In Memoriam – Ed Abroms Sr., ACE

 

Oscar®-nominated film editor and director Edward M. Abroms, ACE, best known for Columbo (1971), The Sugarland Express (1974), Blue Thunder (1983) and The Jewel of the Nile (1985), passed away on Feb. 13 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., surrounded by his loving family. He was 82.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Colleen; his son, Ed, Jr., also a film editor; his daughter, Lynn, an assistant film editor; and his daughter, Cindy, a former online colorist. He leaves three grandchildren: Brandon, Jordon and James, a film student who looks forward to a career as a director and editor, like his grandfather.

Ed was our ACE Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2006 and co-producer of our Eddie Awards show for more than 20 years. His professional touch helped elevate our awards show above the others in the industry.

Says ACE Executive Director, Jenni McCormick, “I found myself continually learning from Ed’s vast experience as an award-winning director and editor. ACE was incredibly fortunate to have him in our leadership.”

Ed was nominated for a Primetime Emmy® Award four times, receiving two nominations in the same year, one for directing and one for editing. His two Emmy wins were for editing, one for My Sweet Charlie (1970), a television movie starring Patty Duke and one for Columbo (1971). His Oscar nomination was for editing director John Badham’s Blue Thunder (with colleague Frank Morriss) in 1983. Badham shot over a million feet of film for his action-packed thriller.

“He’s a great director. I enjoyed that film more than any other project. I got to cut all the really cool helicopter stuff,” Ed laughed with enthusiasm in his archive interview for the Motion Picture Editors Guild, conducted Sept. 26, 2013 (all of Abroms’ quotes in this story are excerpts from this interview). Abroms was a member of the Directors Guild of America, Motion Picture Editors Guild, American Cinema Editors (card #313) and a director on the ACE Board of Directors for nearly 30 years, 17 of those as our treasurer. During Ed’s tenure ACE grew from a small, honorary society to a major industry player with over a thousand members. Says ACE President Stephen Rivkin, ACE: “Ed was a wonderful man and a great talent. His passion for his craft and innovation led to an extremely successful career in both editing and directing. Ed’s many years of service to American Cinema Editors will continue to have a lasting impact on our organization.”

“What a wonderful, generous man,” adds Tina Hirsch, ACE. “I met Ed on location in Vancouver years ago. He took the time to show me around the workplace, giving me all the insider information, showing me the ropes.”

He began as an eager young USC film student/mailroom boy, pumping a bicycle on the Republic Studios lot (Universal) in the 1950s (“I took Hal Ashby’s place. He had just moved up to apprentice in editorial when I arrived.”) moving up to elder statesman in ACE. Ed’s career and loving influence as an editor, director, mentor and revered friend, spanned over 60 years, from Moviola to streaming digital.

“My parents wanted me to be a lawyer. That’s why they agreed to pay for USC,” he said. So when he was bitten by the film bug in the Cinema Department freshman year, he did them a favor and dropped out to get a job in the industry. From the Republic mailroom, Ed moved to Technicolor for two years (where he met his wife) until he finally got into the cutting room. Back at Universal, he moved up fast.

“I used to walk around to all the cutting rooms, there were 50 or 60 editors working on the lot then, and say, ‘Give me some film to cut.’” His persistence paid off. His first solo editing credit was on the television series, Tarzan, in 1966. He cut 14 episodes. Ed met a very young Steven Spielberg in 1969 and became the cinema legend’s first professional film editor when he cut an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery that Spielberg was directing. Four years later, Abroms and Spielberg were working together again on a television movie, Savage!, starring Martin Landau.

“I get a call at 4 a.m.,” Abroms remembered. “It’s the kid, Spielberg. He’s sick as a dog and can’t get out of bed. Can I take over and direct for the day? So, of course, I did. I had my DGA card by then.”

Ed had cut the pilot for a new series, Columbo. “Peter Falk would improvise and was tricky to cut. That cigar was always changing hands,” he said.

In their book, Stay Tuned: An Inside Look at Making Prime-Time Television (1955, revised in 1981), producers Richard Levinson and William Link, who started the Columbo television series, remember, “We asked Ed Abroms if he would supervise our editing and his contribution was invaluable. He inserted amusing optical effects, energized the pacing, and whenever any actors – including Falk – got an advanced case of the cutes, Abroms left it on the cutting room floor. In gratitude we assigned him the last episode of the season to direct and he was the only director to bring us in on schedule.” That launched Ed’s directing career that would eventually include over 50 hours of television. He went on to edit and/or direct episodes of The Virginian, Kojak, The Rookies, Cannon, The Six Million Dollar Man, Ellery Queen, Hawaii Five-O and Murder, She Wrote. But after making his mark as a director, Ed couldn’t wait to get back to the cutting room.

“The editing room was my first love,” he said. “I enjoyed myself much more as an editor. You have to have chops to sit in the chair. Even today the editor has a tremendous amount of creative power.”

Ed’s television editing style was ahead of its time. “I liked to start CLOSE and work my way out. Get to the MASTER later.” This at a time when every show opened in the MASTER and worked its way in to the coverage. Ed had crossed paths with Michael Ritchie, an innovative director on Run for Your Life who was changing the look of television, and Ed was game to push the envelope and make TV more cinematic.

In 1974, Ed reunited with Spielberg and cut his feature film, The Sugarland Express. “Spielberg shoots film that goes together like silk,” he said.

Being an editor afforded Ed the opportunity to edit films abroad: England (The Jewel of the Nile), Australia (Street Fighter), and Toronto, Canada (The Guardian). Once again working for Levinson & Link, the HBO movie, The Guardian, merited Abroms the CableACE award. Ed edited Sam Peckinpah’s last feature, The Osterman Weekend, and officially retired in 1994.

As to the demands of such a robust career: “We got in at 7 a.m. and often worked seven days a week and we didn’t see our families much. I was just glad I was able to do Scouting with my son (from Cub through Eagle Scout).”

Ed was always quick to say that as hard as he worked early in his career, the demands on the film editor’s time today are even greater, with “expectations about sound effects, music – they want the editor today to be a one-stop post shop. We used to have time to have fun in the cutting room when I was starting out. We had time for practical jokes. Not so much today. Today, they never shut the cameras off. It’s cheaper to shoot everything and let the editor figure it out. And the stuff the assistants have to know today is mind boggling.”

About learning to cut, he added, “So many editors today have not had the years in the cutting room as an assistant and apprentice to learn how to tell a story like we did. Film schools are great, but practical experience is what makes or breaks an artist.”

All of us in ACE who have been lucky enough to have the practical experience of knowing Ed Abroms, Sr. shall be forever grateful that he never stopped inspiring us to be better artists, too.

“It was an honor to serve alongside him on the Board of Directors,” says Rivkin. “He is an inspiration. We will miss him dearly.” –Bonnie Koehler, AC