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EDWARD ASNER

So...

This is hard.

It's been a bit of a stressful weekend, as my father went into the hospital with chest pains. A stint that had been replaced last year had failed and was replaced again Saturday morning during an angioplasty. I've been concerned, worried. But the procedure seemed to go well, and he was set to go home today. We seemed to have dodged a bullet.

But there was a second gun.

I slept in today. I woke up to two pieces of news:

1. My dad was good. Solid. My sister picked him up at the hospital and took him straight to breakfast. (My mother was annoyed at not being included - but that's a whole other story.) He's home now. I've talked to him. He sounded cheerful. All good.

2. Ed Asner had passed away.

I spent most of the day doing laundry and other mundane tasks. Life goes on, right? It has to. But it's been difficult getting my head around the whole thing. I've gotten many calls and texts today, offering condolences as if I were part of the Asner family. Folks seem to know how close I felt to Ed. But I don't want to exaggerate. Ed was my friend. I hope he knew I was his, as well. But I haven't talked to him in at least a couple of years. (You can partially blame that on the pandemic, I suppose. There are a lot of people I've lost touch with. If anything, this is a reminder to GET in touch. And I'm going to make an effort to do that.) In any case, there are many, many people who knew Ed better than I did, who were closer to Ed than I was.

Nevertheless, at the risk of turning this post into my own self-aggrandizement, I am going to spend a few paragraphs here on the subject of the Ed Asner that I knew and loved.

I was a fan of Ed's long before I met him. Like many, many people, he first entered my awareness playing Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. (Later, I got a kick out of picking him out of reruns, where he usually played the heavy in such series as The Wild Wild West and others.) But as Lou, Ed was simply brilliant. One of the truly classic scenes in all of television is the scene in the TMTMS pilot, where Lou interviews Mary for a job. Do yourself a favor and view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zj286uBKCu0

That scene had a major effect on me, even seeing it as a kid.

Now, having just rewatched it, the genius of the writing and the two performances still knocks me out. But there was something else about Lou and Mary. Watching their interactions was a bit like watching my parents. The connection in my mind between Lou and my dad was especially strong.

Ed and my father were two Ashkenazi Jews from the midwest. My dad was from Chicago; Ed, from Kansas City. They were gruff AND loving. They even had mannerisms in common. There was much more, I'm sure, that they DIDN'T have in common. But something connected the two men in my mind. And, meanwhile, my admiration for Asner as a performer knew no bounds. When I saw him in the Lou Grant series, in Rich Man, Poor Man, in Roots, that admiration only increased. When I learned of his activism - and the price he paid for it - that admiration shot through the roof.

Years later, when we had begun pre-production on GARGOYLES, I thought of Ed Asner - or of Lou Grant, at least - as the inspiration for Hudson. In fact, when we held auditions for the role, I wrote at the bottom of the character description that "Hudson hates spunk." This was, of course, a variation on Lou's classic line from the above job interview scene. Now, to be clear, I never imagined we'd get Ed to play the role. I figured he was way too big a star for us to land. But low and behold, a few days later, Ed came in to audition for the part. Later, he told me that when he read the character description, he was initially thrilled. The "Hudson hates spunk" line made him feel like he was a lock to land the role. Then a couple minutes later, he thought that if he didn't land the role it would really be awful. But of course, he immediately understood the character and nailed his audition... only for Jamie Thomason and I to throw him a curveball, asking him to do it again in a Scottish accent. He nailed that, too.

Working with Ed was a joy. He was fun and funny and so supportive. In addition to playing Hudson (and Burbank and Jack Danforth/Dane) on Gargoyles, I also cast him as recurring characters on Max Steel (Chuck Marshak), 3x3 Eyes (Grandpa Ayanokoji), W.I.T.C.H. (Napoleon the talking cat), Young Justice (Kent Nelson) and Rain of the Ghosts (Joe Charone). When casting Peter Parker's late Uncle Ben in The Spectacular Spider-Man, Ed was the only person I ever considered. He always brought so much to each and every role.

And more than that he was a great friend to me. After the first season of Max Steel, when I couldn't find a job for over a year and thought I might have to give up on my writing career, Ed was there, offering me support. We had lunch at Musso & Frank's. He looked at pictures of my kids out of my wallet and told me to laminate them. He introduced me to his son, Matt Asner, a producer. He didn't allow me to wallow in self-pity or to badmouth guys who I believed had done me wrong. He just reassured me that I had ability and would find my way through. He was, in essence, my work dad.

