Pat Butler: Asner brings his class act to county |

Pat Butler: Asner brings his class act to county

I was minding my own business for a change and enjoying a free drink when I heard a thundering voice fill the small banquet area.

“Hey you! Get over here!”

The voice that had just sent shivers down my spine could not possibly be aimed at me I thought while standing amidst a small group that had gathered at the National Hotel in Nevada City.

“Hey you! Get over here!”

I looked around and then figured out that I must have been the last person to understand what was going on. The crowd, which was mingling around a table covered with tasty morsels, then seemed to part in what I thought at the moment was an act of dubious charity.

I tightened the grip on my bottle and began walking tentatively toward Ed Asner, a man whose work I had enjoyed since I first watched “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1970.

In that memorable sitcom Ed Asner was Lou Grant, a macho and moody news director who could be as intimidating as grizzly bear one moment and as lovable as a teddy bear the next.

He seemed to be growling when he bellowed the “hey you” in my direction. I briefly thought of Lou Grant’s relationship with Ted Knight, the bumbling news anchor for the mythical TV station in Minneapolis, as I moved toward my brush with celebrity.

Ted Knight would usually start crying on Mary’s shoulder whenever that voice exploded out of Lou’s office. That voice sounded the same more than 30 years later. So with a small audience in tow, I wondered what was going to happen next.

Before I got the chance to say “Mr. Asner, I have always admired your work and can I have your autograph,” he took center stage. He was once again Lou Grant and I was Ted Knight, minus the slick three-piece suit and shock of silver hair.

“I hear you’re not a very liberal editor,” he howled as I stood before him.

“You need to be a more liberal editor,” he exclaimed several times while poking my chest for emphasis.

My response was one of relative paralysis. I wanted to say that it was important for a newspaper editor to take a balanced approach but instead I stammered. Besides, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or lecturing, which is probably how he wanted it.

Ed Asner, television and movie star and social activist, was the center of attention on Sunday evening when the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce held a reception for the cast and crew of the Hallmark movie “The Christmas Card.”

The buzz on the street the night before was that Ed Asner wouldn’t be there. Someone even bet me a buck that he would not make it. In fact, the 76-year-old Kansas City native who is still built like a powerhouse was among the first to trudge through the snow and slush to attend the reception.

For the next 90 minutes, Ed Asner would show us all what a class act is all about.

First, he talked to everyone that approached him, which was just about every one who was there. Some of the women hugged him. People stood in line to get their pictures taken with him as if he was a Santa Claus at the mall.

Ed Asner took it all in stride while joking and teasing. In general, he seemed to be similar to the character he played in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1970 to 1977 and the “Lou Grant” show, where he was a crusading city editor for a newspaper in Los Angeles.

He can sound gruff, but he’s funny and witty at the same time. I asked several people who were working with him on this movie if he was always the way he was on Sunday.

The answer was yes. The locals who spent time with him, including one of his drivers, gushed about him. The cast and crew members of this television movie clearly respect and like him. One of the young production assistants said although he doesn’t move as well as he once did, he’s always on his mark when it’s time to shoot a scene.

Ed Asner’s professionalism and kindness were reflected by crew members who seemed to appreciate the reception on Sunday.

They occupied 40 rooms or so at the Northern Queen Hotel in Nevada City and ate and drank in restaurants and bars throughout the area. After Sunday’s reception, several crew members went to Prosperity Lanes in Grass Valley to go bowling. In all, they spent nearly a month shooting the movie in Nevada City and surrounding locations. The movie is scheduled to be broadcast in December on the Hallmark Channel.

As for my brush with fame, I did manage to ask Ed Asner if he would visit our newsroom before he left the area. He said he couldn’t do that, but he did invite me to the set. Unfortunately, the invitation became a casualty of Tuesday’s winter storm.

So I am left pondering what Ed Asner was trying to tell me when he was pounding on my chest.

The message I took from that moment is that an editor and a newspaper should not be passive. Rather, we need to be a strong voice for those who don’t have one. We must do our best to get beyond the rhetoric and the spin while bringing problems to light. We need to be fair and sensitive but at the same time we can’t lose our perspective. It’s a role I always intend to take seriously.

So thanks for the poke, Mr. Asner.

Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 477-4235.

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