NEW YORK -- Ed Asner plays Norman Cousins Tuesday in 'Anatomy of an Illness,' a fine CBS movie based on the former Saturday Review editor's book about his unique battle with a crippling degenerative bone disease.
The excellent cast also includes David Ogden Stiers ('M-A-S-H') plays Cousins' close friend, conservationist Cleveland Amory, Eli Wallach plays his doctor and friend William Hitzig and Millie Perkins plays his wife Ellen.
The movie airs 9-11 p.m. EDT.
Cousins and his wife have just returned from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1964 when the story opens and Mrs. Cousins immediately telephones the family doctor to report that her husband wasn't up to his usual lively self while on the trip.
Cousins protests, but then agrees to make an appointment to see Hitzig.
A day later, he leaves his office with Amory and suddenly is stricken on the street with an excruciating pain that surges through most of his body.
Cousins is taken to New York's Mount Sinai hospital where a group of experts all have different opinions on the cause of his suffering.
Finally, the disease is diagnosed as a paralyzing bone disease for which, he is told, there is no known cure.
Cousins meets a man at the hospital who has the same disease.
'He said, 'Your spine will be frozen. You have to decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life sitting up or lying down,'' Cousins writes to his friend Albert Schweitzer.
In the middle of the night, the editor calls his wife at home.
'Standing,' he says.
'Standing. I'm going to spend the rest of my life standing. I'm going to lick this.
'I don't care what anyone says. What is illness anyway? It's a laundry list of problems to solve.'
Cousins calls his magazine the next day and asks the research department to find him everything about his disease that there is to know.
Deciding that nature and laughter are the best healers, Cousins tells Hitzig he wants injections of vitamin C, health food -- Ellen's area of expertise -- and Marx brothers' movies.
'The ancients tell us a merry heart works like a good doctor,' Cousins says.
Hitzig relunctantly lets Cousins have his way, even though he refuses to believe in his technique.
'When the news gets out about what I've agreed to, my colleagues are going to play hellwith me,' Hitzig says.
The news gets out fairly quickly, as Mrs. Cousins, appauled by the gravy-soaked meals served up regularly to the patients, begins distributing greens from her garden around the floor and crowds gather outside Cousins' room to watch the Marx brothers.
Asner, a seven-time Emmy winner, is outstanding in his role as the Puckish editor and we root for him all the way as he bucks both pain and the prejudices of the medical establishment.
The latter battle may be the tougher of the two. As one doctor makes clear to Hitzig: if Cousins licks the disease, it simply must have been misdiagnosed; if he doesn't, we all told him so.
As a footnote to the movie, Cousins last March was awarded an honorary medical degree by the New Haven County (Conn.) Medical Association, the fourth for a layman in the association's 200-year history.
The former editor now lectures on medical humanities at the University of Southern California.