Ed Asner is singularly motivated.

At 80, he doesn’t need the stress of a one-man show, let alone a one-man show that stops in a different city every night. But Asner, best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as Lou Grant on the TV comedy ”Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its follow-up, ”Lou Grant,” is crazy about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

”I wanted to play Roosevelt to remind people what a great man he was and how relatively little he is honored and treasured,” Grant said by telephone from his home in California.

The popular actor will be in Portland on Friday to present ”FDR.” The play, presented by Portland Ovations at Merrill Auditorium, is based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway play ”Sunrise at Campobello” by Dore Schary.

It offers a profile of Roosevelt from the time he fell ill with polio until his death in 1945.

Roosevelt was an oddity and titan of 20th-century American politics. He was the only American president elected to more than two terms. He served three terms as president and was in his fourth when he died in office.

He was the New Deal president, the architect of many of America’s social programs tied to the Great Depression. He served during World War II, was president when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and was hugely influential on the world stage during a critical time in history.

All the while, Roosevelt served while ill. He contracted polio while vacationing at Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1921. He was left paralyzed from the waist down.

Asner, who was a young boy when Roosevelt won his first term in 1932, idolized FDR.

”I was a big Roosevelt supporter as a kid,” he said. ”In spite of all the attacks and innuendos, I shrugged them off and said, ‘What else do you have that’s better?’ I was in high school when he died, and it was like the floor had fallen away. What will happen to us now?”

Truman, Roosevelt’s vice president and successor, ”did a commendable job, I guess,” Asner says. ”But no one has ever approached FDR as far as I’m concerned.”

The play came about because it was offered to him. That’s how things work at this point in Asner’s life and career. Asner has won five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes. He doesn’t look for work. It comes to him, and he is in a position of being able to pick and choose.

Despite its dense nature, ”FDR” stirred something within Asner that made him want to go back out on the road and face the challenge of live theater.

He’s on the stage for more than two hours, and it’s a beast of a script ”and an enormous amount of information about the man from the time he fell ill in 1921 until his death in ’45. We leave a lot out, but we bring in as much as we can. To keep people awake, I find the humor wherever I can find it.”

This is the second time Asner has done a one-man political show. Many years ago, he portrayed fiery Louisiana politician Huey Long. ”That was during the Carter era, and I wanted to show America what a good speaker sounded like.”

He’s similarly motivated this time.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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