We've discovered another celebrity who hails from a corner of 'your country'. This one brought laughter into the lives of millions.
You don't hear much about them now, but they were huge, once upon a time.
The comedy team of Olsen and Johnson made eleven hit movies in the 1930's and '40's, but they didn't start out as movie stars, they got to Hollywood the hard way, they worked their way there, following a path to success that began half a continent away, in tiny Peru Indiana.
John Sigvard Olsen was born in Peru to immigrant Swedish parents in 1892, just a couple of blocks from the town's other famous son, Cole Porter. As a music student studying violin at Northwestern University, Olsen met another musician; a ragtime piano player from Chicago named Harold Johnson. They became fast friends and formed a musical comedy act that hit the Vaudeville circuit in 1914, playing small towns and one night stands across the Midwest. In five years their offbeat jokes and crazy stunts made them the number one Vaudeville act in the country.
In the 1930's Olsen and Johnson appeared in movies trading insults and pulling sight gags. They wrote and starred in their own Broadway musicals. 'Hellzapoppin' opened in 1938 and ran for a record breaking 1400 performances. Three years later it was made into a feature length film. Through it all, Vaudeville, Broadway, Hollywood, the duo never forgot where they came from. Ole Olsen came home to Peru often, usually announced, to visit friends and family. One day he had his sister’s jalopy automobile stolen from where she worked, replacing it with a brand new car.
By 1950, America's taste in humor had changed and Olsen and Johnson fizzled. But they'd performed together 42 years, and stayed best friends 'till their deaths in the early 1960's.
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