Jack Albertson


Actor
Jack Albertson

About

Birth Place
Malden, Massachusetts, USA
Born
June 16, 1907
Died
November 24, 1981

Biography

An incredibly prolific, talented and frequently underappreciated actor, Jack Albertson was one of the most accomplished performers of his generation. Emerging from the vaudeville circuit and bawdy burlesque shows of New York in the 1930s, Albertson soon graduated to such Broadway stage productions as the 1947 revival of "The Cradle Will Rock." Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the actor wor...

Biography

An incredibly prolific, talented and frequently underappreciated actor, Jack Albertson was one of the most accomplished performers of his generation. Emerging from the vaudeville circuit and bawdy burlesque shows of New York in the 1930s, Albertson soon graduated to such Broadway stage productions as the 1947 revival of "The Cradle Will Rock." Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the actor worked non-stop, jumping from television to film and back to theater in such vehicles as the crime-comedy series "The Thin Man" (NBC, 1957-59), the cautionary drama "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) and the Broadway play "The Subject was Roses" in 1965. As busy as he had been for more than 20 years, it was in the 1970s that Albertson gained lasting notoriety amongst a generation of fans for a trio of roles as good-natured, but cantankerous old men. In theaters, he endeared himself to fans young and old with his characters in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971) and "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972). But it was as the crotchety father figure to Freddie Prinze on the hit sitcom "Chico and the Man" (NBC, 1974-78) that Albertson would perhaps be most fondly remembered. A testament to his talent and lasting contributions could, in part, be measured by the fact that Albertson remained one of the select few to ever earn Oscar, Emmy and Tony awards over the course of his impressive career.

Jack Albertson was born on June 16, 1907 in the town of Malden, MA to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Flora and Leopold Albertson. Although she helped support the family by working in a shoe factory, Flora also performed in local theater as a stock actress. Soon, both Jack and his sister Mabel followed their mother's footsteps into show business. It was an ambition that led the young man to drop out of high school and travel to New York City while still in his teens. Lacking funds to rent a room, Albertson slept in empty train cars and in the vast expanse of Central Park during those first lean years as he sought work as an entertainer. Like many young performers of the day, Albertson's first paying jobs were in the then-thriving vaudeville circuit, working with comedians like Phil Silvers during the 1930s in New York productions of Minsky's Burlesque and other troupes. After gaining considerable stage experience, he later appeared in a 1947 revival of the famed proletariat drama "The Cradle Will Rock" on Broadway.

An early film role for Anderson came that same year with a bit part in the beloved holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947), in which he had a small but pivotal role as a mail clerk looking to unload the thousands of letters addressed to Santa. Though the increasingly busy actor would keep his feet in both mediums to an almost equal degree, it would be television that would increasingly provide him with work and exposure. Among the multitude of appearances throughout the 1950s were several guest spots on the hugely popular comedy-variety program "The Jackie Gleason Show" (CBS, 1952-57). Back in movie houses, Albertson popped up in such productions as Humphrey Bogart's final film, "The Harder They Fall" (1956). At about the same time, he landed the first of his many recurring roles with a supporting character on "The Thin Man" (NBC, 1957-59), a short-lived television adaptation of the popular film franchise, this time starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as author Dashiell Hammett's crime-solving socialites, Nick and Nora Charles.

With each passing year, Albertson's talents grew in demand, bringing him onto projects with the best and brightest, including the Clark Gable-Doris Day romantic comedy "Teacher's Pet" (1958), and the acclaimed Blake Edwards film "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962), starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as a married couple who descend into alcoholism. Other film work found him buddying up with Elvis Presley for a pair of back-to-back musicals, "Kissin' Cousins" (1964) and "Roustabout" (1964). Occasionally, Albertson returned to stage work and in 1964 enjoyed Broadway success as the harsh, emotionally distant father in the intense family drama "The Subject was Roses," with a performance that won him a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor. In a run of lightweight feature comedies, the versatile Albertson supported Lemmon once more in "How to Murder Your Wife" (1965), George C. Scott in "The Flim Flam Man" (1967) and Dean Martin in "How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life" (1968).

