The Man Behind the Genius

The genius of Albert Einstein—from the theory of relativity to his work unraveling profound mysteries of the universe—is well-known.

However, many people know little about the man behind the genius.

For more than 30 years, actor Ed Metzger has depicted the eccentric Einstein. He creates a stirring portrait of the 20th-century intellectual who was known, on occasion, to ask directions to his own home.

From the white hair to sneakers without socks, Metzger's personification of Einstein reveals a troubled father, a comedian, a philosopher and a pacifist.

"I try to present Einstein as he was politically, socially and philosophically," said Metzger. "What was his sex life like? Was he a good father? What were his political views?"

Metzger and his wife, Laya Gelff-Metzger, spent two years researching and writing a script for what became Albert Einstein: The Practical Bohemian before it premiered in Los Angeles in 1978.

Metzger said the process shed new light on a man who had a profound sense of humor, yet was deeply concerned about the world in which he found himself.

"The one thing about Einstein that no one realizes is that he considered himself to be a Jewish comedian," said Metzger. "Einstein's son Hans Albert would tell a story about how his father had a book called The 100 Best Jewish Jokes."

Hans Albert recalled how his father would memorize a joke from the book and tell it when people came to his home, said Metzger.

"The trouble was, he would forget the punch line before he finished the joke, but everyone would laugh anyways, because, after all, it was Albert Einstein," he said.

An unfaithful husband and absentee father, Einstein's family came in a distant second to his life's research.

"Einstein was more concerned with the orbit of Mercury than whether or not his baby son had a bottle," said Metzger. "He was constantly chasing after women while married to his first wife and had little time for his sons."

Perhaps the most challenging and unique aspect of Metzger's role in Albert Einstein: The Practical Bohemian is the absence of other actors. Metzger is the sole performer.

"The audience allows me the prerogative to see the other person I am talking to," said Metzger, "I would tell you about Einstein's son as if he was as real as possible, sitting next to me on the park bench."

After a New York showing in 1979, Metzger was both surprised and deeply honored to receive an endorsement from the Einstein family for his performance. "They decided to come see the show, and afterward, they had a little party for me," said Metzger.

Metzger said he is the only actor who has received an endorsement from the Einstein family.

His award-winning portrayal has landed him roles in movies alongside some of Hollywood's biggest names. Metzger brought the renowned professor to life in Watchmen and Joe's Rotten World. He also acted in the classic Dog Day Afternoon and recently played President Theodore Roosevelt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Metzger and his wife, Laya, who directs and produces, are constantly shaping the show to be current.

In the last two years, it was found out that Einstein had an illegitimate baby who died. "He was devastated by it," said Metzger. "This is the kind of new material that gives audiences a better understanding of Einstein's character."

Metzger said he enjoys portraying Einstein because he has always felt a personal connection to the man.

"I turn on the news and see how we are trying to keep countries like Iran and North Korea from developing a nuclear bomb, and I say to myself, 'It is amazing it all started with Einstein,'" said Metzger.

Einstein never thought a human mind would use his revolutionary discoveries for destruction. When Einstein found out that Hitler's Germany had the ability to split the atom, he realized his mistake, said Metzger.

"Einstein came to realize there are men in this world who we must use naked force against to save the future of humanity," he said.

Metzger said if Einstein were alive today, he would be surprised that humans are still thriving here on Earth.

"In 1955, Einstein said that with the way things are going between the U.S. and Russia, 'I don't know how World War III will be fought, but I know World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,'" Metzger said.

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