Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jack Albertson and the Movie Buff Moment

Jack Albertson
1907 - 1981

"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."  

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. 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.

Albertson 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 tthree-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 wonderful career.

  Gavin Hall
Easy to shop for!

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 then 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.


  1. Yikes - I have tears in my eyes. And, that boy of yours knows his apples because I can never make the association on certain actors from film to film! A very special post.

  2. Thanks, FlickChick, I think you'd get on well with Gavin.

  3. Bravo for Gavin. An exciting moment of epiphany. Lovely post. Agree with your comment about labels. Let's choose our own.

  4. Jacqueline, when we first received Gavin's diagnosis (he was 3), it seemed as if we'd never have the sort of relationship we expected with our son. I never imagined that movies might be the key, the common ground.

  5. Caftan Woman, I certainly enjoyed your post on Jack Albertson. He and Mabel Albertson are two of my favorite character actors of movies/TV. I'm glad he won his well-deserved Oscar in 1968, even if to do so required the fiction that this was a supporting performance and not the lead performance it obviously was.

    I also enjoyed the unexpected turn your post took when you shifted to the Jack Albertson-Gavin conncection. I think you're right that he must get the movie lover gene from you. I have a good friend who gets irked when I point out such connections as Gavin made. He claims that aside from a few clearly identifiable stars he never recognizes actors from one role to the next. All of us movie nuts know that attention to such trivia is a defining trait of the film fanatic.

  6. Caftan Woman, This post about a gem of an actor in connection with your movie buff son is as moving as it is enjoyable. You must be thrilled Gavin inherited your passion for movies, such a fine fascination to share.

  7. RDF, that "supporting" relegation of the role is one of those irksome things about the Academy.

    "All of us movie nuts know that attention to such trivia is a defining trait of the film fanatic." Truer words were never spoken.

  8. Thank you, Lady Eve. Jack Albertson epitomizes for me the most positive aspects of winning an Oscar. He really ran with it.

    I'm constantly pleased and surprised at the things in the movies which appeal to Gavin. They tell me the things about him that he can't reveal otherwise.

  9. You go, Gavin! Caftan Woman, I totally relate to your story about Gavin because, as I've surely mentioned, my own daughter Siobhan is a high-functioning Aspie in a mainstream high school. She loves movies and music, too (did I mention she's become a fan of singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw?), and she's an absolute whiz at imitating characters' lines and speech patterns. (God willing, she'd make a heck of a living as a voiceover artist for cartoons!) C.W., you're a wise woman, having used Gavin's issues as a great way to connect with your family members. That squeezing sound is me sending you and Gavin virtual hugs!

  10. P.S., C.W.: My dear late mom saw THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES on Broadway with the entire original cast. Having grown up in an Irish-American family very much like the characters in the play and the subsequent movie, she was quite moved, and it remained one of Mom's favorite plays/films for the rest of her life.

  11. Dorian, I hope you and Siobhan can feel the hug coming back at you - that is, if Siobhan is in the mood for a hug. It's easy to see she gets her talent gene from you.

    "The Subject Was Roses" is unforgettable. I have an internet acquaintance who saw replacement Chester Morris (Boston Blackie) in the role of the father and remembers him as one of the best performances he saw on Broadway.

  12. That was a wonderful story, CW. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  13. C.W., you had me smiling when you said, "Dorian, I hope you and Siobhan can feel the hug coming back at you - that is, if Siobhan is in the mood for a hug. It's easy to see she gets her talent gene from you." Thank you most kindly, my friend; the feeling is quite mutual indeed!

    Ironically, our "Shugie" happens to be one of those relatively rare Aspies who actually LIKES to be hugged, especially by me (Mama says modestly :-))! In fact, every morning and every time she comes home from school, Siobhan almost literally knocks down anyone or anything in her way to give me a great big happy, laughing hug, bless her loving heart! I guess that's just further proof that no two Aspies are the same, any more than no two people of any stripe are the same. We're all in this together after all! :-)

    How cool that your Internet pal saw Chester Morris onstage in THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES on Broadway! Morris has become a favorite of mine since I started watching his BOSTON BLACKIE movies on TCM. It's a shame Morris left us too soon, but it's great to know he wowed 'em on The Great White Way in Jack Albertson's role!

  14. Kevin, I'm glad you could see the wonderful in the story.

    Dorian, I think "huggers" are the best. Gavin will politely stand still for hugs and kisses from his family, but the older he gets the more embarrassed he seems. He just has to put up with it. I'm the Mom and I'll chase him for a hug whenever I want!

  15. CW,
    That quote by Albertson is perfect! It suits him as well. Thanks for including Willie Wonka since at least for me it's always the film I think of first for Jack. All the more reason this post/tribute was enjoyable. It's nice to learn a bit more about an actor instead of my very limited exposure to his work (Sorry Jack!)

    Gavin with that gorgeous black hair and strong jaw is a handsome young man to be sure. What makes him perfect is his love of old cinema. Does he have a favorite movie character or genre? Any Hollywood crushes?

    A fun post CW! Thanks for letting us get to know your awesome family.

  16. You're a doll, Page.

    Gavin's classic movie crushes are Rita Hayworth and Jean Arthur. His favourite actors appear to be Edward G. Robinson and Sidney Poitier. What a kid!

    I thought I knew Disney before Gavin was born, but living with Gavin has truly ramped up my knowledge and appreciation for classic animation.

  17. CW,
    I promise not to tell Kevin that Gavin is moving in on his gal! It sounds like Gavin needs his own blog feature titled "Gavin's Picks!" : )

    When I was a kid I absolutely hated cartoons! I wouldn't watch them because I felt they were too predictable. My usual complaint was "Why would I watch The Roadrunner?"..We know how it ends EVERY time..The bunny is an idiot and the roadrunner will get away."

    I avoided Gilligan's Island for the same reason. We waited years for that rescue and by then I no longer cared! ha ha I read books a lot instead of watching cartoons, not sure how that's helped me really. I hated cereal too which hasn't changed. My parents felt that wasn't normal.

    I do enjoy the good animated movies now so I'm starting to see the appeal.

  18. What a great story, CW. Your son sounds like a very smart young man.

  19. Kim, thanks. Gavin is pretty smart - it's just not obvious to a lot of people.

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