Jack Albertson was an actor, singer, and dancer. He is best remembered for playing John Cleary in the 1968 Ulu Grosbard-directed drama film ‘The Subject Was Roses.’ His performance in the film earned him an ‘Oscar’ for ‘Best Supporting Actor.’ He is also remembered for playing Joe in the 1971 musical fantasy film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ and Ed Brown on ‘NBC’ network's situational comedy series ‘Chico and the Man.’ Apart from films and television series, Albertson has also performed in vaudeville, American burlesque, Broadway plays, and radio. In 1977, he was honored with a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ for his contributions to the TV industry. Albertson passed away in 1981 at the age of 74 when he lost his battle to colorectal cancer.
Childhood & Early Life
Jack Albertson was born Harold Albertson on June 16, 1907, in Malden, Massachusetts, USA, to Flora and Leopold Albertson. Since his father abandoned his mother even before his birth, he was brought up by his stepfather Alex Erlich.
Albertson dropped out of high school and started working at the local ‘General Electric’ plant. He also worked in one of the shoe factories in Lynn, Massachusetts before becoming a pool hustler at the nearby pool parlors.
While spending time at the pool parlors, Albertson learned the nuances of tap-dancing from his fellow hustlers. He also learned additional steps from his sister Mabel and by watching vaudeville acts in his hometown. At the age of 18, he started participating in shows that displayed his tap-dancing skills.
He then joined a musical group called ‘The Golden Rule Four’ which helped him improve his skills as a singer. The group often held its practice sessions underneath a railroad bridge and Albertson’s participation prepared him for his impending career in the field of entertainment.
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Broadway & Radio
Jack Albertson started his entertainment career by joining a vaudeville road troupe called ‘Dancing Verselle Sisters.’ He then worked as a tap-dancer in American burlesque and went on to appear in Broadway plays and musicals.
Albertson appeared in many Broadway plays including ‘The Cradle Will Rock,’ ‘Boy Meets Girl,’ ‘Show Boat,’ ‘Girl Crazy,’ ‘High Button Shoes,’ ‘Make Mine Manhattan,’ and ‘Top Banana.’ While he received a ‘Tony Award’ nomination for his performance in a play titled ‘The Sunshine Boys,’ he won the ‘Tony Award’ for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for his effort in the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1964 play ‘The Subject Was Roses.’
He was also part of many radio shows early in his career. Some of the radio shows which he was part of include ‘The Jack Albertson Comedy Show,’ ‘That's My Pop,’ and ‘Just Plain Bill.’ During the late 1940s, he was a regular performer on ‘Milton Berle Show.’
Film & TV Career
Jack Albertson made his film debut in 1938 when he was cast to play the role of a reporter in Garson Kanin-directed American comedy film ‘Next Time I Marry.’ He then played a series of minor roles in films like ‘Strike Up the Band,’ ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ and ‘Anything Can Happen.’
He received his big breakthrough in 1954 when he was cast to reprise his role as Vic Davis in the film adaptation of the 1951 musical ‘Top Banana.’ In 1956, he appeared in five films, namely ‘Over-Exposed,’ ‘The Harder They Fall,’ ‘The Eddy Duchin Story,’ ‘The Unguarded Moment,’ and ‘You Can't Run Away from It.’ In the same year, he also made his TV debut when he played a minor role on ‘CBS’ network’s situational comedy series ‘I Love Lucy.’
In 1957, he played supporting roles in films, such as ‘Monkey on My Back,’ ‘Man of a Thousand Faces,’ and ‘Don't Go Near the Water.’ From 1957 to 1959, he played Lt. Harry Evans in 14 episodes of ‘NBC’ network's television series ‘The Thin Man’ which was based on Dashiell Hammett's novel of the same name.
He continued playing television and film roles throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. From 1962 to 1963, he played the main role of Lieutenant Commander Virgil Stoner in 32 episodes of ‘NBC’ network's TV comedy series ‘Ensign O'Toole.’ Meanwhile, he also played supporting roles in films, such as ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ ‘A Tiger Walks,’ and ‘How to Murder Your Wife.’
In 1968, he reprised his role as John Cleary in the film adaptation of the 1964 play ‘The Subject Was Roses.’ His performance in the film earned him the ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Supporting Actor.’ From 1969 to 1974, he played various roles in the Western drama series ‘Gunsmoke.’ Meanwhile, he played Grandpa Joe in the popular 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’
In 1974, he was cast to play Ed Brown on ‘NBC’ network's situational comedy series ‘Chico and the Man.’ He played the role from 1974 to 1978, appearing in 88 episodes. His performance earned him the ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.’
In 1975, he made a cameo appearance on ‘CBS’ network's American variety show ‘Cher.’ His performance in ‘Cher’ earned him the ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance in Variety or Music.’ In 1981, he was cast to play Poppa MacMahon in Marvin J. Chomsky-directed television film ‘My Body, My Child.’ The film was released posthumously in 1982.
Family & Personal Life
Jack Albertson’s parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. His mother Flora Craft worked in a shoe factory to support her family when she was abandoned by Albertson’s father. His stepfather Alex Erlich worked as a barber. Albertson’s older sister Mabel Albertson was an actress, best remembered for playing prominent roles in TV series, such as ‘Accidental Family,’ ‘Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,’ and ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.’
On October 31, 1952, he married June Wallace Thomson with whom he had a daughter named Maura Dhu. Albertson was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1978. However, he kept it a secret and continued to appear in films and TV series. He lost his battle to cancer on November 25, 1981. His mortal remains were cremated and the ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.