Most of us probably hear the name "Eddie Albert" and immediately think of the hapless gentleman farmer he portrayed on TV's Green Acres. Despite having appeared in over 100 motion pictures and a dozen Broadway shows, he'll always be remembered as Oliver Wendell Douglas, a role he played for only six of his 99 years. But it was the role he played offstage for most of his life that led to April 22 (his birthday) being designated Earth Day.
During the early 1970s, Albert had a regular workout routine that consisted of jogging to the beach near his Southern California home and then taking a swim. An avid birdwatcher (he'd bought his first Audubon pin at the age of six), he was very familiar with the various species native to his area and their habits. When he noticed an absence of baby pelicans one season, he investigated and found out that thousands of pounds of DDT (a pesticide) had been pumped into Los Angeles-area sewers by a single chemical company. DDT is fat soluble and has a half-life of eight years, so as it was absorbed by anchovies and other fishy favorites of the pelican diet, it eventually affected their reproductive systems. Mama pelicans laid eggs with such thin shells that they crushed and broke when she tried to incubate them. Albert asked NBC for a few moments of air time to address the harmful effects of DDT, and shortly after the broadcast he was invited to speak at three universities on the subject. Three years later, the U.S. government banned the use of DDT.
His Green Thumb
Even though Mr. Douglas' crops were always pretty sickly on Green Acres, Eddie Albert had a green thumb. He remembered the victory garden his parents had planted during World War I and at a young age fell in love with the idea of growing things. He studied organic farming methods before it was fashionable, and the front yard of his Pacific Palisades home stood out from its neighbors "“ instead of a manicured lawn, there were cornstalks, tomato vines and other vegetables flourishing. He learned and warned about the danger of topsoil depletion (which became his next crusade after the successful DDT ban) and also established City Children's Farms, a program for creating gardens in inner-city areas.
During a 1996 interview, Albert was asked which of his accomplishments he was most proud of. He pondered a moment and then admitted that he never thought he'd been as good as he could have in any of his acting roles. When all was said and done, he chose his World War II service as his proudest moment. As a Navy lieutenant, he fought at the three-day battle of Tarawa in the Pacific Theater in November 1943. Piloting a Higgins boat under heavy fire, he helped to rescue over 70 wounded Marines off the island and out of the lagoon who had been left behind. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroism.