It's a sad day here in Hooterville. Our patron saint, Mr. Eddie Albert, died Thursday night at the ripe old age of 99.
Not only was his humorous yet poignant T.V. character Oliver Wendell Douglas on 'Green Acres' the inspiration for this blog, but also an inspiration in real life. He was a humanitarian, a World War II war hero, an environmental activist, and with his wife Margo, taught arts and music to children on L.A.'s Eastside in the late 1940's.
Nominated for 2 Academy Awards for best supporting actor ("Roman Holiday", 1953; "The Heartbreak Kid", 1972), he was a versatile and talented actor, with nearly 100 film credits to his name, and equally at home on stage, screen, television and radio. He was a singer (and replaced Robert Preston in 'The Music Man' on Broadway) and a trapeze artist, with his friends the Escalante Brothers in Mexico (which I know from my own circus experience is no mean feat!). While sailing off Baja California in 1939, he heard rumors of secret submarine fueling stations, and began reporting to Army intelligence that Japanese 'fishermen' were making hydrographic surveys, and reported Nazi activities while working as a circus 'flyer'.
He joined the Navy 7 months after the US joined the war, and saw action in the South Pacific. He was credited with saving scores of Marines from a deadly triple cross-fire during the bloody battle for Tarawa, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star with a combat 'V' (for valor).
He was an avid world traveler, spending time on a deserted island in Nova Scotia, as well as the Mexican wilderness during the 30s. In the 50s, he visited the Congo to discuss malnutrition with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, staying for several months.
In the 60s he became interested in ecology, studying and spending time with experts in the field. He observed first-hand the deadly effects of DDT runoff while visiting Anacapa Island off Ventura County and observing the nesting of pelicans, finding thousands of collapsed pelican eggs.
He became, in the words of a T.V. Guide reporter in 1970, a "kind of ecological Paul Revere", but he did not want to be called an ecologist:
"Ecologist, hell! Too mild a word. Check the Department of Agriculture; 60% of the world is hungry already. With our soil impoverished, our air poisoned, our wildlife crippled by DDT, our rivers and lakes turning into giant cesspools, and mass starvation an apparent inevitability by 1976, I call myself a human survivalist!"
In 1963, he served as a special world envoy for Meals for Millions, providing nutritious, low-cost food to underprivileged people around the world. In 1970, he helped launch the first Earth Day on his birthday, April 22, and four years later he served as a special consultant at the World Hunger Conference in Rome.
His work with East L.A. kids, along with his Mexico City-born wife Margo, helped to create Plaza De La Raza, a well-known community arts center in Lincoln Heights, CA.
He battled Alzheimer's the last 10 years of his life, but was still fit and active, shooting baskets and doing push-ups as recently as last month.
This biographical information comes from today's L.A. Times.
What a life! What a man! What an American!
When I started this blog, I did not know anything about Eddie Albert, the man. Even though it was a silly sitcom, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Mr. Douglas, but now I discover that his acting career, successful as it was, was the least part of this amazing, inspirational human being, who put not only his money, but his time, his energy, his intellect, his talent and his heart where his mouth was. That is his real legacy in this world; one to which we should all aspire, and of which we are all capable, no matter what our life circumstances.
Thank you, Eddie Albert. You were the farmer Mr. Douglas wanted to be, working tirelessly to encourage and nurture life, making things grow. You made many, many acres green. As you get on board the Hooterville Cannonball for your journey home, I hope you know that the world is a better place because of you.
Eddie Albert's family has suggested, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to:
Plaza De La Raza
Attn: Rose Cano
3540 N. Mission Road
Los Angeles, CA 90031