Sunday, 9 March 2008

Mr. Lou Grant

In 1991, a dozen or so Toronto Sun employees commented on favourite Sun memories for a You Said It page in a 20th anniversary supplement.

Peter Worthington, a Sun co-founder and editor-in-chief, later noted incredulously that not one employee mentioned the day Lou Grant became senior city editor.

It was, after all, a brilliant newspaper stunt played with a straight face by the then feisty and unpredictable fun Sun.

It began 29 years ago today, Friday March 9, 1979, with a Toronto Sun Appointment business ad on Page 59:

"J. Douglas Creighton, publisher, is pleased to announce Mr. Lou Grant has accepted the position of Senior City Editor.

"Mr. Grant brings a distinguished career spanning electronic and print journalism to this newly-created editorial position.

"He comes to Toronto from the Los Angeles Tribune and has worked on many major metropolitan dailies including the Herald, the Globe, the News, the Chronicle, the Times and the Examiner.

"For seven years, he was News Director of WJM-TV in Minneapolis where his highly-acclaimed news operation captured several Teddy Awards.

"As Senior City Editor he will exercise full editorial control and will report to Managing Editor Ed Monteith."

His appointment was effectively immediately.

The Toronto Sun didn't have a Saturday paper in 1979, so the presence of Lou Grant, aka Ed Asner, in and around 333 King Street East for a full day would be milked to the hilt for the Sunday Sun.

An indelible image is outspoken lefty Ed rubbing shoulders with outspoken righty Peter at a keyboard in the newsroom. They would talk - and argue - politics throughout the day.

In a 2004 column, Peter wrote about the Lou Grant day after Sun TV columnist Bill Brioux said liberal Asner "must have felt lost" in Toronto.

Peter said far from "feeling lost" in Toronto, "Ed Asner felt at home - evidence that political differences don't necessarily intrude on friendships."

Peter told of how the stunt began when he commented the Sun needed a city editor like Lou Grant. Doug "chipped in: 'Why don't we get Lou Grant?'"

And Peter did just that, flying off to Hollywood to talk Ed into the stunt on a day of his choice while in Toronto filming a movie.

Ed put his heart into the Sun stunt. It wasn't a mere Hollywood star photo op. He spent hours in the newsroom with his shirtsleeves rolled up, argued with reporters, attended an editorial board meeting, dined with execs etc.

"We wined and dined Ed, argued about politics and had a good time," Peter wrote in 2004. "He went to the newspaper awards and the press club, where he extolled the virtues of socialism.

"The next day we ran another business ad saying we'd fired Lou Grant because he caused too much dissension with TV cameras always around."

It was a memorable day for all involved, although watching Ed get ticked as CITY-TV reporter Peter Gross pestered him for 15 minutes for the "perfect take" dampened the mood a bit.

A bonus, besides the increase in Sunday Sun circulation, were the phone calls from readers irate because an American was hired when there were Canadians qualified to do the job.

Gotta love those readers.

Twenty-nine years later, Ed is still acting and Peter is still writing. But missing from the Sun is the "Disneyworld" atmosphere that carried the tabloid through two highly successful decades.

1 comment:

  1. Watching North America's favourite television news actor/character in the Sun newsroom was surreal, kinda like a Twilight Zone episode. Kudos to Ed, Peter etc.