Mason Adams

Charlie Hume in 'Lou Grant'
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The Independent Online

One of the most consistently mature television shows of the 1970s and 1980s was the long-running newspaper series Lou Grant. As Charlie Hume, the quiet, likeable managing editor, Mason Adams was an instant success, bringing to the role four decades of hard-won experience in theatre and radio. His television work also included countless voice-overs; for over 30 years Adams could be heard on the jam and jelly commercials for the J.M. Smucker Company. Much imitated were his amiable, gravelly tones, insisting: "With a name like Smucker's, it HAS to be good!"

Mason Adams, actor: born New York 26 February 1919; married 1957 Margot Fineberg (one son, one daughter); died New York 26 April 2005.

One of the most consistently mature television shows of the 1970s and 1980s was the long-running newspaper series Lou Grant. As Charlie Hume, the quiet, likeable managing editor, Mason Adams was an instant success, bringing to the role four decades of hard-won experience in theatre and radio. His television work also included countless voice-overs; for over 30 years Adams could be heard on the jam and jelly commercials for the J.M. Smucker Company. Much imitated were his amiable, gravelly tones, insisting: "With a name like Smucker's, it HAS to be good!"

Born in Brooklyn, Mason Adams attended the University of Wisconsin, emerging in 1940 with a bachelor's degree in theatre and speech. After studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, he made his Broadway début as a German in the anti-Nazi melodrama Winter Soldiers (1942). After appearing in William Saroyan's Get Away Old Man (1943), he played in three comedies, Public Relations, Career Angel and Violet (all 1944 - all flops).

Luckily, radio offered financial security rarely supplied by the theatre. In 1945 Adams took over the role of the eponymous hero in the daytime soap opera Pepper Young's Family and played it until the show left the air 14 years later. He appeared in many other radio programmes, too, including Inner Sanctum, Gangbusters, the prestigious Ford Theater and Superman, in which he played the Man of Steel's arch nemesis, Atom Man. Broadcasting work helped subsidise occasional stage appearances in plays as varied as Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's campus comedy Tall Story (1959) and Inquest (1970), a documentary-style denunciation of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

There have been many spin-off shows in television's history, but the dramatic series that have spun off from situation comedies can virtually be counted on the fingers of a mitten. Played by Edward Asner, Lou Grant had been the gruff-but-decent news producer at a Minnesota TV station in the hugely successful sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77). In the 1977 drama series bearing his name, Grant moved to California to become City Editor of the crusading Los Angeles Tribune. Adams prepared for the role of Charlie Hume by visiting several newspapers and closely observing their managing editors at work. Such dedication was much valued by Asner, who told The New York Times,

He was a tremendous, key part of whatever good there was in Lou Grant. I stole more from him than he stole from me.

So convincing was Adams in the role, that in 1979, when a Florida newspaper conducted a poll of America's most trusted men, Charlie Hume, despite being a fictitious character, ranked high on the list.

After appearing in the ingenious movie thriller F/X (1986), Adams returned to television in the drama series Morningstar/Eveningstar. Because of a fire, the young occupants of the Morningstar Orphanage are quartered with the residents of Eveningstar Retirement Home. Here, Adams and his fellow senior citizens give the youngsters the benefit of their long years of experience. Sadly, they didn't supply this sage advice for long; the series was cancelled after only three months.

Even less successful was the tortuously titled Knight and Daye (1989), a sitcom in which Jack Warden and Adams played two feuding radio performers named, respectively, Hank Knight and Everett Daye. NBC-TV pulled the plug after seven episodes.

Mason Adams made his last stage appearance in the 2002 revival of Arthur Miller's 1944 play The Man Who Had All the Luck. At the time, he told an Associated Press reporter:

The title of Mr Miller's play could easily apply to me. I've been damn lucky for more than 80 years!

Dick Vosburgh

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