Jack Albertson was an American character actor dating to vaudeville. A comedian, dancer, singer, and musician, Albertson is perhaps best known for his roles as Manny Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure and Grandpa Joe in the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and as Ed Brown in the 1974-1978 television sitcom Chico and the Man. For contributions to the television industry, Jack Albertson was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6253 Hollywood Boulevard.
Albertson was born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Russian-born Jewish immigrants Flora Craft and Leopold Albertson. His sister was actress Mabel Albertson. Albertson’s mother, a stock actress, supported the family by working in a shoe factory. Albertson dropped out of high school and traveled to New York City in an attempt to make it big in show business. He was too poor to get a room in a flophouse, so in the winter he would sleep on the IRT subway for a nickel, and hide out when the transit workers would clear out the train at the end of the line. In the summer he would sleep in Central Park. Albertson’s first real job in show business was with a vaudeville road troupe, the Dancing Verselle Sisters. He was considered a complete entertainer from the old school.
Albertson worked in burlesque as a hoofer and straight man to Phil Silvers on the Minsky’s Burlesque Circuit. Besides vaudeville and burlesque, he appeared on the stage in many Broadway plays including High Button Shoes, Top Banada, The Cradle Will Rock, Make Mine Manhattan, Show Boat, Boy Meets Girl, Girl Crazy, Meet the People, The Sunshine Boys, and The Subject Was Roses. He was also known for two radio programs, Just Plain Bill and The Jack Albertson Comedy Show.
Albertson appeared in over 30 films. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1968 film The Subject Was Roses. Ironically, he later apologised for winning the award to Jack Wild, who was also nominated and whom Albertson had expected to win. He appeared as Charlie Bucket’s Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and in The Poseidon Adventure, where he played Manny Rosen, husband to Belle. Albertson said that his one regret was that he was not asked to reprise his role in the movie version of The Sunshine Boys. One classic film he had a minor role in was Miracle on 34th St. where he played the mail clerk who directed the mail to Kris Kringle at the NY courthouse. This act led to the court ruling in favor of Santa Claus.