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Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson (January 20, 1929 – July 3, 2019) was an American comic actor who was a regular on television's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In — where he played characters including a German soldier with the catchphrase "verrrry interesting...", and an old man who habitually propositioned Ruth Buzzi's spinster character.
Johnson at the premiere of Seems Like Old Times in December 1980
Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson
January 20, 1929
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||July 3, 2019 (aged 90)|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois (B.A., 1949)|
Gisela Johnson (m. 1968)
Johnson was born January 20, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Abraham Lincoln (15 Apr 1902–25 Sep 1984) and Edythe Mackenzie (Goldberg/Golden, 26 Nov 1900–6 Oct 1996) Johnson. Though there is a claim that he and a twin brother, "Coslough" or "Cos" were born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the obituary for his mother identifies "Cos" as the nickname for Arte's younger brother Howard Leonard Johnson. This canard is revealed by Illinois Birth Certificates 2350, dated 20 Jan 1929, & 45677, dated 08 Nov 1931. His father was an attorney. Johnson attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he worked at the campus radio station and the UI Theater Guild with his brother Coslough "Cos" (Howard) Johnson, and graduated in 1949.
He sought employment in Chicago advertising agencies but was unsuccessful and left for New York City to work for Viking Press. In early 1954, Johnson performed in several New York nightclubs, including Le Ruban Bleu and the Village Vanguard. His first job in show business 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 on February 28, 1955, at the President Theater in New York.
Early television and film rolesEdit
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. On that program he played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr., the son of a co-owner of a department store, portrayed by Gale Gordon. He played Ariel Lavalerra in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's novel The Subterraneans (1960). In 1960 and 1961, he appeared in three episodes of Jackie Cooper's military sitcom/drama series, Hennesey, also on CBS. In Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he played Mr. Bates in the episode "A Secret Life" (1962). He was cast in an episode of Frank Aletter's sitcom, Bringing Up Buddy. He also appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone, ("The Whole Truth", 1961) as an underpaid car salesman who punches dishonest used car lot owner Jack Carson. Before his big breakthrough in Laugh-In, Johnson was cast for a guest role as Corporal Coogan in the anthology series, GE True ("The Handmade Private", 1962), hosted by Jack Webb. He played a bumbling navy cameraman on an episode of McHale's Navy in the first season and The Andy Griffith Show as a hotel clerk in the episode "Andy and Barney in the Big City" (also 1962).
Johnson appeared in a comedic role as Charlie, a boom-microphone operator who demonstrates to Jack Benny how to tell a joke properly, on The Jack Benny Program that aired on October 2, 1964. The joke performed in the sketch was the "ugly baby" story, later associated with Flip Wilson. He made a first-season guest appearance on ABC's sitcom, Bewitched as Samantha's (Elizabeth Montgomery) Cousin Edgar in 1965. A mute elf, Edgar is initially sent to observe and undermine Samantha's marriage to the non-witch/non-warlock, Darrin---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-new marriage.
Johnson appeared in one of the final episodes of ABC's The Donna Reed Show in 1966. He was cast in the satirical James Coburn film The President's Analyst (1967), in which he gave a comically chilling performance as a federal agent with a blindly obedient "orders are orders" mentality. He acted in the Season 3 episode of Lost in Space, "Princess of Space" (1968). Johnson played the traitorous robot space pirate Fedor helping the machines to win the war.
Johnson is best known for his work on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968 to 1973, on which he played many characters, including "Wolfgang", a cigarette-smoking German soldier who believed that World War II was still ongoing, as he scouted the show while hidden behind bushes. He would then invariably comment on the preceding sketch with the catchphrase "Very interesting ...", which Johnson claimed was inspired by a Nazi character who spoke the line during an interrogation scene in the film Desperate Journey (1942). Often toward the show's close, he (as the Nazi) would offer words of affection to "Lucy and Gary" (Lucille Ball and her second husband, Gary Morton). The Lucy Show on CBS was in direct competition with NBC's Laugh-In on Monday night. Johnson reprised the role while voicing the Nazi-inspired character Virman Vundabar on an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
His other prominent Laugh-In character was "Tyrone F. Horneigh" (pronounced "horn-eye," a "clean" variant of the vulgar term "horny"), the white-haired, trench coat-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 her a question, and regardless of the answer, turn it into a double entendre. She would then start hitting him with her purse and he would fall off the bench, sometimes with a plea for help.
