The Secret To Ed Asner And Mary Tyler Moore's Longstanding Friendship

Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore costarred on one of the most well-loved sitcoms of all time, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," from 1970 until 1977. Asner played Lou Grant, the gruff, often blustery producer at a news station in Minneapolis, Minnesota who hires Mary Richards (played by Moore) as his associate producer. As recounted by the Los Angeles Times, Asner was responsible for one of the most famous lines of the iconic show. As Lou Grant finishes interviewing Mary Richards for her new job, asking her a series of inappropriate questions, during which Richards stands up for herself and holds her own, he seems to pay her a compliment, smiling and telling her, "You've got spunk." He then scowls and follows up by telling her, "I hate spunk." 

The scene is allegedly a bit of a reversal of the first time Asner and Moore read together during auditions for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." In a 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Asner recalled, "From what I heard, after I left, Mary turned to them and, with a tremendously screwed-up face, said, 'Are you sure?' ... The producers then said to her, 'That's your Lou Grant.'" The eventual friendship between Lou Grant and Mary Richards became one of the central touchstones of the sitcom. Per Asner, "Lou served as a guardian for her throughout the history of the show and sometimes pushed her forward when she wasn't ready to be pushed."

Life imitated art and Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore became friends

Just as Lou Grant and Mary Richards became friends on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore became friends in real life. In a 2017 interview with TV Insider, Asner said of Moore: "Lou Grant was my best role ever, and she brought it out of me. Mary was unstintingly generous — and a good friend ... Mary and I were surrounded by funny people, but she and I were both serious. We shared that." When the show ended in 1977, Asner continued playing the role of Lou Grant on a new drama, "Lou Grant," which like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was made by Moore's production company. 

In a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair just one day after Moore died of heart failure at the age of 80, Asner spoke of how Moore's turn as the star of her show had inspired him when he became the lead on his own show. "I discovered that just as she was the giving, generous [lead] of [her] show, that's what I would have to become to make [my] show successful: the giving, generous pivot around which everything revolves." He and Moore lived on opposite coasts and hadn't seen each other for a few years. "And only when CBS would bring us together for one of their reunions did we get to visit each other. I would never have been a no-show." He'd known Moore was sick but not the extent of her illness, and so hadn't said goodbye to his old friend and colleague.

Lou dated Mary ... and Ed dated Mary

Life imitated art when Asner and Moore eventually attempted to date each other, just as their characters Lou Grant and Mary Richards went on one date, the subject of the next-to-last episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," titled "Lou Dates Mary." Per The Paley Center For Media, Mary Richards, tired of the usual men she's been dating, takes the advice of her friend Georgette (played by Georgia Engel) and asks Lou Grant to go on a date with her. Shocked, Grant accepts and the two try to have a romantic dinner, but find it awkward. Eventually cutting to the chase and kissing to see if there's any chemistry there at all, they dissolve into laughter and decide to remain just friends. 

In his 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, Asner shared that he and Moore had also gone on just one date, joking, "We'll call it a momentary lapse of judgment on her part ... I was quite honored." He went on to note that, just like their sitcom characters, he and Moore were too close as friends to have any sort of romance, "So I retreated into my comedic self, and let the boys have at her." In his final interview, which he gave to The Hollywood Reporter on August 16, 2021, just 13 days before his death from natural causes at 91, he was even more blunt about the date. When the reporter asked if it was true he and Moore had gone on a date in real life, Asner answered "Yeah." When asked "What's the story behind that?" he had another one-word answer: "Dull."