Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ed Asner

Three hundred and ten (310). As of this date (Feb 19, 2014) 310 is the total number of film credits that is posted in Ed Asner's Internet Movie Database (IMDB) listing. Wheew! Here I am with only 50 and I am only 6 years younger than Ed.  Where have I been?  Obviously not where I should have been.

Anyway I was privileged to have worked with Ed in 1976 in a made-for-TV Huey Long quasi-biographical script entitled “The Life and Assassination of the Kingfish”. Ed played Huey Long and I was given a great little cameo role as Senator Jack Williamson, one of Long’s more staunch and fiery adversaries.
At the time of this filming Ed was on hiatus from his role as Lou Grant in the Mary Tyler Moore series. The real Ed was nothing like this character.  The Ed Asner you've seen on the big screen and TV is usually an irascible sort if not downright villainous. But the real Ed Asner is anything but irascible and villainous.

Ed and I, though total opposites politically, quickly became great friends. Though we’ve not worked together since “Kingfish”, we’ve had several occasions to meet socially after he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.  He's a very warm, sociable and caring person.  To know him is to love him.

We first met shortly after I was cast in "...Kingfish". The director, Robert Collins, had scheduled a script read-through with the full cast which is a common practice in the industry. During a break in the read-through Ed came up to me and said "Jerry, I hope when we do that scene (meaning a committee room scene in which he and I get into an explosive exchange) we can get a lot of fire into it." This comment laid considerable pressure on me because I would want it to go the way he envisioned it.

This committee room scene was first on the shooting schedule.  I would find out later that Ed had specifically asked that this scene come first in the schedule because this was his toughest scene and he just wanted to get it out of the way.  I too was glad that it was first on the schedule.

Needless to say I worked diligently on committing that scene to memory. Our dialog was particularly difficult because we were to talk over each other and each take needed to match to insure editing integrity .. no small feat. Ed would later say he hated overlapping dialog.  And so did I.

When our first day wrapped and the committee room scene was "in the can", Ed came to me and said "Jerry, I want to thank you.  You kept me on my toes.  That scene went better than I ever would have imagined."  

He noticed that I was vacating my dressing room and said "You're not done are you?"  I said "Yes, that was my only scene."  He said "You're kidding.  Hold on, don't go yet."  He quickly caught up with Collins.  I waited.  Then Collins motioned for me to join them.  He said "Jerry, I'm going to write you into some more scenes."

I thanked Ed for his intercession and got 2 additional days work.  I was written into two senate chamber scenes.

If your political philosophy is conservative then you might tend to consider Ed irascible and villainous should you see him in any political debates.  But the man, apart from his extreme liberalism, is as good as they come. You can't help but like him. 

Hopefully he will move a little to the right as he continues to mature into old age.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Louisiana's very own KING KONG

Let's go back some four to five decades.   Gulf South Research Institute (GSRI) was in its infancy and our Life Science operation had been established in New Iberia.  Dr. William (Bill) Greer was the Director of our Primate Center there which housed several species of monkeys including Chimpanzees and Great Apes.

Bill was recognized world-wide for his expertise in primate breeding, rearing and general care.  He became attached to many of them and admitted having a hard time when any of his “pets” were transferred to other centers and colonies or were drafted into research projects.

Bill developed a very paternal attachment to a recently newborn great ape that he named “Jimmy G” (the G for Greer).   It should be noted here that primates pound for pound are 5 times stronger than humans.   For instance if a baby chimp or gorilla weighed in at 50 pounds, he would be equal in strength to a 250 pound man.  Great Apes, when fully grown can weigh over 400 pounds (2000 pounds for a human equivalent).  The bars on its cage-enclosure would need to be 2 inches in diameter.

OK, let's get back to Jimmy G.  Several times each week Bill would make his rounds through the primate center.  When Jimmy G’s body weight had gotten up to 30 pounds, Bill would put Jimmy G on a leash and let him tag along.  

Jimmy G was particularly fond of Coca Colas.  Located in one of the center’s corridors was a coke machine that dispensed bottled cokes.   With each tour through the center Jimmy G would stop at the Coke machine and Bill would give him a dime.  Jimmy G would insert the dime in the machine’s coin slot, open the vertical access door, pull out a bottled coke, open it, chug-a-lug it, place the empty bottle in a recycle container, then look up at Bill with an “OK, I’m done” look and they would then complete their tour for that day.

With each weekly tour Jimmy would be weighing an additional 3-5 pounds.   He was destined to grow to 550 pounds (much heavier than the average Great Ape) with an arm-spread of over 10 feet.

Jimmy loved Bill and the feeling was definitely mutual.  The weekly leashed tours continued until Jimmy was up to 175  pounds (the human equivalent of 875 pounds).

Jimmy’s final tour was on the day that the Coke machine jammed.    Per his usual custom Jimmy gingerly inserted the dime in the coin slot, opened the coke machine’s access door, reached in to pull out a bottled coke … but to no avail.  The machine would not release the coke.  Jimmy tried 2 or 3 times, but with no success.  He then looked up at Bill with an “Are you gonna help me?” look on his cute little monkey face.  Bill, thinking that perhaps the dime had not completed its journey through the coin slot mechanism, began to pound on the machine.  After 4 or 5 strikes Bill was suddenly aware that he had pulled a boo boo, a major boo boo.  MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO.  Oh shit!!  That was Jimmy’s cue.  He began beating on the machine himself, caving in the coin slot area.  This tactic was obviously "OK" because he had seen Bill do it.  Of course Bill had not damaged the machine.  Jimmy then tried again to pull a coke from its slot, but again with no success.   Bill knew better than to try to stop him.  Since Jimmy felt permitted to take matters into his own hands, he proceeded to apply his considerable muscle power to  tear open one of the stubborn coke bottle barriers.  He succeeded. The heavy metal slot, now bent outward, permitted Jimmy to retrieve his coke.  Though he could have had more than one (at no additional charge), Jimmy was not greedy.  He chugged down his coke, discarded the empty in the recycle container and was satisfied.  He looked up at Bill with an "OK, I'm done" look.

GSRI was billed $400 by the local Coke distributor.

Jimmy, for obvious reasons, would no longer accompany Bill on his weekly colony tours.  Having no miniature Empire State building to exercise his climbing skills, Jimmy G would have to be content in a cage. 

While NOT a KING KONG, he would grow to 550 pounds (larger than the usual mature ape) and become KING of the New Iberia Primate Colony.  But don’t fret over his fate.  He occupied his time as the colony’s chief breeder.  He kept quite busy and he was quite content.  I wonder why!