One of the most versatile American movie actors of the mid-20th century, Eddie Albert missed out on stardom but, instead, enjoyed a 50-year-plus screen career that encompassed everything from light comedy and zany satire to the most savage war dramas. Born Edward Albert Heimberger in Rock Island, IL, he attended the University of Minnesota. After working as everything from soda jerk to a circus acrobat (with a short stint as a nightclub and radio singer), Albert headed for New York City, where he scored a hit in the play Brother Rat, portraying military cadet Bing Edwards. He also starred in Room Service on-stage before heading to Hollywood, where he was signed by Warner Bros. to recreate his stage role in the 1938 film Brother Rat. Albert was known for his comedic work during the early years of his career -- his other early major credits included The Boys From Syracuse and Boy Meets Girl on-stage and On Your Toes (1939) onscreen. When he did appear in dramas, such as A Dispatch From Reuters (1940), it was usually as a light, secondary lead or male ingénue, similar to the kinds of parts that Dick Powell played during his callow, youthful days.
Albert had an independent streak that made him unusual among actors of his era -- he actually quit Warner Bros. at one point, preferring to work as a circus performer for eight dollars per day. The outbreak of World War II sent Albert into the U.S. Navy as a junior officer, and he distinguished himself during 1943 in the fighting on Tarawa. Assigned as the salvage officer in the shore party of the second landing wave (which engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese), his job was to examine military equipment abandoned on the battlefield to see if it should be retrieved; but what he found were wounded men who had been left behind under heavy fire. Albert took them off the beach in a small launch not designed for that task, earning commendations for his bravery. A bona fide hero, he was sent home to support a War Bond drive (though he never traded on his war experiences, and didn't discussing them in detail on-camera until the 1990s).