Long before he hated spunk as the hard-bitten newspaper editor Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore" show, University of Chicago alum Ed Asner cut his thespian teeth in town as a member of the Playwrights Theatre Club. The predecessor of Chicago's Compass Players, which in turn spawned Second City, Playwrights included other future showbiz luminaries such as Mike Nichols, Barbara Harris and Elaine May. Longtime Evanston resident Joyce Piven (Ari Gold's mom) was a member, too.
One of the group's most mercurial and sometimes volatile personalities was the deep-thinking, b.s.-shunning director Paul Sills, who co-founded the group in 1953 with Harvard-schooled improv guru David Shepherd. Sills' charges knew that with his brilliance came bursts of fury -- and, occasionally, hurled furniture.
"A chair went whizzing by by my head one day," actor Alan Arkin said several years back of an incident with Sills at Second City in the early 1960s. "Paul was very, very, vocal."
Asner doesn't recall that ever happening to him.
"I woulda killed the son-of-a-bitch!"
In fact, Asner says, he grew angry with Sills only once.
"We were doing [Ibsen's] "Peer Gynt" and he did something that pissed me off. So I came on as a troll and I made my entrance by swinging down from a rafter backstage onto a two-by-four onstage. And I came down with such a vengeance that I broke his two-by-four. So I got rid of my anger that way."
Asner is in town April 13 and 14 for live readings of a sitcom project he's involved with called "I've Got a Life in Kalamazoo." Get your tickets here. He'll also perform his one-man play "FDR" April 17 at Governor's State University.
Check out the Sun-Times Entertainment section for an interview with Asner and his "Kalamazoo" co-stars Vicki Lewis and Marion Ross.