Harold Albertson (June 16, 1907 – November 25, 1981), known professionally as Jack Albertson, was an American actor, comedian, dancer, and singer who also performed in vaudeville. Albertson was a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy winning actor. For his performance as John Cleary in the 1964 play The Subject Was Roses and its 1968 film adaptation, he won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His other notable roles include Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), Manny Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and Ed Brown in the television sitcom Chico and the Man (1974–78), for which he won an Emmy. For his contributions to the television industry, Albertson was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1977 at 6253 Hollywood Boulevard.
Albertson was born on June 16, 1907, in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Flora (née Craft) and Leopold Albertson. His older sister was actress Mabel Albertson. Albertson’s mother, a stock actress, supported the family by working in a shoe factory. Until the age of 22, Albertson was known as “Harold Albertson”. His father abandoned his mother before Jack was born, and the boy was raised by his stepfather, Alex Erlich, a barber.
During a 1972 New York Daily News interview with Sidney Fields, Albertson reminisced:
“I was bright but disruptive. I didn’t do homework. To cover, I made wisecracks and funny faces at the teachers. They told me to take my business elsewhere.”
Albertson dropped out of high school, ending his formal education after a single year. He worked at several different jobs including: the local General Electric plant; in one of many shoe factories in the Lynn, Massachusetts area; and as a rack boy in neighborhood pool parlors, where he was a fairly good pool hustler, although he was always on guard to avoid playing anyone who could “out-hustle” him. The pool hall provided Albertson with an opportunity to learn a few tap dance routines from his fellow hustlers.
When he was eighteen, he began to be paid for his prize winning shows. His sister Mabel taught him the first “time steps” in tap dancing, and he picked up additional routines by watching vaudeville acts that played his hometown. Around this time, he started singing with a group called “The Golden Rule Four,” who held their practice sessions beneath a railroad bridge.
Albertson joined the vaudeville road troupe known as the Dancing Verselle Sisters. He then worked in burlesque as a hoofer (soft shoe dancer) and straight man to Phil Silvers on the Minsky’s Burlesque Circuit. Besides vaudeville and burlesque, he appeared on the stage in many Broadway plays and musicals, including High Button Shoes, Top Banana, The Cradle Will Rock, Make Mine Manhattan, Show Boat, Boy Meets Girl, Girl Crazy, Meet the People, The Sunshine Boys – for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor, and The Subject Was Roses – for which he won a Tony for Best Supporting Actor.
Albertson appeared in more than 30 films. He had an early minor role in Miracle on 34th Street as a postal worker who redirects dead letters addressed to “Santa Claus” to the courthouse where Kris Kringle is on trial. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1968 film The Subject Was Roses. He later apologized to child actor and fellow nominee Jack Wild for winning the award; Albertson expected Wild to win for his role in Oliver! Also nominated was Albertson’s later Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory co-star Gene Wilder, for his role in The Producers.
Albertson appeared as Charlie Bucket’s Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), and in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), where he played Manny Rosen, husband to Belle, played by Shelley Winters. The actor Arthur O’Connell, who physically resembled Albertson, also appeared in the movie as the ship’s chaplain.
Albertson said that his one regret was that he did not reprise his role in the movie version of The Sunshine Boys. When producer Ray Stark acquired the film rights from Neil Simon in 1973, Albertson was expected to play the part, but by the time MGM had bought the rights in 1974 and was preparing to begin filming in February 1975, Albertson was not available because he was appearing on Chico and the Man on TV.
Albertson was a radio performer early in his career. Among the shows he appeared on were Just Plain Bill, Lefty, That’s My Pop and The Jack Albertson Comedy Show. In the late 1940s he was for a time a regular on the Milton Berle Show.
Albertson appeared in many television series, such as Hey, Jeannie! with Jeannie Carson, the syndicated Western series Frontier Doctor with Rex Allen, Rod Cameron’s syndicated crime drama State Trooper, and the 1961–62 drama series Bus Stop. He guest-starred on the David Janssen crime-drama series Richard Diamond, Private Detective.
From 1960 to 1961, Albertson was cast in three episodes of Pete and Gladys, with Harry Morgan and Cara Williams. On January 2, 1961, Albertson was cast as Sampson J. Binton, with DeForest Kelley as Alex Jeffords, in “Listen to the Nightingale”, the series finale of Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. Albertson had a recurring role as the neighbor Walter Burton in eight episodes of the 1962 ABC sitcom Room for One More, with Andrew Duggan and Peggy McCay. He had recurring roles in Ensign O’Toole (1962–63) and Run, Buddy, Run (1966). Between 1961 and 1964, Albertson appeared seven times on Mister Ed as Paul Fenton, brother-in-law (later just brother) to Wilbur Post’s next-door-neighbor Kay, notably appearing as a stopgap regular for several episodes after the death of Larry Keating in 1963.