So today, as you might imagine, has been complicated. My dad is home and healthy. And Ed is gone. I'm grateful and sorrowful. And struggling. But life goes on. It has to, right?

Finally, I'm going to quote Hudson from Gargoyles. In "The Price," an episode that spotlighted the character, Ed as Hudson told Xanatos: "A friendly word of advice: True immortality isn't about living forever, man. It's about what you do with the time you have. When all your scheming's done, what will be your legacy, Xanatos?"

I think we all know that Ed Asner did amazing things with the time he had. And though we'll miss him dearly, his legacy is clear and shining.


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Joshua Skaug writes...

Long time Gargoyles Fan, just started rewatching the series on Disney+

I was wondering where Elisa’s Cat, Cagney got its name?

Would she have named him (is it a him), after actor Jimmy Cagney, or more likely after fellow police-woman character, Chris Cagney, from Cagney and Lacey?

Greg responds...

A little of Column A. A little of Column B.

Response recorded on August 26, 2021

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Todd Jensen writes...

Rewatched "Future Tense" on DVD today. Things I noticed this time on it.

Bronx looks sad when Hudson's death is revealed; given the bond the two had showed throughout the series, I thought if both fitting and touching (even if it's not really Bronx).

Goliath tells Brooklyn "we thought our odyssey was fated". I thought "odyssey" an appropriate term, since Odysseus spent twenty years away from Ithaca, and Goliath supposedly spent forty years away from Manhattan - and since gargoyles age at half the speed of humans, twenty years for humans would translate to forty years for gargoyles. (I'll admit I'm reaching here - and it feels odd to be linking Goliath to Odysseus when I'd normally think of comparing a different "Gargoyles" character to Odysseus - a fellow Greek trickster....)

The Xanatos Program's intention of using the "World Wide Net" to download itself on every computer marks one of the extremely few occasions I can think of where the Internet was alluded to on "Gargoyles"; the only other example that comes to mind was Sevarius receiving his instructions for "kidnapping" Thailog via "electronic mail". (It also got mentioned in one of the Goliath Chronicles episodes, but that doesn't count.) The near-absence of the Internet from the series certainly makes it appear
technologically dated" from today's perspective.

Greg responds...

I think "odyssey" is a particular apt word. And though Goliath and Odysseus don't have a lot of character traits in common, I do think the comparison here was intentional. And they are both big, strong heroes.

The absence of something like the internet is less of a problem for me - in terms of dating the series - than, say, the brick-sized cellphones that Xanatos and others occasionally use.

Response recorded on August 17, 2021

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Todd Jensen writes...

Rewatched the "Avalon" triptych on DVD today. A few new observations.

The Magus's lyre in the "flashback on Avalon" scene looks a lot like Merlin's lyre in "A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time". Obviously not the same one, but evidently both wizards share a common taste in musical instruments.

Princess Katharine and the Magus's telling Elisa "Little is known of the Sleeping King" struck me as all the more appropriate since in 995, nearly all the major works on King Arthur had yet to be written (Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain", the oldest extant start-to-finish account of Arthur's life, wouldn't be written for over a hundred years). There were one or two, like Nennius's "Historia Brittonum", but that was about it.

A detail that I hadn't spotted before: a couple of gargoyle-like sculptures were "guarding" the bridge leading to Arthur's resting-place within the Hollow Hill.

King Arthur and Goliath have both used a mace while fighting Macbeth (Goliath did so in "Enter Macbeth") - one of a few points in common they share (others are awakening in the modern world from a long enchanted sleep, and having scheming illegitimate sons).

The Archmage's boast that he could destroy Goliath with "just a word" struck me as apt, since all the "enhanced Archmage"'s spells were one-word ones ("Vessel", "Revert", "Ice", etc.).

It's difficult not to smile at Elisa's "Souvenirs" question after Season One of "Young Justice". Fortunately, she was asking it in a lighthearted tone.

Greg responds...

Certain elements run through my work, I suppose...

Response recorded on August 16, 2021

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Todd Jensen writes...

Rewatched "A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time" - a few fresh thoughts.

I remember your mentioning that you'd intended to have Goliath list a few specific books about Merlin, with Mary Stewart's "The Crystal Cave" as one of them, but weren't able to clear the rights for that. It recently struck me as particularly unfortunate you couldn't mention "The Crystal Cave", since it was published in 1970 and "Lighthouse" first aired in 1995. Goliath could have given it a 25th anniversary tribute.

