April 22, 2012

Earth Day also Honors Eddie Albert

I was having a hard time remembering the exact date of Earth Day. “Is Earth Day the 21st or 22nd?” I asked a friend. She thought it was the 24th………..”Easy to figure out” I say back. Do a search on Eddie Albert…..it is his birthday. She says “Eddie Albert? From Green Acres? What does he have to do with Earth Day?”

Yes, THAT Eddie Albert. And what does he have to do with Earth Day? Plenty! It was Albert’s work in environmental causes which helped launch the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, where he was one of many celebrity guest speakers on hand to help launch the festivities. When International Earth Day was created, it was decided it must be held on April 22nd because it coincided with Albert’s birthday.

What started as a regular workout routine as a jog and swim near his Southern California home, the avid birdwatcher Albert noticed an absence of baby pelicans one season. His curiosity as to the causes led him to an investigation where he learned that thousands of pounds of the pesticide DDT had been pumped into Los Angeles area sewers by a single chemical company. DDT, a fat soluble compound with a half-life of eight years was absorbed by anchovies and other fishy favorites of the pelican’s diet. The fish, full of DDT, eventually affected the pelican’s reproductive systems. Their eggs now had such thin shells that they were crushed when the mother pelican tried to incubate them.

An avid environmentalist, Albert asked NBC for a few moments of airtime to address the harmful effects of DDT. As a result of his broadcast, Albert was asked to lecture everywhere from high schools, universities, to industrial conventions. Three years later, the US government banned the use of DDT.

His work in environmental causes began decades before the 70’s. In 1958, while filming John Huston‘s dramatic adventure The Roots of Heaven in Africa, Albert met legendary humanitarian and philosopher Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Inspired by Schweitzer, Albert adopted a similar philanthropic attitude and actively pursued what would become a lifelong crusade to raise awareness about pollution and pesticides. Not being shy about his causes, he shared his concerns on TV on shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Today shows in the 50’s and 60’s.

Giving to the community and to the environment had been fundamental in Albert’s life. During the ’70s, he helped establish City Children’s Farms in low-income areas of major cities across the country which involves teaching inner-city children about farming. He established the Eddie Albert Trees Foundation and was a spokesperson for the National Arbor Day Foundation from 1985 to 1993.He had written and narrated numerous TV series and specials on ecology and nutrition and addressed audiences in countless universities and national organizations on the environment and world hunger. The list of board memberships and awards he’s received is staggering. It ranged from serving as a consultant to the Secretary-General of the United States Conference on the Environment to receiving The Brotherhood Award from B’nai B’rith.

And while many of us remember him as a hapless farmer in Green Acres, in reality he had quite the green thumb. Instead of manicured lawns, the front yard of his Pacific Palisades home consisted of a vegetable garden. He studied organic farming methods decades before it was fashionable.

While Albert was vocal in his causes, he was modest about his successes. He appeared in over 100 motion pictures, dozens of TV and Broadway Shows. Prior to his acting career, he gathered intelligence for the US government of movements in the Pacific and Baja regions. In the middle of his career, (1942) he joined the US Navy and was stationed in the South Pacific.

When asked in a 1996 interview what his proudest moment was, he chose his World War II service as his moment. As a Navy lieutenant, he was an active participant in the battle of Tarawa (Nov. 1943), which was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. Albert was credited with rescuing up to 70 wounded Marines while under enemy fire and awarded the Bronze Star with a combat “V” for his heroism. He did not speak about this publicly until it was mentioned in several television documentaries about the battle in the 1990s.

Albert remained active in his humanitarian efforts until his death from pneumonia on May 26, 2005 at 99 year of age. So, Happy Earth Day as well as Happy Birthday Eddie, and thank you for all of your efforts in making us realize not only how special our world is but in making Earth Day and conservationism a part of our everyday lives perserving it for generations to come!

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