Recreating the role of John Cleary onscreen opposite Martin Sheen and Patricia Neal several years later, Albertson won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film adaptation of "The Subject was Roses" (1968). The breadth of material the veteran actor appeared in was impressive, by any measure. Two years later, Albertson worked alongside '70s megastar James Caan in the adaptation of John Updike's "Rabbit, Run" (1970), then delivered a role forever imbedded in the recollection of an entire generation - that of Grandpa Joe in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971), starring Gene Wilder as the eccentric candy maker. Another of his most memorable feature performances came in the blockbuster Irwin Allen disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972), in which he and a rag-tag group of survivors - among them, Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine and Gene Hackman - attempt to climb their way to safety inside a massive, overturned ocean liner. In 1972, Albertson made a triumphant return to Broadway to star opposite actor Sam Levene in Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" for a lengthy run. Understandably, he later expressed his regret over not being asked to reprise the role in the filmed adaptation, which starred George Burns and Walter Matthau.

His biggest role, however, was still ahead of him. Albertson later won an Emmy for a role with which he would be forever remembered. As the cantankerous, but good-natured garage owner Ed Brown, Albertson at last struck TV series gold on the sitcom "Chico and the Man" (NBC, 1974-78), opposite rising stand-up comedian, Freddie Prinze. The hit show was at the top of the ratings during its first two seasons and remained near the top during its third, until the tragic death of Prinze, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the peak of his fame, sending the program into a tailspin. Bringing in new characters to fill the void left by Prinze, the producers attempted a fourth season, but the sitcom never recovered and was canceled by the end of the year. It was also a devastating blow to Albertson on a personal level, as the older actor had quickly developed a deeply paternal relationship with the talented, yet deeply troubled comic. With his Emmy win for this work on "Chico and the Man," Albertson became one of the select few performers to achieve "triple crown" status, having earned Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards.

Following the end of "Chico and the Man," Albertson attempted to rebound with another series, "Grandpa Goes to Washington" (1978-79). However, the sitcom, in which he played a curmudgeonly retired professor with no political experience who is elected to the U.S. Senate, ran a mere seven episodes before being canceled. Never one to let a momentary setback slow him down, he lent his voice to the Disney animated feature "The Fox and the Hound" (1981). That same year, in a marked departure from his usual fare, Albertson starred in the grisly horror film "Dead & Buried" (1981), in which he played a maniacal mortician obsessed with reanimating the dead. Keeping up a remarkably hectic work schedule for a man in his seventies, the actor also starred in the made-for-TV movie "Charlie and the Great Balloon Race" (NBC, 1981) as a retired railroad worker attempting to cross the country via hot-air balloon. Even more surprising was the fact that during this period, Albertson - unbeknownst to nearly everyone - was a very sick man. Jack Albertson died on Nov. 25, 1981 after a years-long battle with cancer at the age of 74. Having worked right up until his passing, he later appeared posthumously in the family values TV special "Grandpa, Will You Run with Me?" (NBC, 1983).

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

My Body, My Child (1982)
Poppa Macmahon
Terror at Alcatraz (1982)
Dead and Buried (1982)
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Voice
Charlie and the Great Balloon Race (1981)
Marriage Is Alive and Well (1980)
Manny Wax
Valentine (1979)
The Comedy Company (1978)
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Manny Rosen
Pickup on 101 (1972)
Jedediah Bradley
The Late Liz (1971)
Gordon Rogers
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Grandpa Joe
Congratulations, It's a Boy! (1971)
Once Upon a Dead Man (1971)
Rabbit, Run (1970)
Marty Tothero
Justine (1969)
Cohen
Changes (1969)
Kent's father
How To Save a Marriage--And Ruin Your Life (1968)
Mr. Slotkin
The Subject Was Roses (1968)
John Cleary
The Flim-Flam Man (1967)
Mr. Packard
How To Murder Your Wife (1965)
Dr. Bentley
Roustabout (1964)
Lou
A Tiger Walks (1964)
Sam Grotz
Kissin' Cousins (1964)
Capt. Robert Salbo
The Patsy (1964)
Son of Flubber (1963)
Mr. Barley
Who's Got the Action? (1962)
Officer Hodges
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Trayner
Period of Adjustment (1962)
Desk sergeant
Convicts 4 (1962)
Art teacher
Lover Come Back (1961)
Fred
The George Raft Story (1961)
Milton
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
Charlie "Sleepout" Barnes
The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Reporter
Teacher's Pet (1958)
Guide
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
Dr. J. Wilson Shields
Monkey on My Back (1957)
Sam Pian
Don't Go Near the Water (1957)
Rep. George Jansen
You Can't Run Away From It (1956)
Proprietor
The Harder They Fall (1956)
Pop
Over-Exposed (1956)
Les Bauer
The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)
Piano tuner
The Unguarded Moment (1956)
Prof.
Bring Your Smile Along (1955)
Mr. Jenson
Top Banana (1954)
Vic Davis
Anything Can Happen (1952)
Flower vendor
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Post office employee
Strike Up the Band (1940)
Barker

