The military and Hollywood have rubbed along uneasily next to each other for many years. Military themes and heroism are the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters and many actors have become famous playing military roles but every now and again along comes a man who is a real life military hero and he becomes a beloved Hollywood superstar as well. One such man is Eddie Albert, well known for his roles in films such as “Escape to Witch Mountain,” “Miracle of the White Stallions,” and “You Gotta stay Happy.” In recognition of his talent and popularity Eddie Albert was awarded a star on the Walk of fame and an NSFC Award.
Eddie Albert Heimberger was born on the 22nd April 1906 in Minneapolis in Minnesota. He was the eldest of five children and from an early age he took opportunities that came along and he worked delivering newspapers at the age of six. Whilst World War I was in full swing he was a schoolboy and he became irritated that is German sounding surname was consistently mispronounced as “Hamburger” so he dropped it completely.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a business degree but the Wall Street crash of 1929 destroyed his hopes of growing a thriving business. Like many others at this exceeding difficult time, Eddie worked at any temporary job that he could find so he became a trapeze artist, a nightclub singer and an insurance salesman.
He moved from Minnesota to New York in 1933 and landed a job as co-host to a radio show called “The Honeymooners – Grace and Eddie Show”. With his foot in the door of the entertainment industry, Eddie moved to Broadway and also landed roles in various television shows. His talent could not be denied and in 1938 he arrived in Hollywood with his successful debut in the feature film, “Brother Rat.”
Albert had always had a strong patriotic bent and the military made good use of his fame as an actor. He toured Mexico in the guise as a clown and circus performer but in actual fact he was an undercover agent for the military and photographed U-Boats and other items of interest for Military Intelligence. When the war broke out he took up arms in the US Navy but was discharged to take up an officer’s position within the Naval Reserve.
It was whilst serving with the Reserve that he was awarded Bronze Star with Combat “V”. This medal was earned at the Battle of Tarawa where he fought with the first combat wave in a battle that lasted three gruelling days. The atoll was surrounded by coral reefs and this meant that the landing craft sent to collect the equipment could not pull onto the beach; they had to stand off about 500 yards and discharge their Marines there. Japanese sharpshooters picked off the men as they battled their way through the surf and it was not long before dead and injured Marines surrounded the landing craft. Albert ignored his orders to collect equipment and instead started to pull injured men from the water. Personally he dragged 47 men to safety and oversaw the rescue of 30 more. He came across a small group of Marines that were unharmed but had lost their equipment in the melee. He offered to take them back but they refused and asked him instead to bring them equipment to fight with. When he returned he found they had all been killed.
Albert continued with his acting career when he left the military and quickly became a family favourite. Though best known for his acting accomplishments, the thing that he was most proud of was the day that he acted as a landing craft commander during the Battle of Tarawa.
This exemplary example of manhood died in 2005 at the age of 99 from pneumonia. He set an example to all young Americans and his mantra is one we can all live by, “I don’t really care how I am remembered as long as I bring happiness and joy to people.”