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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: An Unlikely Hero

By Tom Morrow

Edward Albert Heimberger had a very long resume that included being a businessman, insurance salesman, nightclub singer, circus performer, Army intelligence agent, pioneer television star, Hollywood character actor, environmental activist, and World War II decorated Naval hero.

Better known in TV and movies audiences as Eddie Albert, he was born April 22, 1906, in Rock Island, Ill. He was nominated twice for Best Supporting Actor (Roman Holiday, 1954; The Heartbreak Kid, 1973), and appeared in some 90 television productions. Among his many top film performances include “Brother Rat,” “Oklahoma,” “Captain Newman, M.D.”and “The Longest Yard.”

Prior to the War, Albert had toured Mexico working as a clown and high-wire artist with a Circus, but secretly, he worked for U.S. Army intelligence, photographing German U-boats moored in Mexican harbors.

On Sept. 9, 1942, Albert enlisted in the United States Navy and became an officer. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for his heroism during the 1943 invasion of Tarawa. As commander of a landing craft, Albert, under heavy enemy fire, rescued 77 Marines stranded offshore.

As a teenager, he went to Central High School in Minneapolis and joined the drama club with schoolmate Harriette Lake (later known as actress Ann Sothern). They graduated in the class of 1926. Then Albert entered the University of Minnesota, where he majored in business. After graduation, he embarked on a business career, but the stock market crash in 1929, left him unemployed. Albert stopped using his last name since it invariably was mispronounced as “Hamburger.” He moved to New York City in 1933, where he co-hosted a radio show. After the show’s three-year run, Albert was offered a film contract by Warner Bros.

Eddie Albert became one of the earliest television actors, performing live in one of RCA’s first television broadcasts. Albert wrote and performed in the very first teleplay, The Love Nest, which was aired “live” on Nov. 6, 1936.

In 1938, he made his feature film debut in the Hollywood version of “Brother Rat” with Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, reprising his Broadway role of “Bing” Edwards. Then, he starred in “On Your Toes.” Back on Broadway he did hit shows such as “The Seven Year Itch” (1952–1955) and in 1960 Albert replaced Robert Preston in “The Music Man.”

In 1965, Albert starred in “Green Acres,” co-starring Eva Gabor as his urbanite, spoiled wife. The show was an immediate hit. Then, in 1975, Albert starred in the popular crime drama “Switch” as a retired police officer, Frank McBride, who goes to work as a private detective.

In his personal life, Albert married Mexican actress Margo María Castilla in 1945. They had a son, Edward Jr., in 1951, who also became an actor. They adopted a daughter, Maria, who became her father’s business manager. Margo Albert died from brain cancer in 1980.

In his final years, Albert suffered from Alzheimer’s. Edward Jr., put his acting career on hold to care for his father. Albert senior died of pneumonia in 2005 at the age of 99. He is interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, next to his late wife and close to his Green Acres co-star Eva Gabor. Edward Jr. died a year after his father, suffering from lung cancer. He was 55.


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