager cub reporters were taught that the lead paragraph of any story must include the “who, what, when, where and why.” If we failed, our copy would be returned replete with our teacher’s dreaded red-ink corrections. (Ouch!)
So, here’s the five W’s for today’s column: Famed film, television and stage actor and champion of progressive causes, Edward Asner, is coming to Santa Monica to speak at the free-to-the-public Activist Support Circle on Friday, June 26, at 6:30 p.m.at the Friends Meeting Hall at 1440 Harvard St. (Whew.)
Asner’s achievements in acting and humanitarian endeavors could fill the entire column many times over. Nominated a staggering twenty times, he’s won more Emmys (seven) than any male actor and is the only one ever to win for both comedy and drama.
Among his Emmys, Ed received one each for the legendary mini-series “Roots” and “Rich Man, Poor Man.” He’s also won six Golden Globes and, unrelated, had six hip operations. (When doctors suggested another surgery, Ed joked, “First I have to win another Golden Globe.”)
Ed has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, SAG’s Life Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. For his humanitarian efforts, Asner has received the Anne Frank Human Rights Award, The Eugene Debs Award, Organized Labor Publications Humanitarian Award, ACLU’s Worker’s Rights Committee Award, and the National Emergency Civil Liberties Award.
I crossed paths with Ed when he long ago optioned my screenplay, “The Amazing Mr. Z.” The story features Irving Zupermann, a crusty 87-year-old Holocaust survivor from Poland, living in a welfare Alzheimer’s facility in Miami. Before World War II, Irv was the teenage strongman in the Warsaw Circus with the stage name “The Amazing Mr. Z.”
In Miami, Irving is perfectly sane except he claims he was the original superhero and that the comic book stole his life story and changed his name from Zupermann to Superman. Curiously, Mr. Z seemingly sees through walls and bends steel in his bare hands, though everyone concludes they’re just circus tricks. The only person who believes in Mr. Z is 8-year-old Noah, the son of a Newsweek journalist writing an expose about welfare fraud.
But, alas, “The Amazing Mr. Z” didn’t get made. On the positive side, Ed also read two other of my screenplays and gave me a compliment I wasn’t prepared for: “You’re so talented, it’s an honor to know you.” I almost dropped the phone. I proceeded to share Ed’s kudos with everybody I knew and some I didn’t. But this would backfire. Almost.
Ed’s longtime assistant, Patty, frequently alerted me when Ed was going to be on live TV. For example, Ed had a recurring bit on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, “Does this impress Ed Asner?” A take-off on the “Gong Show” from the ’70s and ’80s, Ed would come on stage in a tuxedo and proceed to rate three usually painful amateur acts. The humor lay in Ed’s worldliness contrasted by well-meaning contestants with rather low-brow acts.
One contestant was a perfect example. He was in his early 30s, quite heavyset and a bit disheveled. His “talent” was that he could remove his baggy boxer shorts without removing his walking shorts. I found myself laughing until Ed told the contestant he was so talented it was an honor to meet him. Wait a minute — that’s what Ed told me!
The next morning, against better judgment, I called Ed’s office. Patty could sense I was upset as she put me on the speaker. Ed’s response was diplomatic: “I felt sorry for the chubby guy, (with) you I meant it.” The truth is I still couldn’t figure out how the guy got his boxers off without removing the walking shorts.
Being president of the Screen Actors Guild for two terms (1981-1985) represents only a part of Ed’s lifelong work on behalf of organized labor. In fact, next Friday, he will be among the most illustrious guest speakers in the 10 years of Jerry Rubin’s Activist Support Circle. On-site parking is free, as are refreshments. In an intimate setting, this is a chance to meet one of America’s finest actors and most admired activists.
Compared to high school days, there are many advantages to writing in this digital age. In addition to speed and convenience, if I fail to include the “who, what, where, when and why,” I don’t get red-ink corrections from a stern teacher. At worst I may get a tweet, which, let’s face it, sounds like it comes from a parakeet.
For more info aboutthe evening with Ed Asner, go to www.activistsupportcircle.org or phone (310) 399-1000.
Jack Neworth can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth and twitter.com/jackneworth and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.