Friday, April 29, 2005

Mason Adams 1919-2005

Usually when an actor gets "The Big Break" and becomes famous for a role, you suddenly see him everywhere in series that were produced before the big break. Ed Asner suddenly became visible after he became Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore, and the same thing happened to Sorrell Booke after he put on the fat(ter) suit and became Boss Hogg on Dukes of Hazard. It wasn't the case with Mason Adams. If you look at his IMDB listing, you'll find a mere seven acting credits including two guest appearances in the 1950s, and a 1947 short about Alexander Graham Bell called Mr. Bell in which he played Thomas Watson. So you won't see Mason Adams in much before his breakthrough role as Charlie Hume in Lou Grant. But you'll hear him everywhere because, in the words of Leonard Cohen, Mason Adams was born with the gift of a golden voice and it was only after Lou Grant that we also saw that he had the sort of face that carried a great deal of authority and wisdom.

Mason Adams did a lot of radio work, starting in 1940 and continuing until pretty much the end of network radio in 1959. The was Pepper Young in Pepper Young's Family and played a lot of villains in other radio shows. He was the Kryptonite Man in The Adventures of Superman with Clayton "Bud" Collier (who hosted of course To Tell The Truth on TV). I recall hearing a comedy skit featuring Adams as an increasingly harried baseball announcer. According to the Internet Broadway Database Adams also appeared in six plays, five of them before Lou Grant.

Charlie Hume on Lou Grant was a breakthrough role of course. Charlie started as a sort of weak yes-man for Mrs. Pynchon, but as time went by he grew "a pair" and became more assertive, to the point where you could understand why Lou respected him and why. One episode I remember in particular had Charlie confronting the clueless wife of a Central American dictator about torture in her country - torture that he himself had been subjected to. Charlie was very much a supporting character but he had his moments, enough that he was nominated for the "Best Supporting Actor in a Drama" Emmy three years in a row. His role wasn't as showy as Nancy Marchand's Margaret Pynchon, or Robert Walden's Joe Rossi who ironically was also nominated for "Best Supporting Actor in a Drama" three years in a row; the same three years as Adams (they lost twice to Stuart Margolin in The Rockford Files and once to Michael Conrad in Hill Street Blues).

After Lou Grant left the air (and I'm one of those who is convinced that the cancellation had more to do with Ed Asner's politics than ratings) Adams went on to a host of appearances in TV movies and miniseries. and a comparatively small number of guest starring roles in TV series. His last listed acting appearance was in an episode of Oz in 2003, although the last part I saw him was as a Supreme Court Justice who takes Bartlett to task for not considering a real liberal as his replacement on the bench. In these roles he usually played a fatherly figure, but someone with a certain amount of authority. An example was his appearance in From The Earth To The Moon as Senator Clinton Anderson, who deflates Walter Mondale's attack on the space program by asking about Gus Grissom. It's a tiny role, but Adams brings the right level of gravity to it to make it believable. But it's as a voice actor that Mason Adams will be best remembered. He was the reader for the books on tape versions of Lillian Jackson Braun's "Cat" mystery novels (and probably many others), and was always in demand as a voice for commercials. For the past 30 years he's been the voice of Smuckers - "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good."

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