Palm Springs, 1997

This Sunday night, 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.

Los Angeles, 1989

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.

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.

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 Sunday. To celebrating him even if that requires a Kleenex or twelve.

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21 thoughts on “In Memoriam: The Emmys and Saying Goodbye to My Grandfather

  1. Sharron

    He sounds like an amazing man and I am sorry for your loss. Beloved Grandparents are a precious commodity I lost my own Grandmother in Dec 2011. I still miss her. I am sure your book will do his memory justice and will be written from your unique perspective.

    Reply
  2. Wendy

    An absolutely wonderful tribute to your Grandfather. What amazing contributions he made to those who knew him as well as we who didn’t. His heroines inspired millions…including me! So sorry for your family’s loss and so grateful you all shared him with us.

    Reply
  3. Grandma Joyce

    Oh Honey, So sweet so loving. Thank you for including our picture together. We are one great big unique and wonderful family and you are a very special flower in our family bouquet. I love you very much, Grandma

    Reply
  4. Anne

    I cry every year at the In Memoriam, and I’ll be crying even more this year. I’m a sucker for all things nostalgic and vintage, and I hate to see how many great talents we lose every year. Hearing about your grandfather has upset me more than it should. Yes, I grew up watching his shows, and I’ve always admired his work, but I’m also a little jealous. You’ve handled this loss in such an elegant and graceful way. My grandfather is 90 now, and I know that he’ll be gone before long. I only hope that I can be as graceful in loss as you have been.

    Reply
    1. alexandra Post author

      That is so kind of you, Anne. The only advice I can give you or anyone (if anyone is even asking) is to write things down. Write down the stories. Write down the stories of your family. It’s something I have learned to treasure and not take for granted.

      Reply
  5. Marci

    What a beautiful tribute, Alex. I had no idea you were related to this talented man, but in retrospect I shouldn’t be at all surprised. The shows he directed are part of the fabric of my youth, and I’ll raise a glass with you during the Emmys In Memoriam.

    Reply
  6. Robb Child

    Loved what you wrote about your grandfather. I hope you write a book about this talented creative genius! Your grandfather wrote a book about the industry decades ago and is out of print which I’m trying to locate. I worked as a technical director in the TV biz here in Nashville for over 30 years (10 years with Florence Henderson on Country Kitchen for The Nashville Network) and I’m hoping to find that book among collectors out there so I can read it as I loved your grandfather’s work. Can’t find the title with Google and might be able to find it in New York Times interview from the past that your grandfather did. By chance do you know the title? I’ll keep searching! Best regards and wonderful thoughts you wrote about your grandfather last
    sept. I wish I could’ve met him! Sincerely, Robb in Nashville. rc3tv3td@gmail.com

    Reply
    1. alexandra Post author

      Thank you, Robb. That is very kind of you. As for the book search, my grandfather never authored a book on filmmaking or wrote an autobiography. He was often quoted in things, so perhaps the book you remember was one in which he was an interview subject?

      Reply
      1. Robb Child

        Thanks Alexandra for getting back to me. I must have read an interview possibly in the New York Times from the past that your grandfather did and somehow I misunderstood information regarding a possible autobiography. I’ll keep looking for that interview…

        I just watched HBO’s remarkable “ETHEL” documentary produced by her youngest daughter Rory Kennedy which included remarkable family footage and pictures and I thought of your grandfather when images of President Kennedy’s inauguration were included, a Presidential inauguration that your grandfather directed. (And he directed Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Madison Square Garden celebration too!)

        I hope you get a chance to see the “ETHEL” documentary. Maybe one day someone will produce an indepth documentary such as Rory’s about your grandfather’s work. He’s left an indelible mark in our television history and is due such a documentary for all of our current and future generations to remember him by. Thanks again for writing and do keep up your writing, it’s obvious that you have that creative talent within also! Let’s see where you can take it!!! Cheers! Robb in Nashville

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