Saturday, May 28, 2005

Eddie Albert 1906-2005

Eddie Albert passed away of pneumonia on Thursday, a few weeks after his 99th birthday, in was announced on Friday evening. According to his son Edward Albert, Eddie Albert had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for the past 10 years.

Eddie Albert's life was an eventful one, both inside show business and outside of it. Before World War II he provided intelligence information on German activities in Mexico while working for the Escalante Brothers Circus as a trapeze artist. During World War II he served in the US Navy as a beachmaster and salvage expert. During the Tarawa landings he rescued a number of wounded soldiers from the beaches in the small unarmoured boat he was provided with for salvage operations. For this he was awarded the Bronze Star. He was later assigned to a unit making training films and after the war he took this experience and used it to form a company producing educational films. He was involved as an activist for a number of causes, notably malnutrition - he travelled to the Congo to discuss the issue with Albert Schweitzer in the 1950s - and refugees. However he is most readily identified with the environmental movement. He became an activist in publicising the effects of DDT which led to the eventual ban on its use in the United States. He was also involved in conservation activities, being the chairman of the Boy Scouts of America's tree planting and conservation programs.

Eddie Albert's career in t he entertainment industry began in the 1930s. He started as a singer in night clubs and on the radio. Indeed he dropped his family name - Heimberger - because radio announcers constantly mispronounced it as "Hamburger". He later appeared on Broadway starring in Brother Rat. When the play was made into a movie he was brought to Hollywood to appear in it, and the sequel Brother Rat and a Baby, opposite Ronald Reagan. He went back to Broadway from time to time, including replacing Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. In his Hollywood career he appeared in over 100 theatrical and TV movies. Among his most important roles were Roman Holiday in 1953 and The Heartbreak Kid in 1972. He earned Oscar nominations for both roles. Other major roles included Ali Hakim in the movie version of Oklahoma, the cowardly officer in Attack!, and the prison warden in the original version of The Longest Yard, a character he reportedly modelled on Richard Nixon. Robert Aldrich, the director of The Longest Yard as well as Attack said of him, "There's no actor working today who can be as truly malignant as Eddie Albert. He plays heavies exactly the way they are in real life. Slick and sophisticated." He was also a veteran television performer. In fact his first television performance occurred in 1936 when he participated in the first private TV broadcast by NBC to its radio licensees in New York. He made a number of guest appearances on dramatic anthology series such as Studio One in the 1950s and was active in TV movies and miniseries as late as 1995 (and did voice work for animated series as late as 1997).

Eddie Albert is best remembered for one series of course and that is Green Acres. He had rejected a number of other series - notably Father Knows Best - the role of Oliver Wendell Douglas, the Wall Street lawyer who decided to escape the rat race by becoming a farmer, appealed to the man who turned his front lawn into a cornfield and grew his own vegetables in a backyard greenhouse. At the time the series was regarded as just another rural comedy on a network which was famous (or infamous, depending on what you thought of the shows) for rural comedies. Today it is regarded as gem of surrealist comedy. Douglas might have seemed sane but in the context of the community where he lived - where pigs were treated as children and the show credits were sometimes read by the characters - he was the odd man out. Even though he did several other TV series including Falcon Crest, General Hospital and Switch (I used the only picture I could find online related to that series), it is Green Acresfor which he is and probably always will be remembered.

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