Cast (Special)

Grandpa, Will You Run With Me? (1983)
Guest
Uptown (1980)
Guest
Elvis Remembered: Nashville to Hollywood (1980)
Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope's All-Star Comedy Tribute to Vaudeville (1977)
The First 50 Years (1976)
The Oath: the Sad and Lonely Sundays (1976)
Mitzi and a Hundred Guys (1975)
The Paul Lynde Comedy Hour (1975)
The Star Maker (1958)

Cast (Short)

Pat Neal Is Back (1968)
Himself

Life Events

1949

Was a regular on the short-lived ABC variety series, "Jack Carter and Company"

1954

Made feature film debut in "Top Banana"

1957

Played Lt. Harry Evans on the NBC mystery series, "The Thin Man"

1962

Played neighbor Walter Fenton on the ABC sitcom, "Room for One More"

1969

TV-movie debut, the detective story, "The Monk"

1971

Played Dr. Andrew Sellers on the syndicated drama series, "Doctor Simon Locke"

1972

Last feature film appearances, "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Pickup on 101"

1973

Returned to Broadway to star in the popular Neil Simon comedy, "The Sunshine Boys"

1981

Last feature film work, supplying the voice of Amos Slade for the animated feature, "The Fox and the Hound"

1982

Last TV acting assignment, the TV-movie, "My Body, My Child", aired after his death

Photo Collections

The Poseidon Adventure - Movie Posters
The Poseidon Adventure - Movie Posters
Kissin' Cousins - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from MGM's Kissin' Cousins (1964), starring Elvis Presley.

