I started out in vaudeville, and vaudeville died. I hit the burlesque houses and they padlocked 'em. I tried radio, and you know what happened to radio. Then live TV, and it vanished. Now that I've finally got a toehold in movies, look what's happening to them. - Jack Albertson (1907 - 1981)
Massachusetts born Jack Albertson, and his sister Mabel, inherited the show business gene from their mother who appeared in stock. I don't imagine Jack's Russian-Jewish immigrant parents were too impressed when their son left high school to pursue life upon the wicked stage, but they probably understood. In those early years perhaps Jack himself often wondered why he kept at it when he wasn't making enough money to put a roof over his head and had to wonder where the next sandwich was going to come from. However, people like to be entertained and this versatile and willing performer persevered. By the 1950s High Button Shoes and Top Banana would see Jack on Broadway with Burlesque compatriot Phil Silvers. Television audiences would start to recognize him on shows such as The Jack Benny Program, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Mr. Ed and more. He played his share of reporters, doctors and desk sergeants in movies. And one very famous postal worker who can be seen every Christmas season sending bags of letters to Santy Claus at the courthouse in Miracle on 34th Street. Jack Albertson was working steadily, but if he had early dreams of acclaim and awards - well, that time was probably past.
Enter Frank D. Gilroy's The Subject Was Roses in Broadway's 1964 season. The three person character study won Best Play from the Tony Committee. Young Martin Sheen was nominated for Featured Actor in a Play and Jack Albertson won the award in that category. The 1968 film of the play brought both actors to the screen with Patricia Neal replacing stage star Irene Daily. Ms. Neal was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and Jack Albertson won Best Supporting Actor.
Amanda Blake, Jack Albertson
Suddenly, in his 60s, Jack Albertson wasn't "that guy playing the cop or neighbour". He was the special guest star on series with episodes written for his character such as "Danny" who had a mysterious hold on Kitty's affection in Gunsmoke or a pool shark on Ironside: "Side Pocket". Five Emmy nominations and two wins would come his way for guest spots and the sitcom Chico and the Man. Popular film roles would rack up with The Poseidon Adventure, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Fox and the Hound. Jack Albertson certainly had a career to be proud of.
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My boy Gavin has his challenges with autism/developmental delay. He has limited independent language skills, but if you take the time you will find him to have a good memory and a rollicking sense of humour. He is also a movie buff. My husband and I often fight over which side of the family Gavin gets his good looks from, but we know beyond the shadow of a doubt he gets the movie buff gene from me.
Gavin is also imaginative. He invented the alternate casting game. He must have invented it because no one has every played it with him. Gavin likes to write out the casts of his favourite movies and get his dad, sister Janet or I to read the list aloud. Every so often Gavin will throw in a ringer and watch for our reaction. For instance, in The Jungle Book he'll put Hans Conried as Colonel Hathi (Everybody knows J. Pat O'Malley was the voice of Colonel Hathi!). Gavin watches us with wide eyes waiting to see our reaction. He's so proud of us when we catch it. By the way, wouldn't you agree that Billy Gilbert and Martin Short would have been fine as "a monkey" in The Jungle Book?
Jack Albertson - Amos Slade
The Fox and the Hound
Last weekend Gavin was in a The Fox and the Hound mood. That means if you are not in a The Fox and the Hound mood, you are in for a rough time because that is all that will be playing for hours. The weekend also brings one of Gavin's favourite activities which is going to the library with Daddy and borrowing a movie. After his last trip to the library Gavin bounded into the house clutching Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He made us sit in the living room. He turned on the disc of The Fox and the Hound and paused at the credit "Jack Albertson - Amos Slade". He replaced the disc with Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and paused at the credit "Jack Albertson" and turned with triumph in his eyes to see our reaction. "Yes" we told him. "Jack Albertson - Amos Slade and Jack Albertson - Grampa Joe."
Jack Albertson - Grampa Joe
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
It may not have been the Helen Keller "water" moment, but what movie buff can't relate to the "Aha!" of discovery. It brought me back to the glorious day when it finally dawned on me that Irving Bacon, Olin Howland and Tom Fadden were not the same guy. It was an exciting moment for my boy and it was gratifying that he wanted to share. I may have gotten a little carried away because Gavin gently let me know that although he was pleased that I understood his joy, the hug was too much and a high five would suffice. I'll gladly take that high five and the movie buff connection with my son. If he must have a label - and apparently he must - let it be Gavin Hall, movie buff.