Continuing the "'beast and monster' terms used for gargoyles" thread that I've been paying particularly close attention to for "Gargoyles"' own silver anniversary viewing, I noted that Macbeth addressed Broadway as "beastie" (evocative of Robert Burns, though Broadway's definitely not "wee, sleekit, cow'rin', timorous" and there didn't seem to be any panic in his breastie) and Goliath as "monster".

I spotted a drawing of a Celtic cross at the top of one of Merlin's Scrolls, when it was unrolled and the writing was visible.

Greg responds...

Yeah, I wanted to acknowledge some of my influences, but Disney legal said no.

Response recorded on August 13, 2021

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julie ! writes...

hey greg ! I was curious to see what sparked your interest in comics and what lead you to focus on comic storylines when it comes to your content? I grew up watching your work, and was around 11 when YJ premiered on CN, and it actually had a really big hand in me gaining interest in production ! so you inspired me to be where I’m at, which makes me really curious to see what inspired you to be where you’re at !

Greg responds...

Hm. I just always loved storytelling. And I always loved superheroes. I was always desperate to get more superhero comics, tv, movies. I began at such an early age that I honestly can't tell you what specifically sparked this interest. It's intrinsic to my personality. But if you look at the INFLUENCES section of the ASK GREG ARCHIVE, you can see lists of the things that influenced me.

Response recorded on August 12, 2021

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Todd Jensen writes...

Something I recently saw at the Phoenix Public Library reminded me of the fears you'd mentioned that "Gargoyles" would be perceived as a "Batman: TAS" imitation. I spotted a few copies (four in all - someone on the library staff must have had fond memories of the series) of the "Gargoyles Season Two Volume Two" DVD there, and noted that the blurb on the back called the gargoyles "Gotham's guardians". Well, Gotham *is* an old nickname for New York (going back to Washington Irving), and there's the alliterative appeal, but it still makes it look as if somebody confused the gargs with a different nocturnal crime-fighter.

Greg responds...

Eh. Maybe. Or maybe, as you said, people were looking for something alliterative.

Response recorded on August 12, 2021

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Anonymous writes...

Hi.
I just watched Young Justice Outsiders episode 4 and was wondering if the scene with Superboy & Brion fixing that bike was inspired by the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig?

Greg responds...

To a degree, yes. Maybe influenced is a better word than inspired?

Response recorded on July 23, 2021

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Mo writes...

I just rewatched spectacular spiderman and I feel there were a few bits inspired by the Rami trilogy, is that true?

Greg responds...

Since I don't know what the Rami trilogy is, I'm gonna say no.

Response recorded on January 09, 2019

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Beleg Aglar writes...

What were the books and films (if any) that inspired the everything in the show Gargoyles, because I know that some of it was William Shakespeare's Works, some was D'Aulaire's Books of Greek and Norse Myths, maybe Le Morte D' Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory,Holinshed's Chronicles in the case of the Weird Sisters, and The Mummy's Hand in the case of Tanna Leaves, and i know where stuff like Anubis, Anansi, Raven, Coyote, Grandmother, Thunderbird, Banshee, Crom Cruach, Cú Chulainn, Hound of Ulster (or Hound of Cullain), Fu Dog, The Green Knight, The actual Macbeth, the actual Duncan, The actual Canmore,Lulach, Gille Coemgáin of Moray, Gruoch of Scotland, Robin Goodfellow (AKA Puck), Quetzalcoatl, Yeti, Actual Crime in Manhatten, The Golem of Prague, Will-o'-the-wisp, and Tengu come from i just would like to know the books you probally read first that made you want to put that stuff in the show.

Greg responds...

Didn't you list most of them above?

I don't have a concise reading list. It was everything that influenced me (and others who worked on the show, as I was NEVER a one-man band) all rolled together.

I've read a lot of Arthurian stuff, including Mary Stewart, Roger Lanclyn Green, Mallory, etc. I've read and seen all of Shakespeare. I've read Hugo and a lot of books on mythology of different cultures. Movies including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Pal Joey and many others, particularly those adapted from Damon Runyon stories. The list goes on. Plus tons of comics.

Still the biggest influences were probably HILL STREET BLUES, GUMMI BEARS and maybe STAR TREK (the original series).

For more, check out the INFLUENCES archive here at ASK GREG.

Response recorded on May 05, 2017


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