Eddie Albert died yesterday. He was 99. Most people remember him as Oliver Wendell Douglas, gentleman farmer on the situation comedy "Green Acres." I will remember him as a full-fledged iconoclast and counter-culture hero.
A lot of people might make the mistake of viewing "Green Acres" as the opposite end of the telescope from "The Beverly Hillbillies." A cultured, privileged aristocrat is tossed into the boonies, where he must fend for himself. That would be short-sighted: Oliver chose to return to the land by choice, it was no fluke of "shootin' at some food" that altered his circumstances. It would have been easy enough to slip off into corporate attorney slumber and retire decades later as full partner - but this was not his path.
Having trouble buying this argument? Check out Mr. Albert's Academy Award nominated role as bohemian photographer Irving Radovich. I thinks Eddie comes by his beatnik cred very naturally.
So, here's this lawyer heading off to buy a piece of land he can call his own, along with his less-than-thrilled wife, Lisa. In Hooterville, he is viewed with some suspicion - an outsider who only wants the life of gentleman farmer. The residents initially set up a pool to see how long it will take before he and his flapjack flipping wife head back to the big city. Oliver is every bit as courageous in his convictions as Ray Kinsella as he ploughed his field under for a baseball field.
The obstacles Oliver encounters in his efforts to provide a simple life for himself and his wife are monumental. The contractors (Alf and Ralph - brother and sister - don't get me started) will never show up to finish the work on the house, Hank Kimball the county's agriculture advisor doesn't know a root from a stem, Mr. Haney would rather try and sell term life insurance than tractor parts, and to make a simple phone call Oliver has to shimmy up a ten foot pole. The help he receives? His hired hand, Eb, has only had his job for thirty seconds before he asks his boss about his vacation.
Does Oliver suffer these fools gladly? Not always - he is prone to outbursts of frustration and periods of latent stuffiness, but he has a vision that he wants to see through. He routinely seeks to unite his community, offering to mediate disputes and advocate on their behalf on legal matters large and small. Oliver is a man of the people - he even intervenes when Arnold the Pig is drafted.
Meanwhile, just up the railroad track, Kate Bradley is running a bordello called "The Shady Rest" - but all of that "Petticoat Junction" double entendre will have to wait - we bid a fond adieu to Eddie Albert - a man of means and conviction. May the Cannonball Express get him to heaven half an hour before the devil knows he's dead.