To boost ratings in the third season, Tyrone successfully courted Gladys which led to an on-air wedding on the March 16, 1970 episode during the spring ratings sweep. Tiny Tim played best man, with Carol Channing as the bridesmaid and Henry Gibson officiating. (This event is included on the DVD recording of the episode. Both the bride-to-be and groom-to-be walk out of the church just before the wedding vows were to be said.)
Years after Laugh-In ended, the two characters were made into an animated Saturday-morning children's show, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits with Tyrone as a helpful, muttering "superhero".
Johnson guest-starred in two episodes of The Partridge Family ("My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls... and Tolls... and Tolls") and the situation comedy A Touch of Grace (1973). He appeared in the first season of the Detroit-produced children's show Hot Fudge (1974) and, for one week, as a celebrity guest panelist 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 played 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 and appeared as a guest on Canadian TV show Celebrity Cooks (1976) with host Bruno Gerussi. Johnson appeared on an episode of the NBC daytime version of Wheel of Fortune in September 1977, as a substitute letter-turner, both to fill-in for an injured Susan Stafford, and to promote his short-lived NBC game show Knockout, which aired through early 1978. Instead of being introduced by the show's announcer, he would start the show with a small monologue, then the announcer would introduce the day's contestants. He was cast as Renfield, the comic sidekick of George Hamilton's Dracula in the surprise hit, Love At First Bite (1979) and appeared in the all-star television disaster movie Condominium (1980). He voiced "Weerd" in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985), and played a disgruntled employee denied severance pay in an episode of Airwolf. He also voiced several other characters: Dr. Ludwig Von Strangebuck and Count Ray on two episodes of Ducktales; Devil Smurf on The Smurfs; Top Cat and Lou on Yo Yogi!; and Newt on Animaniacs.
Johnson guest-starred in the Murder, She Wrote episode, "No Laughing Murder" (1987). His character, Phil Rinker, is a guest at a wedding engagement party for the children of a legendary, but bitterly estranged, comedy team, Mack & Murray (played by Buddy Hackett and Steve Lawrence and based loosely on the genuine Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis split). After discovering that their ongoing dispute is a result of the theft of a video deal's residuals, Johnson's character is murdered but the death is made to look like a suicide. Johnson appeared in an episode of Night Court (1990).
From 1991 to 1992 Johnson appeared in multiple episodes of General Hospital as Finian O'Toole. He played the old laboratory head of a team of scientists working on a serum of youth in Second Chance (1996).
He performed more than 80 audiobook readings, including Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan (2006) and Carl Hiaasen's Bad Monkey. He appeared in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Ties That Bind" (2005) as the voice of Virman Vundabar.
Johnson retired from acting in 2006.
Johnson lived in Southern California with his wife, Gisela. He was a non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor, having been diagnosed and successfully treated in 1997. Johnson died on July 3, 2019, after being ill for three years with bladder and prostate cancer; he was 90. His ashes were sprinkled off Hawaii.
- Miracle in the Rain (1956)
- The Subterraneans (1960)
- Bewitched (1965)
- The Third Day (1965)
- That Funny Feeling (1965)
- The President's Analyst (1967)
- P.J. (1968)
- I Dream of Jeannie (1969)
- Night Gallery (1971, TV)
- The Partridge Family (1972)
- Charge of the Model T's (1977)
- Once Upon a Brothers Grimm (1977, TV)
- Fantasy Island (1977, 1978, TV)
- Love At First Bite (1979)
- The Dukes of Hazzard (1979, TV)
- Condominium (1980, TV)
- The Love Tapes (1980, TV)
- Making of a Male Model (1983)
- Cannonball Run II (1984)
- The A-Team (1986)
- Evil Spirits (1990)
- Evil Toons (1992)
- Munchie (1992)
- Justice League Unlimited (2005, TV)
- "Arte Johnson biography". filmreference.com. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
- Slotnik, Daniel E. (July 3, 2019). "Arte Johnson, 'Very Interesting' Comic Actor, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
- Weekly Variety, Jan. 20, 1954; April 7, 1954.
- "'Old Faces of 2002': Peter Marshall and Arte Johnson". USA Today. April 5, 2002. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
- "Berlin Correspondent (1942)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
- "Arte Johnson / Television Academy". Emmys.com. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
- "Coslough Johnson / Television Academy". Emmys.com. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
- Murder, She Wrote episode "No Laughing Murder" on IMDb
- Barnes, Mike; Byrge, Duane (July 3, 2019). "Arte Johnson, Master of Manic Characters on 'Laugh-In,' Dies at 90". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 3, 2019.