Eddie Albert: Green Acres, Roman Holiday Actor has died at age 99
Eddie Albert, a two-time Academy Award nominee and the star of the long-running television series Green Acres, died of pneumonia at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Pacific Palisades on May 26. Albert was 99. (Image: Green Acres Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor.)
Albert was featured in more than 70 movies from the late ’30s to the late ’80s. Among those were the army comedy Brother Rat (1938), with Wayne Morris and Priscilla Lane; My Love Came Back (1940) with Olivia de Havilland; The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) with Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford; The Sun Also Rises (1957) with Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner; and Robert Aldrich’s prison comedy-drama The Longest Yard (1974), in which Albert played a vicious, conniving warden reportedly inspired by disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon.
Eddie Albert was nominated for two Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards: Roman Holiday (1953), in which he was Gregory Peck’s sidekick, and The Heartbreak Kid (1972), as the irascible father of bride Cybill Shepherd.
Albert also had a successful television career. Besides acting in more than twenty made-for-TV movies and several miniseries, he starred in two hit shows: Green Acres with Eva Gabor and Switch with Robert Wagner. In Green Acres, Albert played his most popular character, Oliver Douglas, the befuddled New York attorney who moves with his chic and glamorous wife (Gabor) to a rural community called Hooterville.
Eddie Albert bio
According to his son, actor Edward Albert Jr., Eddie Albert Heimberger was born out of wedlock on April 22, 1906, in Rock Island, Ill. After getting married, his mother changed his birth certificate to read 1908, which explains why the latter date is the one found in references about him. Raised in Minneapolis, Albert studied drama at the University of Minnesota for two years before embarking on a show business career.
Following stints in amateur theater, magic shows, and singing engagements in nightclubs and on radio, Albert – who dropped his surname because people mispronounced it as “hamburger” – worked in summer stock and later on Broadway.
He gained recognition with the 1936 George Abbott production of Fred F. Finklehoffe and John Monks Jr’s Broadway hit Brother Rat, a comedy about the misadventures of three friends at the Virginia Military Institute. Also on Broadway, Albert played in Abbott’s comedy Room Service (1937) and in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical The Boys from Syracuse (1938).
When Warner Bros. bought the rights to Brother Rat, they brought Albert along for a secondary role in the 1938 film version. Starring several up-and-coming WB performers – Wayne Morris, Priscilla Lane, Jane Bryan, Ronald Reagan, and Jane Wyman – the comedy was quite popular, leading to a sequel with the same cast, Brother Rat and a Baby, two years later.
Although Warners cast Eddie Albert in no less than six 1941 releases, his film career failed to take off. He spent some time in Mexico, working in a one-ring touring circus as an aerialist and clown while reportedly gathering intelligence for the United States Army about Nazi activities in that country. He eventually enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, receiving a Bronze Star for his rescue of wounded Marines at Tarawa in the South Pacific. During his time with the Navy, Albert also took part in that institution’s training films branch.
Eddie Albert Movies: Post-War Hollywood
After the war, Albert launched Eddie Albert Productions, which made 16-millimeter industrial and educational films, the most controversial of which, Human Growth and Human Beginnings, were sex-education films for 11-year-olds and 6-year-olds respectively. (Image: Eddie Albert publicity shot ca. 1950.)
Upon his return to Hollywood proper, Albert found himself “utterly forgotten, and rightly so.” Even so, he managed to successfully freelance at various studios. But if jobs were relatively plentiful, good parts and good movies were rare.
Besides William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, among the few important films he made in the ensuing decade were Carrie (1952), also directed by Wyler, and starring Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones; Oklahoma! (1955), Fred Zinnemann’s popular rendition of the hit Broadway musical; and Robert Aldrich’s well-respected Attack (1956), a war drama in which Albert played an ambitious and cowardly captain. (“There’s no actor working today who can be as truly malignant as Eddie Albert,” Aldrich told TV Guide in 1975, referring to Albert’s nasty warden in The Longest Yard. “He plays heavies exactly the way they are in real life. Slick and sophisticated.”)
Back on the stage, Albert replaced Robert Preston in The Music Man in 1960.
Eddie Albert on television: Green Acres, Switch
But from the mid-’50s onwards, Eddie Albert’s professional focus lay on television. He appeared in a number of shows including live dramas for Playhouse 90, Studio One, and the General Electric Theater, in addition to the variety series Nothing But the Best and Saturday Night Revue. In the early ’50s, he also starred in the short-lived family situation comedy Leave It to Larry.
Albert reached the peak of his popularity in the mid-to-late ’60s: as Oliver Wendell Douglas in Green Acres, which ran from 1965 to 1971. (Curiously, neither Albert nor co-star Eva Gabor was ever nominated for an Emmy for their work in the series.) Nearly two decades later, Albert reprised his old role in the 1990 made-for-TV movie Return to Green Acres.
In 1970, Albert remarked to an interviewer that “some people think that because of the bucolic background Green Acres is corny, but we get away with some of the most incredible lines on television.” Nearly two decades later, he became a semi-regular in another series with “some of the most incredible lines on television,” the anything-but-bucolic Falcon Crest.
Another Eddie Albert TV hit was Switch, which featured Albert as an ex-cop and Robert Wagner as an ex-con working together as private detectives. Switch ran 1975-1978.
Eddie Albert and the environment, Margo
Aside from acting, Albert was dedicated to environmentalist and humanitarian causes in the United States and abroad, traveling the world for UNICEF and other agencies. As he explained in a 1970 TV Guide interview, Albert preferred not to be called an “ecologist,” for “with our soil impoverished, our air poisoned, our wildlife crippled by DDT, our rivers and lakes turning into giant cesspools, and mass starvation an apparent inevitability by 1976, I call myself a human survivalist!” Also in 1970, on his birthday – April 22 – he assisted in the festivities of the first Earth Day.
In 1945, Eddie Albert married Mexican-born actress Margo, best known as the woman who ages rather rapidly in the 1937 version of Lost Horizon. The marriage lasted until her death, of brain cancer, in 1985. Albert and Margo both had roles in the melodrama I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), which starred Susan Hayward, and in the comedy Who’s Got the Action? (1962), starring Dean Martin and Lana Turner. They also performed in a successful nightclub act in 1954.
Both were committed to assisting the Hispanic population of Southern California, helping in the founding of Plaza de la Raza, a community arts center in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles that has been in operation since 1970.
In the last several years of his life, Eddie Albert suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, though he remained physically active. His son acted as his primary caregiver.
Green Acres Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor picture: CBS.