Other 1960s series on which Albertson appeared were: NBC’s sitcom, Happy starring Ronnie Burns; Glynis, starring Glynis Johns; and Keith Andes, which aired for 13 weeks in the fall of 1963. Albertson appeared in two episodes of The Twilight Zone. In a 1967 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, he played the ne’er-do-well cousin, Bradford J. Taylor, of series character Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier). He also appeared in a 1969 episode of the TV series The Virginian entitled Girl in the Shadows. In 1970, Albertson appeared as Billy “Moose” Valentine in The Men From Shiloh, the rebranded name for The Virginian in the episode titled “With Love, Bullets and Valentines”.
From 1971-72 he co-starred with actor, Sam Groom, in the Canadian television series Dr. Simon Locke. He then co-starred as “The Man” Ed Brown on the popular series Chico and the Man with Freddie Prinze. He stayed for its entire run from 1974 to 1978. He earned an Emmy Award for that role in 1976, which was his second, his first one was for an appearance on the variety show Cher in 1975.
Personal life and death
He resided for many years in West Hollywood, California. In 1978, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but kept this information private and continued to act. Two of his last roles were in the television movies, My Body, My Child (1982) and Grandpa, Will You Run with Me? (1983), both filmed in 1981 and released posthumously. His final theatrical role was as the ill-tempered hunter, Amos Slade, in Disney’s 24th animated feature, The Fox and the Hound, originally released in the summer of 1981, four months before his death.
He and his wife, June (July 23, 1924 – January 9, 2015) had a daughter, Maura Dhu. On the morning of November 25, 1981, Albertson died at his Los Angeles home in the Hollywood Hills at the age of 74 from colon cancer. He and his elder sister, Mabel Albertson (who died ten months later from Alzheimer’s disease), were cremated and their ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
|1938||Next Time I Marry||Reporter|
|1940||Strike Up the Band||Barker||Uncredited|
|1947||Miracle on 34th Street||Al||Uncredited|
|1952||Anything Can Happen||Flower Vendor||Uncredited|
|1954||Top Banana||Vic Davis|
|1955||Bring Your Smile Along||Mr. Jenson|
|The Harder They Fall||Pop|
|The Eddy Duchin Story||Piano tuner||Uncredited|
|The Unguarded Moment||Prof|
|You Can’t Run Away from It||Third proprietor|
|1957||Monkey on My Back||Sam Pian|
|Man of a Thousand Faces||Dr. J. Wilson Shields|
|Don’t Go Near the Water||Rep. George Jansen|
|1959||Never Steal Anything Small||Sleep-Out Charlie Barnes|
|The Shaggy Dog||Reporter||Uncredited|
|1961||The George Raft Story||Milton|
|Lover Come Back||Fred|
|1962||Convicts 4||Art Teacher|
|Period of Adjustment||Desk Sergeant|
|Who’s Got the Action?||Officer Hodges|
|Days of Wine and Roses||Trayner|
|1963||Son of Flubber||Mr. Barley|
|1964||Kissin’ Cousins||Capt. Robert Jason Salbo|
|A Tiger Walks||Sam Grant|
|The Patsy||Theatergoer with Helen|
|Roustabout||Lou (tea house manager)|
|1965||How to Murder Your Wife||Dr. Bentley|
|1967||The Flim-Flam Man||Mr. Packard|
|1968||How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life||Mr. Slotkin|
|The Subject Was Roses||John Cleary||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|1970||Squeeze a Flower||Alfredo Brazzi|
|Rabbit, Run||Marty Tothero|
|1971||Once Upon a Dead Man|
|Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory||Grandpa Joe Bucket|
|The Late Liz||Reverend Gordon Rogers|
|1972||Pickup on 101||Jedediah Bradley|
|The Poseidon Adventure||Manny Rosen|
|1981||Dead & Buried||William G. Dobbs|
|The Fox and the Hound||Amos Slade||Voice, final theatrical role|
|1956||Burns and Allen||Eddie ‘Bozo Schultz’ Wilson||Episode: “Burlesque”|
|I Love Lucy||Helicopter Dispatcher||Episode: “Bon Voyage”|
