Mini Saturday State Post: Wisconsin Born Actress Nancy Olson

Sunset Blvd (1950)

When  I first watched the movie Sunset Boulevard (1950) many years ago, frankly, I didn’t care for it at all. I know that’s considered a sin by many classic movie fans, but you have to realize that was back in my early days of watching classic movies when I didn’t really enjoy film noir. The movie I guess you could say was just a little too dark and strange for me. But because my tastes have really evolved over the years, I decided to give it another try.

Nancy Olson and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard

Much to my surprise, I liked it a lot more than the previous time and understand now why it’s considered such a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Although it will never be near the top of my favorites list, I came to appreciate many of the aspects that make it such a respected classic.

I especially came away with a renewed  interest in actor William Holden but another person who came to my attention this time around was actress Nancy Olson. Nancy was definitely a bright ray of light in an otherwise dark movie, and I wanted to learn more about her.

I finally did after I watched her in the movie Union Station (1950) in which she once again starred with William Holden. I got the idea to look up which state she was born in with the intention of making that the next subject of my Saturday State Post series. I was excited when I found out that she was born in my home state of Wisconsin, but unfortunately I had covered that already. I decided just to do it in the form of a mini-state post anyway, which you’ll find below.

Getting to Know Actress Nancy Olson

Actress Nancy Olson

Born:  July 14, 1928 in Milwaukee, WI

Still living

Married twice; once to lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and once to writer/producer Alan Livingston for 47 years until his death in 2009

Known for the Movies: Sunset Boulevard, Union Station, Pollyanna, The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber

My Favorite Nancy Olson Movie: Sunset Boulevard

Interesting Facts About Nancy Olson:

  • She appeared in several stage productions while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later UCLA. During one production at UCLA, she was invited to do a screen test for Paramount, which resulted in her signing a seven year contract.
  • Her nickname in college was “wholesome Olson”
  • She became good friends with Edith Head who designed the costumes for Sunset Boulevard.
  • Her then husband Alan Jay Lerner dedicated the Broadway play “My Fair Lady” to her.
  • When her husband Alan Livingston played the song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for her (he was partly responsible for signing the Beatles to a recording contract), she told him it was the worst thing she had ever heard. Oops! :-)

 

I learned a few of those facts while watching a video of a Q&A session between Nancy and Alan K. Rode from the Film Noir Foundation. It was conducted after a special screening of Sunset Boulevard on May 9, 2014 in Palm Springs, California. It was such a fun and fascinating session in which Nancy told stories about working with director Billy Wilder and her co-stars Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and William Holden, and also provided behind the scenes insights about the making of the movie and other aspects of her life and career.

You can find the video and many others like it through the Film Noir Foundation Video Archive, which is a collection of various noir-related video. I think they are such a great way to learn about the history and humanity behind what you see onscreen, and I’d watch them all day long if I could.

To sum up, I wanted to share this great quote by Nancy regarding her role in Sunset Boulevard, “You wonder about destiny, you wonder about how your life takes turns, what doors open. The door opened and I became a leading character in one of the greatest films ever made. That is amazing.”

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2 comments

  1. Karen says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Ginny — and I share your fondness for Nancy Olson. She was at the TCM film fest this past year, but because of conflicts, I unfortunately did not get a chance to see her. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she will be there again.

  2. Ginny says:

    Thanks Karen! She really is a delightful actress and person. Sorry you were not able to see her. That would have been awesome. I’ll cross my fingers with you that she is able to come again. :-) Hopefully a year when I can make it, too.