Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Eddie Albert and Earth Day

Oliver Wendell Douglas, the hapless gentleman farmer of the television sitcom Green Acres ( 1965-1971 ), loved the Earth dearly and never grew tired of talking about the miracle of how little tiny seeds planted in the ground would begin to grow stretching their arms toward the sun, eventually shooting - or "shoosting into the sky" as his wife Lisa Douglas would say - into tall corn plants. This character was very much like the actor who portrayed him - Eddie Albert - a man who was deeply committed to the environment. 

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day, a day that Eddie Albert helped to inaugurate. And it is no coincidence that April 22nd also happens to be this actor's birthday. 

Eddie Albert had a long career acting in film ( Brother Rat, Roman Holiday ), theatre ( The Music Man ), and television that spanned nearly sixty years. In 1965, Albert accepted the role of Oliver Wendell Douglas for the new CBS sitcom Green Acres. He had previously turned down the leads in My Three Sons and Mister Ed, but when his agent told him of this new idea about a "city slicker who comes to the country to escape the frustrations of city living", Albert jumped at the role - "Swell, that's me. Everyone gets tired of the rat race. Everyone would like to chuck it all and grow some carrots. It's basic. Sign me."

It is difficult to define how much of Mr. Douglas was the written character and how much was Eddie Albert himself. Albert had studied organic farming methods long before it was fashionable, and the front yard of his Pacific Palisades home stood out from its neighbors with its cornstalks, tomato vines, and other vegetables flourishing in place of a manicured lawn. He also helped to bring gardens to inner cities throughout the United States when he founded the City Children's Farms. 
Outside of acting, Albert had a broad range of interests and accomplishments. An adventurer in his youth, he once bought a boat and sailed around California and Mexico, where he later joined a circus as a trapeze artist. After service in the Pacific during World War II ( he was awarded the Bronze Star for saving 70 Marines in the bloody battle of Tarawa ), he joined Dr. Albert Schweitzer in the Congo to help make educational films that brought awareness to the public about the conditions of malnutrition that existed in third-world countries. 

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, he actively fought agricultural and industrial pollution and shared his opinions on various talk shows about the disgraceful treatment of our planet's natural resources. TV Guide once described him as an "ecological Paul Revere," to which the actor responded, "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!"

It became his lifelong crusade to raise awareness about pollution and pesticides and, through his endeavors, he helped to ban the use of the pesticide DDT. He lectured everywhere, from high schools to industrial conventions, and even produced films to aid in campaigns against pollution. He founded the Eddie Albert World Trees Foundation, chaired the Boy Scouts of America's conversation program, and was a world envoy for Meals for Millions. 

Of all his interests outside acting, Albert is best known for being a humanitarian and environmentalist and it is this work that led to Senator Gaylord Nelson's founding of Earth Day in 1970. As early as 1962, the senator had hoped to create a grassroots movement that would highlight the needs of the planet. In honor of Eddie Albert's work, he chose April 22nd, Albert's birthday, to be the day we celebrate the Earth. Eddie attended the inauguration ceremony for that first Earth Day and, for the remainder of his life, he always delighted in celebrating the Earth in place of his birthday. 

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