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Olson in 1956.
|Born||John Leonard Olson
May 22, 1910
Windom, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||October 12, 1985
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cerebral hemorrhage|
John Leonard "Johnny" Olson (May 22, 1910 – October 12, 1985) was an American radio personality and television announcer. Olson is perhaps best known for his work as an announcer for game shows, particularly the work he did for Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions; Olson was the longtime announcer for the original To Tell the Truth and What's My Line? early in his career and spent over a decade as the announcer for both Match Game and The Price Is Right, and he had been working on the latter series at the time of his death.
Born in Windom, Minnesota, while landing jobs at WIBA and KGDA in Madison, Wisconsin after 1928, Olson enrolled in pharmacy classes at the University of Minnesota. He also worked a string of odd jobs, from soda jerk to singer.
Johnny joined WTMJ in Milwaukee in the late 1930s, organizing a five-piece Jazz band called The Rhythm Rascals and became one of the station's most popular personalities. The Rascals eventually made it to Hollywood, however they would send daily recordings of their shows back to WTMJ. Olson would eventually return to WTMJ and Milwaukee, where he would go on to create the first iteration of Johnny Olson's Rumpus Room. Under Olson, Rumpus Room attracted major national performers, including Spike Jones and The Andrews Sisters. By 1942, the immense popularity of Rumpus Room prompted WTMJ to dedicate the large unfinished Television studio (Plans for what would later become WTMJ-TV were suspended due to World War II) in their new facility to the program.
Olson's first network job on radio was in New York City in 1944, announcing the musical game show, Ladies Be Seated, a stunt game along the lines of Truth or Consequences broadcast on the NBC Blue radio network. He previously hosted several radio shows in Chicago, including Johnny Olson's Rumpus Room, a late-night variety radio show broadcast from 10:30 pm to 12 midnight, which was also the name of a later daytime talk show he hosted on the DuMont Television Network.
As late as 1956, Olson had a crack at another radio quiz, the short-lived Second Chance, somewhat similar to the earlier hit Queen for a Day in that this show, too, focused on guest contestants' tribulations, in this case a chance at rectifying a mistake or a loss in life.
Work for DuMont Television Network
From May 1947 to July 1949, Olson hosted Doorway to Fame, an evening television talent show on the new DuMont Television Network. From January 1949 to July 1952, Olson hosted Johnny Olson's Rumpus Room, a daytime television talk show which was the first daytime show broadcast from DuMont's flagship station WABD over DuMont's small East Coast network. Olson also hosted the Saturday morning children's show Kids and Company on DuMont from September 1951 to June 1952, with co-host Ham Fisher.
Early announcing work
Olson's first TV announcing job was on the final year of the original Name That Tune in 1958; in that year Olson also announced the Merv Griffin-hosted Play Your Hunch, which lasted until 1963 and began his long association with Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions, five years earlier. In the late 1960s, he was also a substitute announcer on the ABC version of Supermarket Sweep.
Beginning in 1960, Olson announced the CBS prime-time panel game To Tell the Truth (on which he greeted each team of challengers with the question, "What is your name, please?"). The following year, he added duties on sister show What's My Line?, and in 1962 began announcing in the original Match Game (hosted by Gene Rayburn) in daytime on NBC until that series ended in 1969.
Olson was also announcer for The Jackie Gleason Show from 1962 until its cancellation in 1970. The first few seasons of the variety show were recorded in New York City (as Olson would say at the beginning of each show, "the entertainment capital of the world"), while the last few seasons were produced in Miami Beach, Florida (replaced by "the sun and fun capital of the world").
Olson continued to announce What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth after both shows moved from CBS to syndication in the late 1960s. His involvement with both of them ended when he was designated announcer of the 1972 revivals of The Price Is Right and I've Got a Secret, both of which were taped in Hollywood, and left New York for the west coast.
The Price Is Right
While Name That Tune, To Tell the Truth, What's My Line, and The Match Game put Olson in the upper echelons of television game show announcers, the revival of The Price Is Right cemented Olson's fame. From the first show (airing September 4, 1972) to his passing in 1985, his role transcended that of an announcer.
In addition to serving as then-host Bob Barker's sidekick, Olson was a beloved and valued member of the cast. He warmed up the audience prior to taping; during taping, he often had on-camera exposure (occasionally bantering with Barker) prior to calling out the contestants' names; he also appeared in many of the shows' Showcases.
His exhortations for contestants to "Come on down!" became a catchphrase, and a Price Is Right tradition observed by his successors, Rod Roddy (1986–2003), Rich Fields (2004–2010), and George Gray (2011–present).
Match Game and later career
In 1973, Olson started announcing for a revived Match Game, another show transplanted from New York to California; the show's "Get ready to match the stars!" became a second catchphrase associated with him for the following nine years. Like executive producer Mark Goodson, Olson filled in on the days when a scheduled guest failed to appear in time for a taping. Olson only missed one taping of Match Game during the CBS years; Bern Bennett was his fill-in for one week of daytime shows and one nighttime show in 1975.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, while going strong with his announcing duties on Price and Match, he worked on several other Goodson-Todman game shows. He announced Now You See It, Concentration (both hosted by Jack Narz), Mindreaders (hosted by Dick Martin), Double Dare (hosted by Alex Trebek), Body Language (hosted by Tom Kennedy), and a revival of Tattletales (hosted by Bert Convy). He also filled in for Bob Hilton on Blockbusters and for Gene Wood on the NBC version of Card Sharks, Password Plus, and The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour.
Olson's name was occasionally the solution to clues and puzzles on shows he announced for; this happened on both Now You See It and Body Language. Additionally, when "Come on _______" was used as a question in the "Super Match" portion of an episode of Match Game '78 (with then Price host Bob Barker serving as a panelist), host Gene Rayburn called Olson to center stage to read the top answer ("Come on down!").
Olson spent his off time on his spacious farm located at Buckingham Acres in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
Olson died on Saturday, October 12, 1985 in Santa Monica, California, six days after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. The staff and crew of The Price Is Right learned of Olson's condition as studio 33 at CBS Television City was being prepared for another day's taping. Production was cancelled for the rest of the week (shows were recorded several weeks in advance of broadcast). There was no on-air mention of Olson's death until October 15 when then-host Bob Barker paid tribute to Olson in an attached segment that followed the end credits. In that segment, Barker said "Since taping this program, we've lost our good friend, Johnny Olson. You'll continue to see and hear Johnny on the many programs he's already taped. He was dearly loved by all of us and will be sorely missed." followed by a picture of Olson with the caption "IN MEMORIAM 1910-1985". The last Olson-announced episode aired on November 8, 1985. He was entombed at Rosewood Cemetery in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
- Johnny Olson at the Internet Movie Database
- Johnny Olson at the Internet Broadway Database
- POV OnLine
- Johnny Olson at Find a Grave
(in the original version)
|Announcer of The Price Is Right