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Nov 13, 2020

This Column (and This Columnist) Celebrate Milestone(s) on Sunday

—along with far better-known people, one hastens to add

By Ed Goldman

If things go well, this Sunday, November 15, the great artist Wayne Thiebaud will turn 100, the great actor Ed Asner will clock in at 91, the great singer Petula Clark will be 88 and this grating columnist becomes a 70-year-old.

More important for me, this grating columnist’s column will celebrate both its first anniversary and one year without a work-stopping injury.

Wayne Thiebaud’s Boston Cremes, 1962. Oil on canvas, 14 x 18 in. Crocker Art Museum Purchase, 1964.22.
© 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

I know Mr. Thiebaud a bit—the historic Crocker Art Museum is currently presenting a wonderful retrospective off his career —and have chatted with Mr. Asner and once saw Ms. Clark in a hotel lobby. I waved at her and she waved back. But it turned out she was actually waving at someone standing behind me. I’d like to report it was another famous person but it was the hotel’s bellhop. And Ms. Clark wasn’t waving back at him; she was waving to him, to get his attention and then for him to get her bags. 

Of course, this having happened in Beverly Hills, the bellhop was young, tan and handsome and probably had a screenplay, song or résumé wadded up in his pocket to present to Ms. Clark. For all I know, he now has a three-picture deal with Netflix.

My other birthday-sharing celebrity encounters didn’t work out much better.

Take one of the first times I ran into Mr. Thiebaud. Literally. I had coasted backward off a treadmill at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club in East Sacramento and knocked him over. I’d been watching an infomercial touting the merits of zippered, feet-attached adult sweatsuits, similar to toddler Dr. Denton jammies. When they showed a gaggle of 30-somethings wearing them and sharing a laugh as they enjoyed a few brewskis at a tailgate party, I could feel a giggle starting to work its way up my body’s underused merriment artery. 

Then the video showed a close-up of one of the jammied young women explaining how “if nature calls” it won’t pose a problem—and then cut to the close-up, in animation, of a back-flap being lowered, exposing a cartoon derrière. The giggle’s having reached its goal line, I now laughed so hard I forgot I was on the treadmill. This resulted in my plunging backward into one of America’s greatest living painters, who’d been working out with a medicine ball prior to his daily tennis game. 

After helping him up and profusely apologizing, I pointed to the TV screen to show what had happened. By then, of course, the infomercial was over and an episode of “Judge Judy” had begun or resumed. 

Looking for a Great Gift?

For a while, whenever I saw him at a reception, Mr. Thiebaud seemed to do a comic flinch. I thought I might be imagining that but a few years later I heard him speak at a reception honoring the naming of a park for Burnett Miller, one of Wayne’s closest friends, tennis mates and an art collector of note. Mr. Thiebaud praised Mr. Miller’s taste and said an example of it was that Mr. Miller had no Thiebauds in his collection. Yes, he could be very funny. So it might indeed have been a comic flinch.

Meanwhile, I had admired Edward Asner since his early days as an actor (he was the bad guy in the 1965 western ”El Dorado,” which I even saw about four minutes of being filmed and even met one of the stars, John Wayne, by following him into the bathroom, which I’m sure pleased him beyond words). 

When Edward Asner became “Ed” Asner and an “overnight” sensation playing Mary Tyler Moore’s gruff newsroom boss Lou Grant on her eponymous show, I loved that critics and the TV academy discovered what a fine comic actor he could be. When that show ended Mr. Asner took his character to a one-hour newspaper drama called “Lou Grant.” In it, he was just as gruff an editor but the laughs were fewer. The program tackled real issues in the news, and Mr., Asner, who was a progressive president of the Screen Actors Guild, also didn’t shy away from real-life controversies. CBS, never exactly courageous, canceled the show. The network had also canceled ”The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” a few years earlier for political reasons. (On the other hand, CBS bravely allowed Les Moonves to continue as its CEO long after he was accused of sexual harassment—he was eventually let go, but only after the stories of his behavior went viral.)

About 15 years ago, Mr. Asner visited Sacramento at the invitation of Peggy Shannon to appear in the reading of a new play written by Richard Broadhurst. At the time, Dr. Shannon was the artistic director of the Sacramento Theatre Company and a professor at UC Davis; she would go on to be the dean of the performing arts program at Ryerson University in Toronto (which they keep in Canada) and is now dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University. She’s always had great show-biz connections.

I got to speak with Mr. Asner before and after the performance. It went something like this:

Encounter #1:

Me: We share the same birthday.
Asner (gruffly): Well, not the same year.
Me (awkwardly): Well, no, I—
Asner (gruffly): ‘Cause you’ve gotta be 15 to 20 years older than I am.

Encounter #2:

Me: I was sorry to hear that CBS canceled “Lou Grant.”
Asner (gruffly): So were my accountant, agent and manger.

Encounter #3:

Me: Well, it was nice to meet you.
Asner (gruffly): Really?
Me: No.
Asner (astonishingly, with a sudden grin): I don’t blame you. (He then hugged me.)

And so, on November 15, as Messrs. Thiebaud and Asner, and Ms. Clark, celebrate their milestones, I’ll celebrate my own, comfortable in the knowledge Mr. Thiebaud survived me, I survived Mr. Grant, Ms. Clark’s bags got picked up and this column still has no work-stopping injuries to report.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).