|Crusader||Ernie Duchek||Episode: “The Syndicate”|
|Sheriff of Cochise||Greenbriar Merritt||Episode: “Closed for Repairs”|
|1957–1959||The Thin Man||Lt. Harry Evans||14 episodes|
|1957–1960||Have Gun – Will Travel||Mayor Whiteside
|1958||Bachelor Father||Charlie Sharpe
|The People’s Choice||Luther Jenkins||Episode: “Daisies Won’t Tell”, with Jackie Cooper|
|1959||Richard Diamond, Private Detective||Fallace||Episode: “Boomerang Bait”|
|1959–1961||The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis||Bison Lodge Member
|1959–1962||The Jack Benny Program||Reporter||6 episodes|
|1960||The Gale Storm Show||Freddy Morell||Episode: “Show Biz”|
|The Tab Hunter Show||Coach||Episode: “My Darling Teacher”|
|The Ann Sothern Show||Mr. Dooley||Episode: “Billy”|
|Happy||Ed Langley||Episode: “Chris’ Night Out”|
|Klondike||Eskimo Eddie||Episode: “Sure Thing, Men”|
|1961||Riverboat||Sampson J. Binton||Episode: “Listen to the Nightingale”‘|
|The Tab Hunter Show||Harry
P. T. Bailey
|Episode: “Weekend on Ice”
Episode: “Me and My Shadow”
Episode: “Crazy Over Horses”
|The Twilight Zone||Jerry Harlowe||Episode: “The Shelter”|
|1961–1964||Mister Ed||Paul Fenton||7 episodes|
|1962||The Dick Van Dyke Show||Mr. Eisenbauer||Episode: “The Twizzle”|
|Bus Stop||Lawson||Episode: “Turn Home Again”|
|Lawman||Doc Peters||Episode: “The Unmasked”|
|Saints and Sinners||Dr. Felixson||Episode: “All the Hard Young Men”|
|Room for One More||Walter Burton||8 episodes|
|1962–1963||Ensign O’Toole||Lt. Cdr. Virgil Stoner||32 episodes|
|1963||Glynis||Al||Episode: “The Pros and Cons”|
|The Twilight Zone||The Genie||Episode: “I Dream of Genie”|
|The Lieutenant||District Attorney||Episode: “Cool of the Evening”|
|1964||Death Valley Days||Pearlman||Episode: “Sixty-Seven Miles of Gold”|
|1966–1967||Run for Your Life||Harry Krissel||2 episodes|
|1967||The Andy Griffith Show||Bradford J. Taylor||Episode: “Aunt Bee’s Cousin”|
|1968||Ironside||Money Howard||Episode: “Side Pocket”‘|
|1968||Here Come the Brides||role as Merlin||S1, E10 “A Man and His Magic”|
|1969||The Big Valley||Judge Ben Moore||Episode: “The Battle of Mineral Springs”|
|The Monk||Tinker||ABC Movie of the Week|
|1969–1970||Land of the Giants||Professor Kirmus
|The Virginian||Billy “Moose” Valentine
Nathaniel E. “Doc” Watson
|1970||Marcus Welby, M.D.||Mr. Chambers||Episode: “Go Get ‘Em, Tiger”|
|The Immortal||Dr. Koster||Episode: “Reflections on a Lost Tomorrow”|
|Daniel Boone||Sweet||Episode: “Run for the Money”|
|Nanny and the Professor||Edwin Higgenbotham Botkin||Episode: “The Haunted House”|
|1971||Love, American Style||Archie||Segment: “Love and the Second Time”|
|1971–1972||Dr. Simon Locke||Dr. Andrew Sellers|
|1972||Night Gallery||Bullivant||Episode: “Dead Weight”|
|1973||The Streets of San Francisco||Tim Murphy||Episode: “The Set-Up”|
|1974||Gunsmoke||Moses Darby||Episode: “Cowtown Hustler” S19E22 Aired on May 11, 1974|
|1974–1978||Chico and the Man||Ed Brown||88 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1976)
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1975, 1977)
|1975||Tony Orlando and Dawn||Himself||Episode: #1.20|
|Mitzi and 100 Guys||Himself||TV movie|
|Cher||Himself||Episode: “Episode #1.4”
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance in Variety or Music
|Match Game ’75||Himself||5 episodes|
|1976||Donny & Marie||Himself||1 Episode dated April 6, 1976|
|“”Andy” starring Andy Williams”||Himself||1 Episode dated October 6, 1976|
|1978||Grandpa Goes to Washington||Senator Joe Kelley||7 episodes|
|1980||Charlie’s Angels||Edward Jordan||Episode: “Angel in Hiding”|
|1981||Charlie and the Great Balloon Chase||Charlie Bartlett||TV movie|
|1982||My Body, My Child||Poppa MacMahon||TV movie; filmed in 1981; released posthumously; final television role|
|Terror at Alcatraz||George ‘Deacon’ Wheeler||TV movie, (final film role)|