Johnson at the premiere of The Rose, November 1979
|Born||Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson
January 20, 1929
Benton Harbor, Berrien County
|Alma mater||University of Illinois (B.A., 1949)|
|Spouse(s)||Gisela Johnson (m. 1968)|
Arthur Stanton Eric "Arte" Johnson (born January 20, 1929) is an American comic actor who was a regular on NBC's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. His best-remembered "character" was that of a German soldier with the catchphrase: "Verrrry interesting, but...['stupid', 'not very funny', and other variations]".
Johnson was born in Benton Harbor in Berrien County in far southwestern Michigan, the son of Edythe Mackenzie (née Golden) and Abraham Lincoln Johnson, an attorney. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, from which he graduated in 1949, having worked at the campus radio station and the UI Theater Guild with his brother, Coslough "Cos" Johnson.
He initially unsuccessfully sought employment in Chicago advertising agencies but left for New York City to work for Viking Press. His first "show business" job came when he impulsively stepped into an audition line and was cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Johnson appeared in Ben Bagley's "The Shoestring Revue", which opened off-Broadway at the President Theater in New York on February 28, 1955, along with Bea Arthur, Dody Goodman, Chita Rivera, and Jane Connell.
Johnson appeared three times in the 1955–1956 CBS sitcom It's Always Jan, starring Janis Paige and Merry Anders. In 1958, he joined the cast of the short-lived NBC sitcom, Sally, starring Joan Caulfield. He played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr., the son of a co-owner of a department store, Bascomb, Sr., portrayed by Gale Gordon. In 1960 and 1961 he was cast in three episodes of Jackie Cooper's CBS military sitcom/drama series, Hennesey. In 1961, he played "Mr. Bates" in the episode "A Secret Life" on CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was cast in an episode of Frank Aletter's CBS sitcom, Bringing Up Buddy.
He appeared in "The Whole Truth", a 1961 episode of "The Twilight Zone", as an underpaid car salesman who punches dishonest used car lot owner Jack Carson.
Before his big breakthrough in Laugh-In, Johnson appeared as Corporal Coogan in the 1962 episode "The Handmade Private" of the CBS anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. In 1965, he made a first-season guest appearance on the ABC's sitcom, Bewitched as Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery)'s Cousin Edgar. A mute elf, Edgar is initially sent to observe and undermine Samantha's marriage – all with the blessing of Endora (Agnes Moorehead). Once he sees how happily married Samantha and Darrin Stephens (Dick York) are, Edgar reverses his mischief and gives his (albeit quiet) blessing to their still-newlywed marriage. Johnson appeared in one of the final episodes in 1966 of ABC's The Donna Reed Show. He was cast in the 1967 satirical James Coburn film The President's Analyst, in which he gave a comically chilling performance as a federal agent with a blindly obedient 'orders-are- orders' mentality.
Johnson also starred in the 1971 episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery entitled "The Flip-Side of Satan" playing ruthless, fringe-leather vested disk jockey "J.J. Wilson", who is forced to confront his past transgressions.
Johnson is best known for his work on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, an American television series from 1967 to 1973, on which he played various characters including "Wolfgang", a smoking World War II German soldier scouting the show from behind a bush (still fighting the war) invariably commenting on the preceding sketch with the catchphrase "Very interesting..." followed by either a comic observation or misinterpretation, or simply "but stupid!" Johnson indicated later that the phrase came from Desperate Journey, a 1942 World War II film with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing Royal Air Force pilots shot down in Nazi Germany; they managed to cross much of the country without speaking German or knowing the territory but, when captured, their Nazi interrogator doubts their story with the phrase.† Johnson reprised the role while voicing the Nazi-inspired character Virman Vunderbarr on an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
His other iconic Laugh-In character was "Tyrone F. Horneigh" (the last name pronounced "horn-eye" – a "clean" variant of the vulgar term "horny"), the white-haired, trenchcoat-wearing "dirty old man" who repeatedly sought to seduce "Gladys Ormphby" (Ruth Buzzi's brown-clad 'spinster' character) on a park bench. Tyrone would enter the scene, muttering a song (usually "In the Merry, Merry Month of May",) and, spying Gladys on the bench, would sit next to her. He would ask two related 'leading questions,' each earning him a hard whack from a shocked Gladys using her purse. His third statement would be an appeal for medical assistance, at which time he would fall off the bench.
Referring to an only moderately popular candy made from caramel and walnuts, Tyrone would also frequently ask Gladys, "How about a Walnetto?"
Arte and his brother, Cos, earned their Emmy Awards while working on Laugh-In.
In 1974, Johnson appeared in the first season of the Detroit-produced children's show Hot Fudge. He also appeared in 1974 as a celebrity guest panelist (for one week) on the game show Match Game. In the late 1970s, he was a semi-regular celebrity guest panelist on The Gong Show.
In 1976, he voiced the animated cartoon character "Misterjaw", a blue German-accented shark (with a bow tie and top hat) who liked to leap out of the water and shout "HEEGotcha!" or "Gotcha!" at unsuspecting folks on The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half Show. He also voiced the character Rhubarb on The Houndcats.
Later in 1977, he hosted the NBC game show Knockout. Instead of being introduced by the announcer (John Harlan), he would always start the show with a small monologue, then would introduce today's contestants.
In 1985, he voiced Weerd in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.
He has performed some memorable audiobook readings, including Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan (2006) and more than 80 other books.
He lives in southern California with his wife Gisela, and does voice tracks and recordings.
† Johnson was somewhat incorrect in his recollection of the details of this movie, and his faulty recollection was subsequently misquoted and widely repeated on the Internet, further distorting the origin of the phrase. In the movie, after getting shot down and captured, an English-speaking German officer played by Raymond Massey interrogates the flyers. During the interrogation, they see through a window some nearly-assembled aircraft being transported on trucks, and the Raymond Massey character says “I see you find that view most interesting … too bad you saw that, now you can not be even considered for exchange…” but it was not spoken doubting any story told by the flyers. The flyers escape from the interrogation and begin their “journey” across Germany and The Netherlands, traveling towards the English Channel in stolen vehicles while wearing stolen German uniforms. Along the way, they have several violent engagements with German troops and commit sabotage; they are actively pursued by the Raymond Massey character and at the end commandeer a British bomber previously captured by the Germans and fly it back to England, without any German remarking, to either the flyers or to another German: “Very interesting ... ” and, the Errol Flynn character is fluent in German. It is possible that the actual source of the phrase is the movie “Berlin Correspondent” (use of the phrase in the movie is reported but unverified) and that Johnson had confused elements of the two movies and/or misremembered aspects of them.
- "'Old Faces of 2002': Peter Marshall and Arte Johnson". USA Today. January 21, 2005. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
- "Berlin Correspondent (1942)". The New York Times. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
- Baggy Pants & the Nitwits at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half Show" (1976) at the Internet Movie Database
- Airwolf episode Severance Pay (1985) at the Internet Movie Database
- "Night Court" – The Glasnost Menagerie (1990) at the Internet Movie Database
In the 1965 movie "MORITURI", Marlon Brando is a reluctant German spy who uses the phrase, "very interesting".