In Memoriam: Saying Goodbye To My Grandfather On The Emmys
Tonight, the red carpet rolls out for the 64th Annual Emmy Awards. I’ll live tweet along with the team at BlogHer, as I’ve done in years past. I’ll have hopes high that certain people take home the award. And as the In Memoriam montage is introduced, I’ll raise a vodka tonic in memory of my grandfather, William Asher. Moments like this, a reminder he’s really not here any longer. Talk about reality TV.
I didn’t write about my grandfather’s death in July, even though for years now I’ve been doing research for a book about his work. As prolific as his career was as a director, writer and producer in TV’s Golden Age, a pioneer who helped shape the sitcom, that’s not what he was to me. I hadn’t lost a director. I’d lost my grandfather.
People knew him for I Love Lucy and Bewitched, Gidget and The Patty Duke Show, and so many more. (Someone asked how many hours of film and TV he helped create, and I have yet to do the math. With Lucy alone, he directed some 100 episodes.)
I knew him as a grandfather, father, husband. A man whose first three wives were actresses with whom he collaborated in work and creating a family I am so lucky to call my own. A great big family, that like he and his wives, continues to collaborate with one another on creative projects.
I didn’t write about my grandfather’s death in July, but I talked about it with family and friends. I read obits and tributes, online and in print. One major paper made a number of errors in their piece, which was more disappointing as a writer and editor than as his granddaughter. Then, I regretted not having written something immediately. Regretted not writing something that got the facts right as I read tributes that used a trusted source that got so much wrong.
My grandfather’s career in television began in the medium’s infancy, which fascinated me from the time I began to write in my teens. His own father, E.M., was a producer and film exec who began working in "moving pictures" at the turn of the century and would move from silents to talkies - like his son, at the frontier of a brand new technology. As a writer working online and in print, I know my interest in holding onto the past and embracing the future of film and TV is a bit more nature than nurture. These genes are strong.
I didn’t write about my grandfather’s death in July, but I was deeply moved by what I saw online. The tweets and tributes to my grandfather, so many people sharing this loss. If I could thank each and every one of you, I would. (Thank you.)
I keep several photos of him that I love nearby. One from his 75th birthday party, just before I went off to college with plans to follow in his footsteps. In the photo, he sits with his wife Meredith, and my grandmothers Dani and Joyce (Lizzie passed away the year before). Surrounded by his wives who all had such a place in his life and in his heart. They remained friends, part of this great big family I love.
Elizabth Montgomery and William Asher Backstage at the Emmys, Circa 1971. Credit Image: © Phil Roach/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com
Another photo is of his hands as he reads a big, red leather book. One of my last great memories is sitting with him on the sofa as we looked through it, the photos and his note-filled script from JFK’s Inaugural, which he directed (he also directed JFK's 45th birthday party with Marilyn's "Happy Birthday, Mr. President.").
Every script from every film or show he made is bound in leather with his notes and scribbles and photographs. His work, bound in leather volumes, fill the length of the room. They have fascinated me since I was little. Big, beautiful books with gold lettering up each spine. A priceless legacy he leaves his children and grandchildren, and one day, his great-grandchildren.
I didn’t write about my grandfather’s death in July, but as a writer I am fascinated with the way his shows followed a pattern of strong female leads, like Cukor was to film, he was in television a woman's director. Lucy, Bewitched, Our Miss Brooks, Gidget, Patty Duke, Dinah Shore, Shirley Temple, Alice...the list goes on.
Elizabeth Montgomery, William Asher, Shirley Jones. Credit Image: © Phil Roach/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com
I didn’t write about my grandfather’s death in July because I wasn’t ready to let him go, knowing that to write about this life, putting it on the page, meant no new leather bound volumes. No more walking into the room to a big smile, a squeeze of the hand, a "Hi, Honey."
Each year, the In Memoriam montage honors the passing of those who made contributions to this medium, this art, this history and The Academy. For some viewers, it’s the moment to get up from the couch and grab some food before the next winner is announced. Others watch the segment remembering the people whose work shaped their lives. A time to reflect on the power of TV in our lives. Of those we grew up with, sometimes quite literally.
I look forward to tonight. To celebrating him even if that requires a Kleenex or twelve.