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Cool Things - Lou Grant's Desk

You could easily walk past this nondescript desk without a second glance. Its battered body has chips, dents, and scratches on nearly every surface. Even when purchased new in the 1960s, it would never have been considered fine furniture.

Desk from the set of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Yet this unremarkable desk is a perfect example of how even ordinary objects can tell a story. For seven seasons it was an important feature on the set of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hollywood stars sat on it, propped their feet on it, rifled through its drawers, and in general abused it as they would any studio prop.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

One of television's most-watched programs from 1970 to 1977, The Mary Tyler Moore Show received many awards for its inventiveness and creativity. The comedy show revolved around main character Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) and her career in the newsroom of a fictitious Minneapolis television station.

This desk was probably the most important prop in the office of Mary's crusty boss, Lou Grant, played by Kansas native Ed Asner. It served to physically and symbolically separate Lou from his subordinates, and probably was chosen by the prop department because of its stereotypical appearance as a cheap, standard office desk.

Catalogs of the late 1960s are filled with similar examples retailing for about $100. Highly functional, this type of furniture nevertheless made some concession to style. The plastic top was rather optimistically described as "attractive walnut-grained plastic-over-chipboard" (Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1971), offering the look of wood for the price of plastic. Its enameled metal body originally was black, but after a season or two on the show three of its sides were painted gray in an effort to brighten up the set.

After the show ended its very successful run in 1977, Asner gave the desk to a lifelong friend, Tom Keegan of Wamego, Kansas. The pair's association dates back to the 1930s when Keegan worked in a grocery owned by Asner's uncle in Kansas City.

Image of actor Ed Asner.

Ed Asner

Born November 15, 1929 in Kansas City, Missouri, Ed Asner was the fifth and youngest child of a junk dealer. He attended Wyandotte High School in Kansas where he acted in school productions, edited the school newspaper, and became an All-City tackle on the football team. Asner has said about his childhood, "Kansas was a gentle place to grow up."

After acting at the University of Chicago and on the Chicago and New York stages, Asner moved to Hollywood in 1961 and soon made a name for himself in both film and television. He is best known for his portrayal of the character Lou Grant, first on the comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 to 1977, and then on the dramatic spin-off "Lou Grant" from 1977 to 1982. The actor has won a total of seven Emmy awards, including three for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and two for Lou Grant, as well as five Golden Globe awards.

Asner's activities have extended well beyond acting, and he is known for his involvement in numerous political causes. He served as National President of the Screen Actors Guild for two terms in the 1980s and accepted its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

In addition to the desk from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Tom Keegan also donated an office chair and wall clock from the newsroom set. Keegan displayed these items for a number of years in his Wamego real estate office before contacting the Kansas Museum of History. Although technically Keegan is the donor, he persuaded his famous friend to present the props to the museum at a public ceremony in June 1991. Asner pleased the local crowd by announcing, "I would not be the actor I am today if I had not come from Kansas."

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Entry: Cool Things - Lou Grant's Desk

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2002

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.