Historically Speaking: Circus clown, war hero and film star Eddie Albert
Edward Albert Heimberger had a rather long name but his resume was much longer: businessman, insurance salesman, nightclub singer, circus performer, U.S. Army intelligence agent, pioneer television star, Hollywood character actor, environmental activist, and World War II decorated naval hero.
Better known to television and movies audiences as Eddie Albert, he was born April 22, 1906, in Rock Island, Ill. He was nominated twice for Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his roles in “Roman Holiday” in 1954 and “The Heartbreak Kid” in 1973 and gave notable performances in several other movies.
He also appeared in some 90 television productions, probably the most-remembered being “Green Acres” with Eva Gabor.
Before World War II, Albert gathered information for U.S. Army intelligence by photographing German submarines moored in Mexican harbors while working as a clown and high-wire artist with a circus touring Mexico.
He became an officer in the U.S. Navy after enlisting in Sept. 9, 1942. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for his heroism during the 1943 invasion of Tarawa in the Pacific Ocean when, as commander of a landing craft, he rescued 77 Marines under heavy enemy fire stranded offshore.
As a teenager, he attended Central High School in Minneapolis and joined the drama club with schoolmate Harriette Lake, who gained movie stardom as Ann Sothern. They graduated in the class of 1926 and Albert enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he majored in business.
He planned a career in business but the stock-market crash of 1929 left him unemployed.
During this period, he stopped using his last name, because it invariably was mispronounced as Hamburger. He moved to New York City in 1933, where he co-hosted a radio show and became a television pioneer. He wrote and performed live in RCA’s first teleplay, “The Love Nest,” which aired Nov. 6, 1936. That same year, he was offered a film contract by Warner Brothers.
His feature-film debut was in the 1938 Hollywood version of Broadway’s “Brother Rat” with Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, in which he reprised his theatre role of “Bing” Edwards, one of three cadets at Virginia Military Institute. Back on Broadway, he starred in such hit shows such as “The Seven Year Itch” (1952 to 1955) and “The Music Man.”
In 1965, his television show with Gabor as his spoiled urbanite wife became an immediate hit. Ten years later, he starred in “Switch,” a popular crime drama in which he played Frank McBride, a retired police officer who goes to work as a private detective.
In his personal life, he married Mexican actress Margo Maria Castilla in 1945. She died of brain cancer in 1980.
Their son, Edward Jr. was born in 1951 and grew up to become an actor. The couple adopted a daughter, Maria, who became her father’s business manager.
In his final years, Albert suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Edward Jr. put his acting career on hold to care for his father, who died of pneumonia in 2005 at the age of 99.
Edward Jr. died of lung cancer a year after his father. He was 55.
Mature Life Features