Videos

Movie Clip

Don't Go Near The Water (1957) - They're Completely Unpredictable Jaded Lt. Siegel (Glenn Ford) with swabbie yeoman Garrett (Earl Holliman) stuck with showing goofball congressmen (Jansen and Smithfield, Jack Albertson and Charles Watts) around their rear-sector Pacific island base, meets (23 year-old Sicilian-Irish) Gia Scala as native schoolteacher Melora (Alba), Chuck Walters directing for MGM, in Don’t Go Near The Water, 1957, from the novel by Life magazine editor William Brinkley.
Subject Was Roses, The (1968) - Open, Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Judy Collins’ vocal on Sandy Denny’s then-unreleased composition, first heard as the B-side of Collins’ hit 1968 recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” later recorded by Denny and Fairport Convention, nearly overshadows director Ulu Grosbard’s opening, with Patricia Neal, briefly Martin Sheen, and Jack Albertson, in his Academy Award-winning performance, from The Subject Was Roses. 1968.
Subject Was Roses, The (1968) - This Is Where I Came In Jack Albertson as Bronxite John was just trying on the uniform coat brought home by his still-snoozing son, just returned from WWII, when he notices his wife Nettie (Patricia Neal) coming back from morning shopping, character sketching in their first scene together, adapted by Frank Gilroy from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, in The Subject Was Roses. 1968.
Subject Was Roses, The (1968) - Crazy About Waffles Dad (Jack Albertson) just departing the family Bronx apartment on business as his son (Martin Sheen as Timmy), the morning after his welcome-home from WWII party, converses with his mom (Patricia Neal as Nettie), raising her ire when he deploys one of the old man’s verbal devices, early in The Subject Was Roses. 1968, from the Frank D. Gilroy play.
Kissin' Cousins (1964) - Watzamatta You? Establishing a premise, the Air Force wants to build a landing strip on a remote Tennessee mountain, and Jack Albertson as Captain Salbo is tasked with finding a native of the region within his unit to help negotiate, thus introducing the star, Elvis Presley, as Josh, part one of his dual role, in Kissin’ Cousins, 1964.
Lover Come Back (1961) - Looks Like A Rough Day Director Delbert Mann's opening, introducing Doris Day, and later her aide Ann B. Davis, and rival Madison Avenue ad man Jerry (Rock Hudson), with an uncredited companion, then assistant Karen Norris, and a new contract up for grabs, in Lover Come Back, 1961.
Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) - Six Hundred Pound Swordfish Priest Gene Hackman leads survivors toward the hull of the flipped ocean liner, Roddy McDowall the injured waiter, Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson the retirees, Pamela Sue Martin a frightened teen, Carol Lynley the lounge singer, Ernest Borgnine the surly cop, Stella Stevens his increasingly disrobed wife, in The Poseidon Adventure, 1972.
Rabbit, Run (1970) - How About The Crotch? After leaving his family, out for an evening with his dissolute former basketball coach Tothero (Jack Albertson), “Rabbit” (James Caan) meets Virginia Vincent as Margaret, and winds up with Ruth (Anjanette Comer), in Rabbit, Run, 1970, with striking vulgarity, from the original John Updike novel.
Rabbit, Run (1970) - That Doesn't Sound Like Mature Behavior After a fight with his drunken, pregnant wife and driving all night, one-time high school basketball star “Rabbit” (James Caan) is evidently back in his hometown, and finds Marty Tothero (Jack Albertson), his old coach, who’s not thriving, in Rabbit, Run, 1970, from the John Updike novel.
Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) - An Enormous Wall Of Water New Year’s eve, Leslie Nielsen at the helm as the wave hits, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, young Eric Shea, Carol Lynley, hip priest Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens among the revelers, plus director Ronald Neame’s famous skylight shot, in writer-producer Irwin Allen’s disaster hit, The Poseidon Adventure, 1972.
Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) - Get Off Your Knees! Introducing cruisers, Ernest Borgnine is loud cop Rogo, Stella Stevens his seasick wife, bachelor Martin (Red Buttons) greeted by retirees Manny and Belle (Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson), top-billed Gene Hackman the collar-free priest, Arthur O’Connell his colleague, in The Poseidon Adventure. 1972.

Trailer

Rabbit, Run (1970) -- (Original Trailer) Original theatrical trailer for the little-seen Warner Bros. adaptation of the celebrated 1960 John Updike novel, Rabbit Run, 1970, starring James Caan, Carrie Snodgress, Jack Albertson and Anjanette Comer, shot in the author’s home town, Reading, PA.
Don't Go Near The Water - (Original Trailer) Navy office workers scheme to build a recreation hall on a remote Pacific island in the military comedy Don't Go Near The Water (1957) starring Glenn Ford.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - (Original Trailer) Gene Wilder plays a mysterious candy man who gives children a surprising tour in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971).
Period of Adjustment -- (Original Trailer) A newlywed couple's honeymoon is disrupted by their friends' marital problems in Period of Adjustment (1962), starring Jane Fonda & Jim Hutton.
Teacher's Pet - (Original Trailer) A tough city editor (Clark Gable) assumes a fake identity to study journalism with a lady professor (Doris Day) who's criticized his work in Teacher's Pet (1958).
Kissin' Cousins -- (Original Trailer) A military officer gets mixed up with his look-alike hillbilly cousin in Kissin' Cousins (1964) starring Elvis Presley.
Man Of A Thousand Faces - (Original Trailer) James Cagney portrays chameleon-like actor Lon Chaney in the Hollywood biography Man Of A Thousand Faces (1957).
Days of Wine and Roses - (Original Trailer) A husband and wife struggle to overcome their alcoholism in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), starring Jack Lemmon & Lee Remick.
Subject Was Roses, The - (Original Trailer) A young veteran (Martin Sheen) returns home to deal with family conflicts in The Subject Was Roses (1968), co-starring Patricia Neal and Jack Albertson.

Family

Mabel Albertson
Sister
Actor. Born July 27, 1901 in Haver Hill MA; died September 28, 1982 in Santa Monica CA; prolific TV character player perhaps best remembered for her recurring role as Darrin's mother on the long-running sitcom, "Bewitched" (1964-72).
Maura Dhu
Daughter
Singer.

Bibliography