Sunday, March 30, 2008

Olsen and Johnson - The "Hellzapoppin'" Boys

Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson were vaudeville comedians who eventually went on to Broadway, movies, radio and television. Their act originally consisted of playing musical instruments while interjecting jokes. They eventually developed their show into a revue of zany gags, known as blackouts, and their advertising would state "anything can happen, and it probably will".

Below is a photo, Olsen on the left and Johnson on the right.

Their most famous revue is "Hellzapoppin'", which featured all kinds of gags, mayhem, audience participation, etc. This revue was on Broadway and eventually made into a movie in 1941, starring Olsen and Johnson, but featuring dozens of others in various roles, including many cameos.

I'd seen "Hellzapoppin'" on tv during the 1960s and it became one of my all-time favorite comedies, along with Olsen and Johnson as one of my all-time favorite comedy teams. They didn't make too many movies, and some years had passed before others were shown on tv or became available on video. Two other zany comedies of theirs are "Crazy House" (1943) and "Ghost Catchers" (1944). Below are a couple of scenes from the latter.

Both men died shortly before I became initially active in collecting autographed photos (Johnson in 1962 and Olsen in 1963). When I became very active in the hobby, in the 1970s and 1980s, their autographs were on my "wanted" list, if ever they would be offered at a reasonable price.

Well, in the early 1990s, a person in NYC acquired a collection of signed photos and autograph albums from a friend who died. He had little interest in keeping most of them, so decided to sell, as he knew there would be collectors who'd be interested. His prices were very reasonable, quite cheap actually. I bought several from him, at least a few each time he sent me a list.

I bought these signed album pages for $5 each, truly a bargain.

You can read a well-researched informative article about Olsen and Johnson, by Charles Stumpf, here.


Don J. Long said...

Thanks Bill,

I too have been a big fan of O&J since I was a kid in the 1950s, having seen their movies when they were first-run on TV here in Los Angeles.

Great photos! Thanks for your cool article. I love HELLZAPOPPIN' and CRAZY HOUSE!

Cheers, Don J. Long

Charlie Christ said...

Hi Bill:
Nice article. However, doesn't the Ole Olsen autograph read Ole Olsen Jr. ? I seem to recall in Leonard Maltin's book Movie Comedy Teams that Olsen and Johnson spun off one of their stage shows to two other comedians so they could double down on the audiences. I believe the comedians were Joe Besser and Ole Olsen Jr. (who was Ole's brother and not his son). I can't find anything on the Internet and have to dig for Maltin's book.