Tuesday, May 31, 2005


This has been an incredibly sad two weeks for Classic Television.....

Frank Gorshin (The Riddler)
Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass)
Henry Corden (Fred Flintstone)
Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger)
and on the distaff side,
Elisabeth Fraser (Sgt. Joan Hogan of 'Bilko')

And now we've lost Eddie Albert, most famous in Toobworld for playing Oliver Wendell Douglas on 'Green Acres'.

There's a morbid sense of timing to his passing - not only was it on the eve of the premiere of the remake of 'The Longest Yard' in which he played sadistic Warden Hazen, but also a few days before the announcement of the June inductee into the Crossover Hall of Fame, who happens to be one of his co-stars in 'Green Acres'.....

Two other roles for which he was known in TV Land are Frank McBride, the former bunco cop turned private eye in 'Switch', and Larry Tucker in a little known sitcom from the fifties entitled 'Leave It To Larry'. (I think it's primarily known nowadays as perhaps being the inspiration for the title for a more famous sitcom, 'Leave It To Beaver'.)

I found this information in the IMDb.com, written by "

"Eddie Albert's television career is the earliest of any other performer. It began years before electronic television was introduced to the public.

In June of 1936 Eddie appeared in RCA/NBC's first private live performance for their radio licensees in New York City. This was [a] very early experimental all-electronic television system. His co-star was Grace Brandt.

Due to the primitive nature of these early cameras it was necessary for him to apply heavy make-up and endure tremendous heat from studio lighting. The basic makeup was green toned with purple lipstick for optimal image transmission by RCA's iconoscope pick up cameras.

Since television was experimental, Eddie applied his own make-up and even wrote the script for this performance."

"Eddie Albert had an easy-going, friendly, guy-next-door appeal, and it translated perfectly to television," said Ron Simon, curator of television at the Museum of Radio and Television in New York. "His personality was exactly the sort of laid-back charm that is necessary to succeed in television for a long time."

Indeed, Albert not only starred in his own TV series in three different decades -- the '50s, '60s and '70s -- he hosted two variety shows and a game show in the early '50s and frequently showed up through the years as a guest star in comedy and drama series, as well as variety shows.

"His versatility and likability," Simon said, "were his major emblems on television."

Albert, who had made his television debut in 1948, appeared in numerous live dramatic showcases throughout the 1950s such as 'Playhouse 90,"Studio One' and 'General Electric Theater'.

In 1952, he starred in a short-lived family situation comedy for CBS-TV, 'Leave It to Larry'.

He later hosted a live musical variety series, 'Nothing But the Best', hosted and sang, and danced and acted in another live NBC variety series, 'Saturday Night Revue', and hosted a CBS game show, 'On Your Account'.

According to Dennis McLellan (who wrote the obituary for the Los Angeles Times), Eddie Albert was particularly memorable when he turned his good-guy screen image on its head.

"There's no actor working today who can be as truly malignant as Eddie Albert," director Robert Aldrich told TV Guide in 1975. "He plays heavies exactly the way they are in real life. Slick and sophisticated."

He was referring to "The Longest Yard," starring Burt Reynolds, in which Mr. Albert played the sadistic prison warden. But in Toobworld, my thoughts go right away to his portrayal of General Martin Hollister in the 'Columbo' episode "Dead Weight". His murderer was one of the more hardened and ruthless killers faced by the Lieutenant, and one of the few who never fell for Columbo's charm.

Of course, he is best remembered for 'Green Acres', which aired on CBS from 1965 to 1971 and continues to have an afterlife on cable TV. In it, Albert played Oliver Wendell Douglas, the successful New York lawyer who satisfies his longing to get closer to nature by giving up his law practice and buying -- sight-unseen -- a rundown 160-acre farm near the fictional town of Hooterville. (Eva Gabor co-starred as his malaprop-dropping socialite wife, Lisa.)

A spin-off of 'Petticoat Junction', 'Green Acres' featured a zany cast of hayseed characters, including Mr. Haney (Pat Buttram), the con man who sold the tumbledown farm to the big-city couple.

Albert previously had turned down series offers, including 'My Three Sons' and 'Mister Ed', unwilling to forgo his movie career for a medium he felt was "geared to mediocrity."

