By Sherrie Li
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By Sherrie Li
At a late-summer shoot for season two of the HGTV reality series Living With Ed, über-eco-meister Ed Begley and his wife Rachelle Carson are in a Venice bungalow that is in the process of being remodeled. With cameras rolling, Begley and Carson discuss the mosaic of kitchen tiles with designer Denise Shaw.
“So the tiles are recycled from old tiles and clay,” Begley says. “So it’s like what Rachelle does with me every day — you just grind it and grind it and grind it down .?.?. ”
Carson smiles benignly and gets into an enthusiastic discussion with Begley about the house’s soon-to-arrive “low plex” windows, which currently are on a boat from Germany. Of course, these aren’t ordinary windows, they are top-of-the-market double-paned windows that can open out, while the tops open in for security. The living room contains SolaTube lighting devices — glass tubes inserted in the ceiling. At night, they beam down sunlight that’s been stored during the day from a device on the roof.
Carson loves the house’s Eco Timber floor, made from unvarnished, toxin-free Brazilian cherry wood. Begley stands next to the siding sheet of a cabinet, made of compressed wood. He fingers the surface and asks Shaw, the designer, “Is it possible that an old copy of the L.A. Weekly that I’ve read has been recycled in this board?”
Shaw replies, quick on the draw, “It’s possible there’s more than one.”
Then Begley’s cell phone rings and he answers in a secretive voice, “I can’t talk right now. I’m with her right now.”
Shortly after, they stage a scene of Begley and Carson walking into the house to check on its progress with the new owners, Hala and Paul. They praise the energy-efficient appliances and low-flow toilets, the recycled glass fixtures and a counter top made of recycled bottles. Paul is a tall guy with thick dreds. Hala carries a newborn engufled in a wrap-around.
“Do you want to talk about the hemp diapers?” Hala asks.
Last month in Spain, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the United Nations/World Meteorological Organization research group that won a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore earlier this month) released its fourth set of findings, which concluded that global warming was an inarguable phenomenon (a point that’s even been reluctantly conceded by the White House), and that the burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible for the climate changes being measured worldwide. But Begley didn’t need Al Gore or reports from the IPCC to spur him to action. The actor has been promoting alternative energy sources for more than three decades, only to be ridiculed by the usual slew of conservative pundits, who have worked double shifts to discredit him. During California’s 2000 energy crisis, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly angrily accused Begley and other environmentalists of seeking to shut down power plants in the state. (Fox, of course, has never uttered a syllable questioning actor Charlton Heston’s feverish pitches for the gun lobby.)
But nobody can say that Begley, 57, hasn’t put his money where his mouth is. Solar panels generate all the heat and electricity for his Studio City home and his electric car. A picket fence, made of recycled plastic, embraces a yard filled with fruit trees and vegetables. Sitting in his insulated home with hardwood floors and the comfy feel of a large cottage, Begley sips coffee as he counters arguments that try to cast his ideas as impractical.
The son of a conservative, the Oscar-winning actor Ed Begley Sr., Begley Jr. grew up in Los Angeles and attributes his political awakening to the influence in 1967 of a high school teacher, Jerry Aranow, who had his class read from Atlas, a publication of World Press Review. That’s when Begley got a primer in what was really happening in Vietnam from the perspectives of foreign journalists. Three years later, in 1970, he bought his first electric car. Throughout the ’70s, he appeared on most of the decade’s major TV shows, including Room 222, Mannix, Maude, Ironside, Adam-12, Happy Days, Baretta and Love, American Style. In the ’80s he was a core member of the groundbreaking St. Elsewhere cast and became known for showing up at high-profile Hollywood events on a bicycle. He says people didn’t so much ridicule him then as express amazement that he’d cycled all the way from the Valley. Begley’s political disagreements with his father, he says, remained soft-spoken.
“People were [later] so derisive – O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh. But now that we’re looking at $4 a gallon for gas, it doesn’t look so crazy. My investment in a wind farm doesn’t look so crazy. Of course, all these things I did for the environment are good for the economy, because they’re good for my economy.”
The eco-friendly household cleaner that he markets, Begley’s Best, is also good for his economy. In developing the product, as well as his sustainable lifestyle, Begley figured he was creating a cushion for when Hollywood stopped calling. Roles started diminishing in his 30s, he says, and even more in his 40s. He can’t explain why, but now that he’s in his 50s, he’s been busier than ever on film and TV.
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