Ed Asner honored for lifetime achievement at L.A. Jewish Film Festival [VIDEO]
Ed Asner, the 87-year-old Hollywood actor and liberal activist, was the center of attention last night during the opening gala of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF).
The event honored Asner — star of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant,” and, more recently, “Elf” and “Up” — with the Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of his “commitment to Jewish values and humanitarian causes.”
“I’m always pleased to show up somewhere where there’s popcorn,” Asner said in typical curmudgeonly fashion upon receiving the award, addressing a crowd assembled in the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.
His colleagues were more traditional in their praise. “There couldn’t be anyone in Los Angeles who is more deserving of this honor than my friend Ed Asner,” said actor Matthew Modine, who directed Asner in the 2016 short film, “Super Sex.” That 8-minute comedy screened last night along with the 2014 documentary, “My Friend Ed.”
A red carpet event kicked off the evening. Escorted by a small group of family and friends, Asner walked with a cane along the sidewalk of Wilshire Boulevard toward a group of eager photographers waiting in front of the theater to take the honoree’s picture. As reporters snapped photographs of Asner, a man in a car passing shouted, “Ed!”
The actor soaked it in, telling the Journal he was proud of being honored. Asked what Jewish historical figure he’d like to play onscreen one day, Asner said the late Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky or the late Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan.
A cocktail reception in the lobby of the theater followed the red carpet, which also drew actor Ed Begley Jr.; director Aaron Wolf,” whose documentary film “Restoring Tomorrow” spotlights the restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; Ruby Modine, Matthew Modine’s daughter and co-star of the film, “Super Sex”; Shelley Fisher, who stars in the forthcoming theater show, “The Hebrew Hillbilly”; Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, widow of the late stage actor, Theodore Bikel; comedian Avi Liberman; veteran actress and Hollywood blacklist victim Marsha Hunt, and others.
“Ed is a treasure because he cares so deeply about bringing the past into the present and keeping the values he absorbed throughout his life,” Ginsburg Bikel told the Journal.
Everyone gathered inside the theater for the award presentation, which included comments from Hilary Helstein, LAJFF director; actress Sharon Gless; Zane Buzby, actress and founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project; director Sharon Baker; and Matthew Modine. Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz offered words of praise as well. The speakers emphasized Asner’s longevity in an industry where staying power is a rare thing, his unique commitment to standing up for the marginalized, and his warmth — underneath all that curmudgeonly-ness.
“That’s quite a grope,” Matthew Modine said as Asner posed for a photo with him, the latter’s hand invisible to the audience. “I’ve just had my prostate checked.”
“He doesn’t have long,” Asner quipped.
Buzby, who works with Holocaust survivors, described Asner as a “champion of compassion.”
A screening of “Super Sex” followed. The short film features Kevin Nealon and Elizabeth Perkins as grown-up siblings who buy a prostitute (Ruby Modine) as a birthday gift for their elderly father (Asner).
“My Friend Ed,” directed by Baker and produced by Asner’s daughter, Liza, features interviews with Asner, actor Paul Rudd, Begley Jr., Valerie Harper, his co-star on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and others. It offers a glimpse into Asner’s life and career and the inevitable ups-and-downs of working 50 years in show business.
The film examines how Asner’s sometimes unpopular political activism related to unrest in Latin America, the compensation of actors in the Screen Actors Guild and other issues during the Reagan era led to his being ostracized by some in the Hollywood community. The challenges peaked in 1982 when CBS canceled the award-winning show “Lou Grant,” an hour-long drama about journalism. In the film, Asner and others say the show had high ratings and the studio canceled the show because of Asner’s political views.
“I try to do good. I try to do effective work. It could be better,” Asner says in the film.
Asner’s views engendered a touch of controversy the night of the gala, when a lone woman protester stood outside the theatre wrapped in an Israeli flag to protest Asner’s views on Israel. The actor sits on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. However, in a statement released to the Jewish Journal earlier this week, Asner said he “does not support the BDS movement.”
The festival, a program of TRIBE Media Corp., the parent company of the Jewish Journal, continues until May 3.