skip navigation
Olson & Johnson
Remind Me

Spotlight on Olsen & Johnson - Friday, April 8th

Olsen and Johnson, a popular comedy team of vaudeville and Broadway, appeared in nine films during the 1930s and '40s. The tall and lanky Ole Olsen (1892-1963) hailed from Wabash, Ind.; the rotund Chic Johnson (1891-1962), known for his infectious high-pitched laugh, was born in Chicago and played ragtime piano. The two formed their partnership in 1914. Manic enthusiasm was the keynote of their "nut humor." Their biggest screen success was Universal's Hellzapoppin' (1941), a zany farce co-starring Martha Raye and based on their Broadway hit of 1938-40.

Before that, Olsen and Johnson made three movies for Warner Bros., beginning with Oh, Sailor Behave (1930). Next was Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931), a screen version of Cole Porter's Broadway musical -- with all the songs removed! Olsen and Johnson play detectives hired to make sure a wealthy man doesn't win his bet that he can successfully woo a beautiful girl without revealing his riches. In the process the guys tangle with a lusty tourist (Helen Broderick) and a mind-reading magician (Bela Lugosi). In the final Warners outing, Gold Dust Gertie (1931), Winnie Lightner plays a woman who marries Johnson, then divorces him to marry (and divorce) Olsen. Later happily married to others, the two must contend with a mutual ex-wife who pursues both in search of alimony.

After the success of Hellzapoppin', Olsen and Johnson made three more films for Universal, the last being See My Lawyer (1945). The two finished out their joint career on stage, with occasional appearances on television.

The films in TCM's salute to Olsen and Johnson are Gold Dust Gertie (1931) and Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931).

by Roger Fristoe