Edward Albert Heimberger
Born 22 April, 1906
Rock Island, IL
Died 23 May, 2005
(excerpted from the book Minnesotans in the Movies, generously provided by author Rolf Canton and Nodin Press.)
Eddie Albert grew up in the Clinton and Franklin Avenue neighborhood of South Minneapolis. As a youth he attended St. Stephen's parochial school and was an altar boy at St. Stephens Church. He earned money delivering newspapers for ten years, and then took a job at a soda fountain which ran from six in the evening until one in the morning.
Eddie graduated in 1926 from Minneapolis Central High School, where he appeared in the plays Dorothy and A Kiss for Cinderella. This jingle accompanied his senior class picture: "Were all the world a stage, then every girl would plan-to be the leading lady, were he the leading man." During the summers Eddie would stay with his aunt and uncle in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where he befriended future actor Frank Albertson.
Albert moved on to a three-year stint at the University of Minnesota. During those years he washed dishes and also worked as a movie house usher. One thing led to another, and before long he was an assistant manager at the Grand movie house, a manager of the Lyndale Theater a half block north of Lake Street (now an antique store), and manager for the Paramount Publix movie house. "They found out I could pull bum theaters out of the red," he later remarked. One of his duties as manager was to be Master of Ceremonies, and the magic show he developed was his first real stage experience. The public always liked it. The theater was "calling him" and after three years Eddie left the University behind to go into show business, becoming a "song, dance and patter man" with a trio for a Minneapolis radio station. When the radio announcer repeatedly referred to him as Hamburger instead of Heimberger, he decided to change his name to Eddie Albert. The trio eventually toured to Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York before breaking up. NBC was looking for a singing team at the time, and Albert auditioned as a duo with Grace Bradt. They won the spot and were heard every morning at eleven as Grace and Eddie-The Honey-mooners. After a stink playing summer stock theater Eddie appeared in his first Broadway play, O Evening Star.
One day writer Garson Kanin was a guest on Eddie's radio show. Kanin invited Eddie to appear in the Broadway production of Brother Rat in 1936 as Bing Edwards. He followed this with appearing in producer/director George Abbott's Room Service. Another promising young actor named Hume Cronyn joined Eddie in that cast. This great success led to Warner Brothers asking him to reprise his role of Bing Edwards in his 1938 movie debut of Brother Rat, which brought him together with President-to-be Ronald Reagan and Reagan's wife-to-be, Jane Wyman. After the filming of this debut, he rushed to New York to appear in the musical comedy version of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. His take on the West Coast scene at the time was that "in Hollywood stars are too busy trying to be a success to spend much time learning how to act."
Albert returned briefly to Broadway to appear in The Boys from Syracuse, another great success, but Hollywood called again and he quickly churned out three more films, Four Wives, Angel from Texas, and Dispatch from Reuters. By this time he was making a thousand dollars a week.
Yet Hollywood acting made Eddie restless, and he began to take long sailing trips into the Pacific in a boat that had been specially fitted for solo travel. After another picture for Warner Brothers, he went to Mexico to join the Escalante Brothers' Circus as a trapeze aerial artist. During his sailing trips he had noticed Japanese fishermen were making hydrographic surveys of the coast line, and while in Mexico he also noticed some strange goings on, all of which he later reported to Army intelligence. In July of 1942 he actually joined the Navy, and after a stint at Cornell Officer's Training School, he was assigned to the amphibious transport, U.S.S. Sheridan, and saw action in the South Pacific.
During the first landings on the island of Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, Albert commanded a salvage boat. It was a brutal assault, and American troops suffered heavy casualties. The beach was covered with dead and wounded, and many wounded Marines were still being picked off by sniper fire when Lieutenant Heimberger arrived to rescue them and bring them to safety. He made three trips, during which his vessel absorbed about a hundred bullets. Then, on his own initiative, Albert commandeered a second boat and made two more trips into the brunt of enemy fire.
Tarawa was one of the bloodiest battles of Marine Corps history. Eddie was awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for rescuing seventy marines in twenty-six missions, all of which were under enemy fire.
(In 1944 an Oscar for Best Documentary of Short Subjects was awarded to the U. S. Marine Corps for With the Marines at Tarawa.)
In January of 1944 Albert was recalled to the States to make training films. He was finally discharged on December 7, 1945, whereupon he formed the Eddie Albert Productions, a film company dedicated to making educational films. He had to make five regular movies in order to amass the $200,000 start-up capital to finance the operation. By 1951 he had completed fourteen twenty-minute 16mm films. The best known is Human Growth, a sex-education movie aimed at eleven-year-olds, made in collaboration with the University of Oregon.
Yet Eddie's new-found passion for educational films hardly put a dent in his acting career. He continued to appear in commercial films, including The Perfect Marriage; Time out of Mind; Smashup: The Story of a Woman; Hit Parade of 1947; You Gotta Stay Happy, in which he co-starred with Jimmy Stewart; and The Dude Goes West. He returned to Broadway to be the leading man in Miss Liberty, which ran for 308 performances. In 1950 he was back in Hollywood, co-starring with Lucille Ball in Columbia Picture's The Fuller Brush Girl. He appeared with Betty Grable in Meet Me after the Show, and with Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones in Carrie. In Roman Holiday (1953) Eddie received an Oscar nomination for the Best Supporting Actor. That movie starred Gregory Peck and introduced Audrey Hepburn to the world.
Eddie Albert was outstanding as the Persian peddler, Ali Hakam, in Oklahoma (1955). He was great in support of Frank Sinatra in The Joker Is Wild; of Errol Flynn in The Sun Also Rises (1957); and of Flynn and, Trevor Howard in The Roots of Heaven (1958). He was in Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) with Marlon Brando. In 1959 he appeared with Gregory Peck, Deborah Kerr and Minneapolis' own Karin Booth in Beloved Infidel, a retelling of the difficulties experienced by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald adjusting to Hollywood.
The list goes on. He was in Captain Newman, MD supported by Mike Farrell, a Saint Paulite of M*A*S*H* fame. He received his second Oscar nomination as Cybill Shepherd's father in The Heartbreak Kid, a 1972 film made mostly in the Twin Cities. He appeared in Foolin' Around (1978) and in Take This Job and Shove It (1980), both Minnesota-made films.
Many younger folk may recognize Eddie Albert as Oliver Wendell Douglas in the hit TV series Green Acres, which ran from 1965 to 1968. This delightful farce was a spin-off of the even more popular show Petticoat Junction, which ran from 1963 to 1971. In Green Acres, a family of rich city-dwellers moves to the country to do some farming. They aren't very well equipped for the task, needless to say, and herein lies the humor. There is plenty of head-shaking and skull-scratching by the local townspeople, and the conflicts and confusion that arise between Albert and his sophisticated wife, played by Hungarian beauty Eva Gabor, adds to the fun.
Eddie married Mexican-born Margo on December 5th, 1945, at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Margo died on July 17th, 1985. They appeared together in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955). They had one child, Edward, born February 20, 1951. Eddie Senior enjoyed singing, he played the piano, violin and guitar, and collected first editions. He painted in oils and was an ardent physical culturist, which may explain why he lived to be ninety-nine. He was also an avid reader and especially loved the works of George Bernard Shaw.
In his later years Eddie became an avid environmentalist, and he was among the first celebrities to lend his considerable influence to the crusade to ban DDT. Because of his efforts in behalf of this and other environmental issues, his birthday, April 22, was chosen as the annual holiday Earth Day.