To many, Ed Asner is, and always will remain “Lou Grant,” the newsroom chief with the crusty exterior that hides a sensitive side, a warm affection for his co-workers at WJM, the Minneapolis television station on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His gruff voice and ornery scowl could make his employees tremble, but his compassion for others always showed through.
As it turns out, the character is a case of art reflecting real life. Asner partnered with his son, Matt, and daughter-in-law Navah Paskowitz Asner to create the Ed Asner Family Center, a facility designed to help foster creativity in people with special needs, including autism, Down Syndrome and developmental delays.
In a video on the Center’s website, Asner says it was his dream “to establish an oasis of creativity in every special needs community – a center where our most beautiful dreamers can have their place to thrive, and in doing so, learn valuable lessons about themselves and the world.”
This, from the curmudgeon of the WJM newsroom?
As it turns out, the genesis of the center makes its existence more understandable: Asner said that as a youngster, he also battled the insecurities that plague many children. The pride he developed through performing, he said, carried over to numerous aspects of his life.
“My son once asked me, ‘what would you be doing if you hadn’t become an actor?’” Asner said. “Well, I thought about this, and as I did I realized that acting and performance saved my life. They were my life! Through acting and the arts, I found self-confidence, and was able to use that confidence in critical areas of my life.”
Asner said he learned from his daughter-in-law that helping those with special needs really involves assisting their entire families.
“Enrichment in schools has been replaced by test scores and metrics, completely taking personality out of the equation. Navah Paskowitz Asner – I love that name – whose successful family conferences stressed mental health support for the entire family, not just the special needs individual, has played a big part in pushing this dream forward – the center of enrichment where we can develop a most important part of our being: character.
“This will be achieved by offering arts programs and arts facilities, after school and on the weekends, as well as family counseling and mindfulness classes. These classes and sessions will promote self-confidence and balance, something that will translate in all areas of life, including an area that needs much attention in the disability world: employment. Over 80 percent of individuals with a cognitive disability are unemployed or under-employed – 80 percent.” – Ed Asner
In an effort to increase their ability to help those with special needs, Asner and the Center have partnered with Heritage Auctions to host The Ed Asner Family Center Original Comic Art Charity Auction on October 17, 2018. The acting legend and his family are lifetime comic book fans; for the auction, he reached out to leading comic artists, including Kevin Nowlan, Alex Ross and Jim Lee, asking them to submit original comic art to the auction, the proceeds of which will go to the Asner Family Center. The response from the comic art community has been exceptional, resulting in a collection of comic art for fans and collectors with a wide array of tastes.
That Asner has reached out to help the special needs community is not a surprise to those who know him. He may play characters with tough exteriors, but his involvement in the Asner Family Center and this auction are a clear reflection of his true personality and character.