Ed Asner first set foot on the American Shakespeare Theatre stage as a newly married young actor in 1959, and on Tuesday, Jan. 8, after a long stage, television and film career, he returned to Stratford to reminisce.
Greeted by Mayor John A. Harkins and Stratford Center for the Arts officials, Asner toured the Shakespeare Theatre, greeting old friends and regaled everyone with tales of the summer of ’59.
“We lived next to a dump,” Asner recalled. “My wife, another actor from the company and myself rented a house. We brought our three cats with us and every night we’d go walking down to the Sound and the cats would walk with us. We had a lovely time, walking and picking shells.”
Asner was part of the theatre’s 1959 acting company, appearing in Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet and All’s Well That Ends Well. Also in the company that year was longtime Stratford resident Nancy Marchand, who would later co-star with Ed Asner in the popular television series Lou Grant.
“Nancy Marchand, who I adored, was regarded as one of the best actresses in America,” Asner said, recalling how he had first met her that summer.
He fondly recalled pulling to the side of the road to purchase lobster rolls from a local shack near the theater. “They served thick milk shakes, I mean thick shakes, with those lobster rolls,” Asner said. “I must have gained at least 30 pounds that summer, as did my lovely bride. But we lost it all when we went back to the hungry City of New York.”
“We had a marvelous time being on the Sound and living in Stratford,” he said.
Asner, who talked more about his life and acting career in an onstage appearance later Tuesday night at the Scottish Rite Theater in Stratford, supports efforts to revive the American Shakespeare Theatre.
“Stratford is an aptly named town,” Asner said. “Shakespeare belongs here. In these depressed times, we need to make something beautiful, positive and artistic to brighten the lives of people.”
The winner of five Emmy awards for the role of Lou Grant, Asner has the distinction of being the only actor to win seven Emmy awards. He is also the only actor to win the award for comedy and drama for performing the same role, playing Lou Grant on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on Lou Grant.
Tuesday’s A Conversation with Ed Asner was the first in a series of American Shakespeare Theatre Alumni Talks scheduled to benefit the Stratford Arts Commission and the Stratford Center for the Arts at the American Shakespeare Theatre.