Asner tells FDR’s side of the story

Courtesy of Windwood Theatricals/Campobello Theatr

Edward Asner portrays the 32nd president with passion in the one-man show “FDR.”

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

Edward Asner was born in 1929 just weeks after Black Tuesday pitched the U.S. into the depths of the Great Depression. When he was a sophomore in high school 16 years later, the only president he’d ever known died just weeks before the end of World War II.

“I’d thought God the Father had died,” Asner said last month during a live interview on KDUR.

Asner will visit Fort Lewis College on Wednesday in the guise of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He’s been performing “FDR” for several years, reviving the role made famous by Ralph Bellamy in Dore Schary’s “Sunrise at Campobello.” The play takes its name from the Roosevelt family retreat off the coast of Maine.

“I’ve loved it,” Asner said. “I naturally have gotten more proficient at it. I consider it a fine gem, and I keep polishing it, and it’s getting more sparkly.”

“FDR” is a first-person account in the president’s own words and those that Schary thought could’ve been. It’s a rationalization and explanation of the decisions that faced Roosevelt during his unprecedented 13 years in office between 1933 and 1945. It’s also a living history lesson, and Asner is a passionate teacher.

“He smelled the rat of Nazism, fascism and knew our nation must arm itself,” Asner said. “He had to twist and cajole and pull every kind of shenanigans and tricks. There was a strong anti-Semitic element in this country ... and it was always an uphill battle to gain the traction to prepare the country for what Roosevelt saw was coming.”

FDR/Asner also discusses the president’s battle with the Supreme Court over the National Recovery Act and his subsequent efforts to “stack” the court to get his programs effected. He is frank in his admission of his affair with his assistant, Lucy Mercer, and Asner believes Schary got it right when it came to Pearl Harbor, despite the many conspiracy theories that abound.

“We try to cover everything, and I think perhaps there’s a large segment of the population who say he knew Pearl was coming. I try to present that he knew Japan would be striking at us, but he never dreamed it would Pearl Harbor,” Asner said.

Asner gained his fame as the gruff Lou Grant, first on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and later “Lou Grant.” He won seven Emmys for the role, and is the only actor to win an Emmy for comedy and drama for the same role. He was a former president of the Screen Actors Guild and has recently become a vocal critic of the government’s role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

He won’t be discussing any of those aspects of his career on stage, but there will be an opportunity to meet Asner before the show. He’ll attend a reception under the tent on the patio outside the Concert Hall (separate tickets required). Surprisingly, this will be his first visit to the Centennial State, and he may have as many questions for his audience as they do for him.

“I’ve heard of the fabulous territory of Colorado, and I’ve been desirous of seeing if it’s as magical as people tell me. It’ll be a journey of inquest and conquest,” Asner said.

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