Ed Asner

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Edward Asner doesn't think the actors are going to go on strike.

He thinks they should, but he doesn't think they will.

And Asner knows something about actors striking. He was one of the leading voices when the Screen Actors Guild went on strike back in 1980, and his activism propelled him to the presidency of that union.

"I have no idea," Asner said when asked if he thought another strike is in the offing. "I doubt it. I truly doubt it."

(Which is pretty much what everybody else in town is saying, even though SAG has yet to sign a new deal.)

And, given that Hollywood is still trying to recover from the effects of the writers' strike, which lasted from November to February, Asner thinks another strike becomes even less likely.

"The town has been fairly terrorized this year. And actors certainly don't have any more guts than the average person," he said. "They realize the tremendous costs (of a strike). And I think that they would probably, if push came to shove, vote against it.

"I think that I myself would vote for it, but I would be in the minority. Which I usually am."

Sounding a lot like the curmudgeonly Lou Grant character that made him famous on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Asner was pessimistic about the future of Hollywood. He acknowledged that "people get tired of hearing old geezers talk about the past," but he couldn't help but bemoan "the loss of tradition."

"I think (Hollywood has) been in horrible shape for a good while," he said. "I mean, you're talking to somebody who came to California in '61 while the studio system was still in effect, while there were three big networks, and everything was based on tradition. And to find tradition now is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Everything's on the cheap."

He recalled the old MGM lot back in 1961 when it was "all white. It was like the city on the hill."

When he went to eat in the studio commissary, he ran into Marlon Brando "and it was nothing but lush and glorious."

"I did a few shows at MGM during those years, then I didn't go back for a long time," Asner said.

Years later, when he did return, Kirk Kerkorian had taken control of MGM "and it was like the city on the hill had sunk into the ghetto. The streets were half the width because there were carts with lumber and this and that. It looked like a dump. And it stayed a dump. ... It was shocking to see what happened to MGM because it was the king."

(It has since become the Sony lot and, while it's not a dump anymore, it certainly never regained the glory of the MGM days.)

The way Asner sees it, what happened to MGM is symbolic of what has become of the entertainment industry in general. It represented "a lot of that deterioration, a lot of that disappointment, a lot of that sadness."

"Tradition went by the boards. And I think what everyone in Hollywood is seeking now is to find a stabilization out of the chaos that we have endured the past five, six years — maybe more — with runaway production, with reality shows. And who owns the network this week? It's that type of thing."


E-mail: [email protected]