But then his agent told him the concept of the proposed CBS comedy series: a city slicker comes to the country to escape the aggravations of city living.

"I said, 'Swell; that's me. Everyone gets tired of the rat race. Everyone would like to chuck it all and grow some carrots. It's basic. Sign me,' " Albert told TV Guide. "I knew it would be successful. Had to be. 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."

But Mr. Albert had a presence in Toobworld as himself besides those of his various characters. Back in the early 1970s, he and Rock Hudson were being stalked by a crazy woman who bore something of a resemblance to Lucille Carter. So Mr. Albert took precautions to protect himself and wouldn't you know it? - 'Here's Lucy' coming along to pester him into appearing in a charity show.

Near the end of the 20th Century, Mr. Albert Zonked himself by meeting with the star of 'The Jackie Thomas Show' for an ill-conceived tribute to 'Green Acres' (including an appearance with the original Arnold Ziffel, who allegedly was now a ginormous porker nearly as tall as Albert himself!) It was Jackie Thomas' plan to get a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame for Arnold Ziffel, but Eddie Albert thought he was nuts and wouldn't help out.

Back in 1963, Mr. Albert's real life and reel life converged on a show called "Hollywood Without Makeup" in which home movies of the stars were broadcast by Ken Murray. In one episode, archival footage of Eddie Albert with Dr. Albert Schweitzer was shown.

And it is his real life that would make for a great film treatment. When asked by Kira Albin in the late 1980s about which acting accomplishment he was most proud of, he rolled the word "proud" around in his mouth like a foreign object and mumbled it several times before answering.

"I don't think I'm proud of anything in acting. I was not really as good as I should have been. And singing" -Albert laughed - "I always thought I was a singer, but I really am not."

He decided his time in action during World War II would be his proudest undertaking.

In the years before America entered the war, Albert was in Mexico with the Escalante Brothers' Circus, playing the clown and doing a high wire act. (Rumor has it that he had been caught in an affair with the wife of the studio boss who punished Albert by keeping him under contract but not giving him any work in the movies.)

While there in Mexico, he photographed German U-boat activity as an "amateur spy" for Army intelligence. Once enlisted, he served as a lieutenant and was part of the first wave of Marines at Tarawa, witnessing unspeakable atrocities and saving some of the other Marines who were pinned down by a triple cross-fire.

In the late 1960s, Albert's attention turned to ecology. He did extensive reading on the subject as well as talking to experts in the field.

In 1969, he accompanied a molecular biologist from the University of California, Berkeley, to Anacapa Island off the California coast to observe the nesting of pelicans. What they found were thousands of collapsed pelican eggs.

"The run-off of DDT had been consumed by the fish, the fish had been eaten by the pelicans, whose metabolism had in turn been disturbed so that the lady pelican could no longer manufacture a sturdy shell," Albert told TV Guide in 1970. After learning more about the effects of the pesticide, he said, "I stopped being a conservationist.... I became terrified. The more I studied, the more terrified I got."

Sharing his ecological concerns on the 'Tonight' and 'Today' shows, he became, in the words of a TV Guide reporter, "a kind of ecological Paul Revere." The TV appearances led to speaking engagement requests from high schools, universities, and industrial and religious groups.

I remember when he did a TV commercial for some brand of laundry detergent, only to find out that it ultimately was harmful to the environment. Immediately he severed his connection to the product and turned against it.

I also remember reading somewhere that he invented a bomb-sight as well as the infamous "Dippy Bird" - that annoying Junior Scientist "toy" which demonstrated thermo-dynamics. Several of his obituaries did mention that he was an inventor, but any information I found on the Dippy Bird listed someone else as the patent holder.

At any rate, for all of his work in the Real World and in Toobworld, Eddie Albert will be missed.

"What's the most important thing in the world? It's love, and I look at that as an energy, not a sentiment. It's an energy that holds the whole universe together. And if we understand that and mention it once in a while to the plants, then everything will be fine."
- Eddie Albert


1 comment:

WordsSayNothing said...

If it's true that people die in threes, then given that Toobworld has just suffered five losses, you have to wonder who will soon be next.