Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera Unified interim superintendent Todd Lile, right, introduces Ed Asner, during a of preview of his REELZ Channel Docudrama, “Titanic: Sinking The Myths;” portions of which were filmed in Madera County.
Leaning on his cane, and bundled up against the February cold, seven-time Emmy Award-winning actor Ed Asner made a stop in Madera, taking time to visit with the arts community.
Finishing his tour of the city in the administration building of the Madera Community College Center on Feb. 25, Asner spent time and broke bread with local educators and artists.
“We all knew him as Lou Grant,” said Madera Unified School District Interim Superintendent Todd Lile. “I was scared to death of him as a kid — I thought he was made out of sandpaper. And I found out today at lunch, he is.”
“But we have also seen him in ‘Elf,’ as Santa, and we’ve also seen him in ‘Up,’” Lile said. “And my kids knew exactly who he was when I told them that.”
Asner, famous for his role as Lou Grant in the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” had come to Madera for a private screening of the docudrama “Titanic: Sinking the Myths,” made by local filmmaker Ryan Katzenbach. The film, which debuted in January, was based on the 1995 D.E. Bristow book of the same name (and of which Katzenbach was one of the publishers), and challenges the previous narratives that the 1912 sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic was an unavoidable accident, but rather was the result of cutting corners and stubborn pride on the part of competing ship companies and corporate heads.
“I’ve always had an interest in the Titanic,” Asner said, “because life seems to be a constant series of tragedies that we find out were caused by greed or carelessness or stupidity, just pure evil.”
Asner, a friend of Katzenbach, was recruited into the docudrama to play one of the ship’s survivors, alongside a cast that included nearly three-dozen actors from Madera.
“A great deal is owed to the students, the faculty, the officials of Madera,” Asner said. “You’ve been a gem through the whole ugly mess.”
During his trip to Madera, Asner also took time to visit Madera South High School, where many of the student actors were recruited by Madera South performing arts chair Ginger Latimer.
“A lot of my advanced drama students were passengers on the ship,” Latimer said.
In addition to her students, Latimer rounded up actors from Fresno, and older cast members locally.
While at Madera South, Asner gave the students pointers on their craft.
“They asked very nice questions — very interesting questions. I had to think of how to answer them,” Asner said of his co-stars. “And I enjoyed them, and I enjoyed being with them.”
Following the screening of the film, Asner took time to answer questions from the audience, and discuss his life on screen, before returning to his home in Los Angeles.
“Sweet, sweet people, everywhere — that I’ve met,” Asner said. “You have good stock here.”