An Actor Who Was The Unlikeliest of Heroes
By Tom Morrow
One of Hollywood’s venerable stars, who was featured in dozens of movies, television and radio shows was a highly-decorated U.S. Naval officer during World War II.
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.
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. 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.
On Sept. 9, 1942, Albert enlisted in the United States Navy and became a commissioned 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.
After the war, Albert 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 on Broadway 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, in 1945, Albert married Mexican actress Margo María Castilla. 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. In 1980, Margo Albert died from brain cancer.
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.
MORE STARS – The entertainment industry contributed big during World War II, from producing military training films to making propaganda films. But, more importantly, some popular actors put on a uniform to serve in a variety of ways:
James Stewart, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, William Holden, George Gobel, Gene Autry, U.S. Army Air Corps. Charles Durning, Mel Brooks, Hugh Martin, Audie Murphy, George Stevens, William Wyler, U.S. Army. Victor Mature, U.S. Coast Guard; Henry Fonda, Robert Montgomery, John Ford, Johnny Carson, U.S. Navy. David Niven, British Royal Army; Ian Fleming, Leslie Howard, British Secret Service. Tyrone Power, Lee Marvin, Ed McMahon, George C. Scott, Brian Keith, Gene Hackman, U.S. Marine Corps. Sterling Hayden began in the U.S. Marine Corps, but was transferred to be an agent in the OSS, (forerunner of the CIA).
James Stewart, a highly-decorated Army Air Corps B-24 pilot, stayed in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, retiring as a Major General.
Lew Ayers, a conscientious objector, served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He was awarded three combat battle stars. And, many of the other Hollywood actors as well were awarded Bronze Stars combat ribbons, along with a few Purple Hearts.
Audie Murphy was the highest and most decorated serviceman in all branches of the U.S. military during WWII. He didn’t become an actor until after the War.
Bob Hope and hundreds of other USO members and entertainers went to all areas of combat throughout the world to entertain the troops from 1942 through 1945. That period was the last time so much of the acting world was united in War efforts.