LOS ANGELES — Eddie Albert was a versatile actor who moved smoothly from the Broadway stage to movies, but he found stardom as the constantly befuddled city slicker-turned-farmer in television’s “Green Acres.”
Albert died of pneumonia Thursday at his home in the Pacific Palisades area, in the presence of caregivers including his son Edward, who was holding his hand at the time.
“He died so beautifully and so gracefully that literally this morning I don’t feel grief, I don’t feel loss,” Edward Albert told The Associated Press.
On “Green Acres,” Albert played Oliver Douglas, a New York lawyer who settles in a rural town with his glamorous wife, played by Eva Gabor, and finds himself perplexed by the antics of a host of eccentrics, including a pig named Arnold Ziffel.
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He was nominated for Academy Awards as supporting actor in “Roman Holiday” (1953) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972).
Besides the 1965-1971 run in “Green Acres,” he costarred on TV with Robert Wagner in “Switch” from 1975 to 1978 and was a semi-regular on “Falcon Crest” in 1988.
He was a tireless conservationist, crusading for endangered species, healthful food, cleanup of Santa Monica Bay pollution and other causes.
Albert’s mother was not married when he was born, in 1906. After marrying, she changed his birth certificate to read 1908, the younger Albert said.
Rarely the star of films, Albert often portrayed the wisecracking sidekick, fast-talking salesman or sympathetic father. His stardom came in television, especially with “Green Acres,” in which, ironically, he played straight man. The show joined “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and other high-rated CBS comedies of the 1960s and ’70s.
“Some people think that because of the bucolic background ‘Green Acres’ is corny,” Albert told an interviewer in 1970. “But we get away with some of the most incredible lines on television.”
His break in show business came during the ’30s in the Broadway hit “Brother Rat,” a comedy about life at Virginia Military Institute. Warner Bros. signed him to a contract and cast him in the 1938 film.
According to Hollywood gossip, he was caught in a dalliance with the wife of Jack L. Warner and the studio boss removed him from a film and allowed him to languish under contract.
The actor left Hollywood and appeared as a clown and trapeze artist in a one-ring Mexican circus. He escaped his studio contract by joining the Navy in World War II and served in combat in the South Pacific. He received a Bronze Star for his heroic rescue of wounded Marines at Tarawa, his son said.
Albert managed to rehabilitate his film career after the war, beginning with “Smash-up” with Susan Hayward in 1947.
Among his other films: “Carrie,” “Oklahoma!” “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “The Roots of Heaven,” “The Longest Day,” “Miracle of the White Stallions,” “The Longest Yard” and “Escape to Witch Mountain.”
Edward Albert Heimberger was born in Rock Island, Ill., grew up in Minneapolis and worked his way through two years at the University of Minnesota.
Amateur theater led to singing engagements in nightclubs and on radio. During that time he dropped his last name “because most people mispronounced it as ’Hamburger.”’
Moving to New York, Albert acted on radio and appeared in summer stock before he broke into Broadway and the movies.
“Green Acres” made Albert a rich man and allowed him to pursue his causes. He established Plaza de la Raza, a foundation in East Los Angeles that teaches arts to poor Hispanics.
He helped Dr. Albert Schweitzer combat famine in Africa. He traveled the world for UNICEF. Concerned about seeing fewer pelicans on beaches where he was jogging, he went with ecologists and his son on a trip to Anacapa Island.
“We discovered that in every nest all the eggs were crushed, and nobody knew why,” the younger Albert said. “They took samples and tested them, and found DDT in all the eggs. ... An entire generation of species was being wiped out.”
Albert began speaking about the harmful effects of the pesticide at universities around the country, and in 1972 the federal government banned DDT.
He continued acting into his 80s, often appearing in television movies.
“Acting was a tenth of his life. The majority of his life was committed to helping other people,” said his son, also an actor. “This guy was, from the absolute depth of his soul, one of the true heroes of our world.”
Edward Albert, 54, who became a prominent actor in “Butterflies Are Free,” “40 Carats” and other films, said he put his career on hold for the past eight years to aid his father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
On Friday, he remembered a moment several years ago in which the two sat in a garden together.
“I said to him ’You’re my hero.’ I saw him struggling to put together the words, and he looked at me and said: ’You’re your hero’s hero.’ I’ll take that to my ... grave.”
Albert was married to the dancer-actress Margo for 40 years until her death in 1985. In addition to his son, Albert is survived by a daughter, Maria Albert Zucht, and two granddaughters.
A private funeral was planned.
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