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Ed Asner & Mary Tyler Moore’s Powerful off-Screen Chemistry

The Mary Tyler Moore Show ran for 7 critically acclaimed seasons from 1970 to 1977. It’s often regarded as one of the most influential and groundbreaking sitcoms of the 20th century. It wasn’t just good writing that made the series such a success. Much of that had to do with the show’s superb casting.

Mary Tyler Moore starred as Mary Richards, an empowered single woman from Minneapolis who worked as an associate producer in television news. The series centered around the somewhat tangled relationship between Richards and her boss, news director Lou Grant played by Ed Asner.

Grant was known for being a gruff man. On the surface, he was tough as nails and highly critical of others but over the course of the series, his softer side began to seep through as he continued to mentor Mary and they began to understand each other. Moore and Asner will always be remembered for their portrayal of these two iconic roles but their real-life connection far extended beyond what audiences saw on their TV screens or what was printed in the newspapers during that era.

In fact, they had intense off-screen chemistry that few stars have gotten the chance to enjoy with their colleagues. It wasn’t just a working relationship that they shared. Far from it, they considered each other to be very close friends – and at one point they even entertained the idea of pursuing a romantic connection as well, but if you want to hear all the steamy details about that, you’re going to have to watch the whole video.

Moore Wasn’t Convinced That Asner Was A Good Fit For Grant After His Audition

Anser only landed the role of Grant after several happenstantial lucky breaks. When he auditioned for the Mary Tyler Moore Show, he had very few comedy credits in his professional resume. Regardless, he was still invited to come and try out for the role.

His first audition was met with a lukewarm response but after requesting a second chance to deliver his lines and being granted that rare – and generous – opportunity, he gave a much more impressive performance that earned him the chance to come back and test with Moore.

When Asner showed up for his read-through with Mary, his performance faltered once again. Perhaps he was experiencing a little nervous anxiety about meeting with Moore, but whatever it was, Asner recalls that audition as being particularly painful.

‘I read the scene with her like a man possessed,’ Asner told the Hollywood Reporter back in 2017.

Moore was not impressed and questioned the production team whether the actor was really the right fit for the role. The producers continued to insist however that Asner was her Lou Grant.

Moore met Asner at his first audition to play Lou Grant, but their on-screen chemistry wasn’t really evident until filming the pilot. There’s this golden scene that you might even be familiar with where Grant tells Richards that she’s got ‘spunk’. She basks a bit in pride with a touch of bashfulness before Grant bursts her bubble. ‘I Hate Spunk!’

Asner told NPR back in 2001 that moment was the most powerful moment in theater that he ever experienced citing how perfect she was at playing her part. It was a transformational moment as well. Moore knew then and there that Asner was cut out to be her Lou Grant.

Asner Learned From Moore

Moore rose to fame after appearing on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 60s. She even won an Emmy for that performance. So even though Asner had been working in show biz for years at that point, in 1970 there was no question that Moore was the heavyweight star of the new sitcom. Not only was the series named after her but it was also being produced by Moore’s own MTM Enterprises production company.

Regardless of her prestige, Moore was still very much so a team player. Asner applauded her for her humility. He was impressed that she was willing to take a background seat when called for and allow other actors to have their moment in the sun whenever it was their time to shine – regardless of whether that actor was a permanent cast member or guest star.

Asner’s respect for Mary grew after witnessing her intense work ethic. While the rest of the crew was working a typical 8 hour day, Moore consistently put in 10 to 12 hours a day. She was dedicated to her craft. Her show was her baby. Mary would do just about anything necessary to make sure that a scene was completed to her liking.

People that worked under her listened to what she had to say. While others might have to shout to be heard, all that Moore had to do was say something like ‘I don’t like the way that looks’ and somebody would immediately get to work to change it. She received respect because she gave it to others. It was a two-way street.

According to Asner, Lou Grant was the best role that he ever played, and it was Mary that brought it out of him. In total, Asner would go on to win 5 Emmys for playing that role.

When The Mary Tyler Moore Show came to a close in 1977, Asner continued playing Grant in the eponymous spin-off series. Lou Grant was also produced by Moore’s MTM production company. Since he was chosen to lead the show, Asner did his best to tap into the same kind of energy that Moore did to establish the atmosphere in her show. In order to make his show a success, he would have to take some direction from Moore’s playbook.

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And make sure you keep watching to find out why Ed Asner felt so unresolved after he found out that Mary Tyler Moore had died in 2017, but before we get to that, let’s see just how far their friendship really went.

Asner and Moore Went On A Date But Decided It Best To Remain Friends

Ed and Mary weren’t just co-stars. They enjoyed a long-lasting friendship for many years. Asner stuck by Moore’s side through the good times as well as the difficult ones. Such was the case when he attended the funeral of Moore’s sister in 1978.

During the filming of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, both Ed and Mary were each married to their respective spouses but when the show came to a close in 1977, they both found themselves to be newly single. Asner reports that at this time he and Moore decided to go on a date just to see if their chemistry went beyond platonic friendship.

This happening mirrored what happened in the second-to-the-last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show when Lou Grant and Mary Richards also went on a date with each other. After sharing a kiss, the two fictional characters laughed and realized that they were never meant to be anything but close friends. After Ed and Mary’s real-life date, they too realized that a romantic connection wasn’t in the stars for them.

Asner And Moore Remained Friends For Decades

Moore and Asner loved getting the opportunity to work with each other so much that they joined forces once again in 1997 for the made-for-tv film Payback. Asner served as the producer for that film but Moore wasn’t exactly pleased with the finished film. She vented some of her frustrations for the Chicago Tribune where she explained that the movie didn’t incorporate her role to the full extent as it was promised to her, nor did it pay honor to the close relationship that she and Ed had for so many years.

Even though the two experienced that brief tiff, their close friendship did suffer in the least bit. Their relationship would endure right up until the end. When Moore passed away at the age of 80 on January 25, 2017, Asner made a heartfelt post on Twitter where he expressed his love, adoration, and respect for his fallen friend. ‘I will miss her’ he wrote, ‘I will never be able to repay her for the blessings that she gave me.’

Mary’s Death Left Asner Feeling Unresolved

Asner did an interview with TV Insider back in 2017 shortly after Moore’s death where he reflected on her life, career, and their friendship. He also discussed candidly his complicated feelings following his close friend’s death.

While Moore was still alive, Asner would go out of his way to catch up with her at various reunions. He made it a point to never miss one of them. The last time that he saw her, he noted that she seemed perfectly fine. When he was leaving he told her that he would see her at the next reunion – just as he did at each such event.

When he received the news that she had passed away, he didn’t know how to respond. He kept waiting to hear what would happen next and when he was finally informed that there was going to be a memorial service he was more than happy to attend and honor her memory.

But after the funeral, he felt very little closure. Ed and Mary had spent seven years working together and had enjoyed a friendship that endured several decades. To have it all ‘dissolve down into one ceremony’, as he put it, just wasn’t enough.

It’s never easy to come to terms with the death of a dear friend. Especially one that you’ve known for a good portion of your life.

Ed Asner’s now 91 years old, and he’s likely starting to come to terms with his own mortality as well, but he’s yet to retire – and likely never will. Acting is in his blood, and his late dear friend Mary Tyler Moore played a key role in helping him develop that piece of his persona.

Their relationship was a two-way street. She taught him so much about generosity and giving and he gave her a lifetime of loving support.

Anyways, we’d love to hear from you! Which show did you enjoy the most? The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Lou Grant?

Drop us a line with your opinion in the comments section below.

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