Monday, June 27, 2011

#41. PAIGE LIPMAN (ED ASNER) - “A celebrity personal assistant.” Part II

Paige Lipman Ed Asner

Paige Lipman is adorable. Though the above photo is from 1995, she’s still a tiny blond (hair lighter and straightened now) who vaguely resembles a prettier Sarah Jessica Parker.

At the interview, she brings me two Polaroids of her and the celebrity she was a personal assistant to, one Mr. Ed Asner.

Paige was born and raised in Los Angeles to parents that were not involved in the entertainment industry (a rarity in her hometown of Studio City). She attended Beverly Hills High and then studied communications at University of Southern California.

Her first real job out of college was working for The Hollywood Reporter in 1993 as a temp. In the back pages, she saw a listing for ‘personal assistant.’ No further details were given. She faxed over a resume (so dated, right? Listings! Faxes!), and was told she’d be working for a small production company called Quince.

But instead of a bunch of execs, she met with a television legend: Edward Asner.

This is how young I am: I know of Ed Asner from Nick-At-Nite and the movie ‘Up’ in which he plays an old man cartoon whose house is carried away by balloons. (Sidenote: When Josh met Ed Asner at a comedy festival, he wanted to say, “Mr. Asner, I’m so sorry to hear about your house.” He did not. He regrets it, as he well should.)

But before that, Mr. Asner was known for playing Lou Grant, the curmudgeon boss on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ In real life, Paige says Asner is incredibly sweet. In fact, she says he told her she got the job as his assistant, over the other applicants, because she said “Thank you” to him on her way out. He appreciated the gesture.

"I remembered ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ so I was excited but my dad had no idea who he was," she laughs.

At that point in his career, Asner, then in his late 60s, was still riding high from his TV success, even though his current show ‘Thunder Alley’ took an embarrassing back seat to Tim Allen’s ‘Home Improvement.’ (In fact, for Christmas, the executives gave Allen a Porsche and Asner a gift card; something that still baffles Paige.) At the time, Asner had won more Emmys than any other actor. He went back and forth on the claim with old friend Mary Tyler Moore.

Paige’s job was to go through his mail, make phone calls, deal with photos and appearances and handle his many charitable donations.

"He was always associating himself with different charities," she says. "He had the softest touch, in the sense that he was always giving to charities. He gave money to people on death row if they wrote him, sent prisoners Christmas cards."

One of her other jobs was driving Asner around, which she did in her own car — a 34-year-old Dodge convertible with no air conditioner. It was, Paige estimates, about 100 degrees outside. She remembers him bumming cigarettes off people and smoking in the car, despite the heat.

"People would recognize him and they’d just freak out. ‘Lou Grant! Oh my god!’," she says. She remembers him being extremely friendly toward fans and affectionate with his employees. He’d frequently blow everyone a kiss when he was leaving for the weekend and he got Paige a book about art for Valentine’s Day. "He was always so lovely," she says. (Not that he didn’t have an ego. Paige says she once told Asner that an episode of ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ had made her cry. Asner responded: "Of course it did. I’m a really good actor.")

Paige says she loved her job with Asner. One big thrill was getting to talk to Mary Tyler Moore on the phone when she’d call. Paige also accompanied Asner to Screen Actor’s Guild meetings, where Asner served as President and got to meet all the famous actors that served on the board. Asner’s reach went far because he was so well-respected. Paige remembers getting Whoopi Goldberg on the phone (back when she was a superstar) just by using his name. David Letterman was also a big fan of Asner’s, going so far as to have a doll made of him for the set.

There were downsides too. Paige says she remembers getting a call at 6 a.m. when Asner’s and his then-girlfriend’s baggage didn’t arrive with their flight. It was her job to figure out what had happened. This was also pre-cell phones so getting a somewhat elderly man around using just directions read over the telephone before he left the house was a constant struggle. And, Paige is hesitant to say, a pre-marriage Asner had quite a few girlfriends. Paige was expected to juggle them all. “Women were obsessed with him,” she says. “He was really charming and so I’d have to go and get gifts for his different girlfriends.”

"Their stuff is top priority, but really, Ed is so mellow and respectful," she says. "Their life is the predominant life. I would always end up caught up in the family’s weird drama and I’d hear all this stuff because I was around so then I know all the stuff," she says, referring to the girlfriends and also, a member of Ed’s family who worked for the press.

Paige, the family member had found out, was friends with Matthew Perry who had just blown up thanks to his role on, well… ‘Friends.’ Early rumor mills were convinced he was secretly gay.

Asner’s family member would constantly call Paige and bug her to spill dirt on Perry, which she refused to do. On the contrary, Paige says she remembers Perry as kind of a lady-killer.

There was also some danger. While she worked for him, Asner started receiving death threats for his political beliefs, which he’d made clear through his position as SAG President. For instance, he had played a prominent role in the 1980 SAG strike and opposed the United States’ policy in Central America. (More recently, Asner signed a petition to call for further investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.)

Being so controversial made Asner cautious, especially because someone had left a small bomb on his doorstep in the ’80s. One day, while Paige worked there, an unmarked package arrived at the office and caused a huge stir. Asner told everyone to get back and then approached and opened the box himself. Luckily, it was just a stuffed animal from a fan.

"He opened the box?!" I ask.

Paige nods, “He’s a guy’s guy.”

But he’s trusting too. Paige says she never had to sign a confidentiality agreement, even though there were some scandalous things going on. For example, Asner had a son out of wedlock that made a small splash in the tabloids. “It was a different era,” Paige explains. “The Internet wasn’t a big thing and people weren’t as maliciously trying to bring people down using it.”

She left the job after a little over a year, because she got hired at a music magazine, but says she could have stayed Asner’s assistant “for forever.”

"It was a teary separation," she says. (The photos here are from Paige’s birthday party, which Asner attended.) "He said, ‘Keep me up to date on what happens with you’ and I got teary when I saw him at the Academy Awards for ‘Up.’ I was so happy for him. It was a great experience in my life so I keep up with the little things." When she took her niece to see ‘Up’ in theaters, Paige tells me she told her, "I used to work for the old man!" Her niece, she says, didn’t get it.

Paige works in software development now and she tells me she’s considering starting a fashion blog because she still loves writing.

"When you’re an assistant to a high-powered person, you forget that ‘This isn’t my life’ and ‘I’m not the high-powered person and I wouldn’t be getting these benefits if I wasn’t with this person,’" she says. "I’m not achieving my own stuff. I’m just helping them achieve."

Notes

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