Ed Asner won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Lou Grant, the tough grumpy local TV news producer, on the 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Now, Asner, 86, tells HIGH TIMES that he believes a reason why the show regularly hit creative peaks was because the writers often smoked weed while working on their scripts.
“I’m sure they did [smoke pot]. We got the best work out of them,” Asner, who wholeheartedly advocates the legalization of marijuana, said.
A chapter titled “Pot and the Pill” in the 1994 book “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic” couples the creative team’s gumption for cannabis with an episode’s birth control plot, both capturing the decade’s zeitgeist.
Despite the apparent laissez-faire mood on The Mary Tyler Moore Show set during writing, “the scripts were so strict—exact—which was an excellent thing for us (actors),” Asner explained. “We never needed any [script] changes.”
The cast and writers rarely mixed during the series’ seven years of production, so Asner never had the opportunity to toke with them. And apparently the producers didn’t care whatever creative stimulus was responsible because the show consistently was a hit on many levels.
“Marijuana should have been legalized a long time ago,” Asner said, admitting that these days he’s not a user himself. “The only people it feeds are criminals by being illegal.”
Asner believes the War on Drugs has been an utter failure like every other war the U.S. government has entered in recent history.
“People like El Chapo (Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera) have been making fools out of us most of the time,” he explained.
Asner tried marijuana for the first time in the late 1950s when he first arrived in New York to be an actor.
“I smoked a long time ago,” Asner said. “I couldn’t tell at the time if I was actually influenced by the drug, or I was hyping myself into belief. I smoked three or four times. I thought I got high, but it could have been easily a self-induced high.”
“I can’t smoke the stuff they’ve got now,” he continued. “It’s too rough on me. About seven years ago, I tried some new marijuana. I was lucky to not pass out.”
But the former Screen Actors Guild president (1981-1984) never thought less of peers who smoked then or now, and he knows plenty of people who smoke medicinally.
“I lose track of who’s on it and who’s not. They seem to be operating quite well,”Asner said. Despite seven hip operations, he’s acted in 18 film and television projects in the first half of 2016, according to IMDB.
One full-length feature not listed there, though, is his 5-minute cameo in Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary, which premiered in Eureka, Calif. in June. Mary Jane chronicles the all-encompassing cannabis culture found in Humboldt County, as growers brace for the reality of legalization in the state.
Asner plays the chairman of a greedy corporation looking to capitalize off of the legalization of pot.
“Ed said the role was the antithesis of who he is,” said Michael Fields, who wrote and directed the play that preceded the film, which is currently on the festival circuit. Asner said his standards in choosing roles haven’t changed throughout his career. “I like to play someone who you can love and some who you can hate.”
Mary Jane executive producer Sam Clauder, who’s known Asner for the past two decades in Los Angeles, secured his services for the film last summer.
“I knew he would love working on the film,” Clauder, an active proponent for marijuana legalization in California since 1971, said. “[Asner’s] supported every political campaign I’ve ever worked on dating back to 1998.” In the past, Clauder has enlisted Asner to become a spokesman and record PSAs for his statewide campaigns supporting industrial hemp and another for an amendment to the Three Strikes law, among others for candidates seeking office.
Mary Jane director John Howarth was impressed with Asner’s professionalism while shooting Asner’s song, “Corporate Raider.”
“My first reaction was ‘Can he sing?’” Howarth admitted. “Then I thought it really didn’t matter because every take got better,” noting the actor’s improvised maniacal laughter made the final cut. At an after-party at Clauder’s house after shooting the scene, Asner abstained while the rest of the cast smoked weed.
Although Asner doesn’t smoke marijuana himself, notes Clauder, “he’s very progressive because his family was persecuted as Jews in Russia. He was raised with a very liberal open mind and has been socially conscious and aware of all the injustices in society.”
While Asner appreciates the benefits of cannabis for so many, his senior wisdom is now concerned with what harm the illegal black market can wield on unsuspecting users looking to get high.
“Now grass has been legalized [in a few places], along comes this [opiate] drug that is 30 times stronger than heroin, the stuff that killed Prince,” he said.