Born Edward Albert Heimberger, April 22, 1906, in Rock Island, IL; died of pneumonia, May 26, 2005, in Pacific Palisades, CA. Actor. Eddie Albert is best remembered for his role as the lawyer-turned-farmer on Green Acres, one of the most popular television sitcoms of the 1960s. Though Albert would be indelibly linked to that role, he had a long career in Hollywood and on Broadway, became one of the first entertainment-industry celebrities to voice concern over environmental issues, and was also a decorated war hero. The well-read actor claimed he jumped at the chance to play the hapless Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres, despite his reservations about committing to a television series. "I knew it would be successful," he told an interviewer some years later, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary. "It's about the atavistic urge, and people have been getting a charge out of that ever since Aristophanes wrote about the plebs and the city folk."
Albert was born in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1906, though some sources have cited the date as 1908 instead. His mother had apparently altered his birth certificate, due to the fact that she was not yet married to his father when she became pregnant. Raised in Minneapolis, Albert spent two years at the University of Minnesota before dropping out of school to join a singing group. As one of "The Threesome," he appeared on local radio broadcasts and toured the Midwest before the group went their separate ways.
Heading to New York City in the mid-1930s, Albert found work on an NBC morning radio show, and even appeared in one of the first experimental television broadcasts in the United States when the medium was still in the testing stages. He made his Broadway debut in the short-lived O Evening Star, but went on to a more successful run in Brother Rat, a comedy set at a military academy. He reprised the role for the 1938 film version, and went on to appear in a number of other Hollywood movies before the work suddenly stopped; Albert had reportedly run afoul of his studio boss, Jack Warner, over rumors of an affair between the actor and Warner's wife. To find work he was forced to go to Mexico, where he joined a friend's circus troupe and performed as a clown and trapeze artist.
When America entered World War II in late 1941, Albert enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and saw combat duty in the Pacific theater. He was awarded a Bronze Star for rescuing 142 injured Marines during the three-day Battle of Tarawa. After returning to civilian life, he wed the Mexican-American actor and dancer known as Margo, and continued some of the training-film work he had done during the last year of the war. Eddie Albert Productions, his company, made industrial and educational films, including a few sex-education ones that were considered somewhat controversial in their day.
By the early 1950s, Albert had resumed his film career, and was also working in television. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as Gregory Peck's photographer pal in the Audrey Hepburn movie Roman Holiday in 1953, and also turned in a critically acclaimed performance in the 1956 war drama, Attack. But it was his role as the elite Manhattan lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas in the CBS series Green Acres that earned him enduring fame. The show debuted in 1965 and ran for six seasons. Its storylines centered around Oliver's quest to become a gentleman farmer on a run-down piece of land near the fictional Hooterville. Oliver's extravagantly coiffed, elegantly dressed, and elaborately bejeweled wife Lisa (Eva Gabor), meanwhile, was unwilling to give up her Park-Avenue princess ways, which provided additional comic fodder for each week's episode.
After Green Acres, Albert was nominated for another Academy Award for his part in The Heartbreak Kid, a 1972 Neil Simon comedy, as the on-screen father of Cybill Shepherd. Two years later, he proved once again he could be cast against nice-guy type when he played a sadistic prison warden who torments Burt Reynolds' character in the 1974 box-office hit The Longest Yard. Albert spent the remainder of his career in dozens of guest roles on television and voice-over work, from General Hospital to a 1997 Spider-Man series that aired on Fox Family.
Albert was an outspoken advocate for environmental issues all the way back to the early 1970s, especially along the California coastline. He was also active in a number of humanitarian projects, such as a 1963 United Nations food program called Meals for Millions. Widowed in 1985, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease a decade later, and died at home on May 26, 2005, at the age of 99. He is survived by his son Eddie Albert Jr., also an actor; his daughter Maria Zucht, and two grandchildren. "Acting was one-tenth of his life," his son said, according to E! Online. "The majority of his life was committed to helping other people." Sources: Chicago Tribune, May 28, 2005, sec. 2, p. 11; CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/TV/05/ 27/obit.eddie.albert.ap/index.html (May 31, 2005); Entertainment Weekly, June 10, 2005, p. 25; E! Online News, http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,16652,00.html?tnews (May 31, 2005); Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2005, p. B20; New York Times, May 28, 2005, p. B21; People, June 13, 2005, p. 150; Times (London), May 31, 2005, p. 49; Washington Post, May 28, 2005, p. B6.
— Carol Brennan