John Leonard “Johnny” Olson was born May 22, 1910 in Windom, Minnesota.
By the age of 18, Johnny had enrolled as a pharmacy major at the University of Minnesota.
His destiny became evident, however, when he landed radio broadcasting jobs in nearby Madison, Wisconsin.
Johnny moved to Chicago, hosting several radio shows. Then in 1944, Johnny was hired for his first national network radio job in New York City, announcing the musical game show “Ladies Be Seated.” Next he worked as the announcer of a stunt radio game show broadcast on the NBC Blue radio network.
Johnny hosted a popular late-night radio variety show broadcast from 10:30 pm to 12 midnight. The popularity of that radio show allowed Johnny to become the host of his own daytime television talk show “Johnny Olson’s Rumpus Room” on DuMont’s East Coast flagship station WABD.
Johnny then hosted “Doorway to Fame,” an evening television talent show also on the DuMont network.
Johnny Olson also hosted the Saturday morning children’s show Kids and Company on DuMont from September 1951 to June 1952.
Then in 1958, Johnny began announcing for the original national TV show “Name That Tune.” That same year, Johnny began announcing the Merv Griffin hosted show “Play Your Hunch” which lasted until 1963.
Beginning in 1960, Johnny began announcing 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?”).
Then in 1961, Johnny added duties on sister show What’s My Line?, and in 1962 he began announcing the original Match Game (hosted by Gene Rayburn) on NBC until that series ended in 1969.
Johnny Olson was also the announcer for The Jackie Gleason Show from 1962 until its cancellation in 1970. The first few seasons of the Gleason variety show were recorded in New York City (as Johnny 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 (Johnny replaced the slogan with “the sun and fun capital of the world”).
In the late 1960s, Johnny was also a substitute announcer on the ABC version of Supermarket Sweep.
Johnny 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 in 1972 when he was designated announcer of revival shows The Price Is Right and I’ve Got a Secret, both of which were taped in Hollywood.
Johnny then left New York, moving to the west coast.
The Price Is Right
While Name That Tune, To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line, and The Match Game put Johnny Olson in the upper echelons of television game show announcers, the revival of The Price Is Right cemented his fame.
From the first show on September 4, 1972, to his passing in 1985, his role on the show transcended that of an announcer.
In addition to serving as then-host Bob Barker’s sidekick, Johnny became 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, Johnny Olson also started announcing the 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, Johnny Olson filled in on the days when a scheduled guest failed to appear in time for a taping.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, while going strong with his announcing duties on Price and Match, Johnny announced nine other shorter-lived game shows, including Now You See It, Mindreaders, Double Dare, and a revival of Tattletales, all of which were Goodson-Todman productions.
Johnny even filled in for Bob Hilton on Blockbusters as well as having substituted for Gene Wood on three diffrent game shows, the NBC version of Card Sharks, Password Plus and The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour along with his final non-Price assignment, Body Language, all of which were also Goodson-Todman productions.
Johnny 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.
Johnny spent his off time on his spacious farm located at Buckingham Acres in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
Then Johnny Olson died 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. The last Olson-announced episode aired on November 8, 1985.
He was entombed at Rosewood Cemetery in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
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