Friday, June 25, 2021


Nicholas Colasanto was born in Providence, Rhode Island on January 19, 1924.  He was the son of Italian immigrants and was of the first generation of his family to be born in America.

After high school, Colasanto enlisted in the United States Navy and served his country during World War 2.  He held the enlisted rank of Coxswain and was often decorated for his service, earning the World War 2 Victory Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel Button.

After the war, Colasanto returned to Rhode Island, where he enrolled at Bryant College.  Although he initially set his sights on a career in accounting, he opted to go the theatrical route while in school, and later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Colasanto began his acting career in the late 1950s, appearing on such series as Playhouse 90 and Car 54, Where Are You?.  He became a reliable character actor in the 60s and 70s, appearing on such series as Kojak and The Streets of San Francisco

During this period, Colasanto became a director as well, working on many high-profile series of the time, including BonanzaHawaii Five-O and Starsky and Hutch. It was also during this period that he was first diagnosed with heart disease, a problem further exacerbated by his two decades of alcoholism.  He joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1976, but the damage to his health and career was already set in stone.  His last major role was as mafia boss Tommy Como in 1980's Raging Bull.

After the film, Colasanto was all set to retire and focus on his health, but an odd thing happened.  He was offered a role on a new sit-com, one that would ultimately define his career.  In 1982, he was cast as Coach Ernie Pantusso on the NBC series Cheers.

The series was not an immediate hit, often finishing at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings.  But by the second season it had gained a respectable audience, due in no small part to Colasanto's dimwitted but likable character.

As the show entered its third season, Colasanto's health was in noticeable decline.  He had lost a lot of weight and according to co-star Ted Danson, he was having difficulty remembering his lines. 

Shortly after Christmas 1984, he was admitted to a local hospital with water in his lungs, where he'd stay well into the new year.  Upon his release, doctors advised him to hang up his apron and focus on his health.  By this point he had already unknowingly filmed his final full episode, but he returned to shoot one last cold opening that would air later that season.

On February 12, 1985, Colasanto suffered a heart attack and died in his Los Angeles home.  He was 61 years old.  A memorial service was conducted in North Hollywood, attended by the full cast and crew and more than 300 mourners.

Colasanto's body was returned to Rhode Island, where the funeral was held.  He was buried in a family plot with his brother Joseph in Saint Ann Cemetery, Cranston, Rhode Island.  According to this blogger, the grave does not see much traffic.

Location: Section #31, Lot #211, Grave #1

Rest in peace, Coach.


  • John Ratzenberger, who portrayed Cliff Clavin, was the only Cheers cast member to attend Colasanto's funeral.  As the third season was still in production at the time of his death, there was insufficient time for the rest of the cast to travel from California to Rhode Island and back.

  • Following his death, Bryant College dedicated a room to Colasanto in their Bryant Center facility.  Dubbed "Nick's Place," it serves as a shrine to Colasanto and of his years at Bryant.  The centerpiece is an apron worn by Colasanto on Cheers, signed by cast members Ted Danson, John Ratzenberger, George Wendt and Rhea Perlman.  It bears the inscription "In memory of our dear Nicky.  We miss you pal."

  • Colasanto kept a photo of Geronimo in his Cheers dressing room.  Following his death, it was hung in the bar as a tribute to his work on the series.  Eight years later, during the final scene of the series, Ted Danson is seen adjusting the photo.  You can watch that clip on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Nell Carter


"When I was growing up, it was not something you aspired to.  I was a weirdo to want to be in show business.  Most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses."

Nell Carter was born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama on September 13, 1948.  She was a singer right from the start, first in the church choir, then later on a local gospel radio show.

When Nell was 15, she joined the Renaissance Ensemble, a musical group that performed in local business establishments.  They hit the road four years later, relocating to New York City, where she officially adopted the surname of Carter. 

In 1971, Carter landed her first role on Broadway, appearing in a show called Soon, an aptly titled musical that closed after just three performances.  Strike two came a few years later, when she was cast opposite Bette Davis in the musical Miss Moffat, which was based on the latter's earlier film The Corn is Green. This production was a box office failure and ultimately closed before ever making it to Broadway.

Her big break came in the mid-1970s, when she was cast in the musical Ain't Misbehavin', for which she'd win a Tony Award.  She moved on to other Broadway productions, including the popular musical Annie.  In 1978, she was cast in Dreamgirls, but ultimately left the production before it premiered, having joined the cast of the ABC soap opera Ryan's Hope.

But Carter was destined for primetime, and in 1981 she signed on to the role for which she is most famously remembered, Nell Harper on the NBC sit-com Gimme A Break!.  Check out the iconic theme song on YouTube.  The series was an overnight success and ran for six seasons, earning Carter Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations. 

Following its cancellation in 1987, Carter embarked on a five-month national tour with Joan Rivers, performing in nightclubs across the country.  The following year, she attempted a return to primetime television, starring in the pilot for a new television series entitled Morton's By the Bay.  Although NBC passed on the series, they did air the pilot as a one-time special.  You can watch it in its entirety on YouTube.  Then in 1990, she landed a new sit-com on CBS entitled You Take the Kids.  The series was perceived as an African-American version of Roseanne and was quickly canceled.  You can watch a promo on YouTube.

In the mid-1990s, Carter returned to Broadway, signing on to a revival of Annie as the villainous Miss Hannigan, taking over for actress Marcia Lewis.  She'd never appear in the production however, after feuding with producers over a television commercial featuring Lewis, a Caucasian, that was still being used to promote the show.  Producers argued that the commercials were too expensive to reshoot, a decision that greatly hurt Carter, who told the New York Post "I've asked them nicely to stop it - it's insulting to me as a black woman."  The part was ultimately recast with Sally Struthers. 

In the early 2000s, Carter continued making guest appearances on television, most notably with recurring roles on the sit-coms Reba and Ally McBeal.  She was also appearing in a production of Raisin, a musical adaptation of the Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun.

For most of her life, Carter suffered from a myriad of health conditions, including diabetes and cocaine addiction.  She also had a family history of brain aneurysms, and underwent two preventative procedures.  But at 54, her body had had enough.  On the evening of January 23, 2003, her son Joshua discovered her body in their home, apparently several hours after her death.  Per a provision in her will, no autopsy was conducted and her death was ruled a heart attack.

Nell Carter was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.  She is in the top row of a tall mausoleum, making photography somewhat difficult.

Location: Acacia Gardens, Wall KK, Crypt 7040
Inscription: A Loving Mother And a Sparkling Jewel to Those Close Enough to Love Her

Rest in peace, Miss Carter.


  • Carter's father met with tragedy when Nell was just two years old.  In full view of his daughter, he mistakenly stepped on a live power line and was killed instantly.

  • Prior to her first marriage in 1982, Carter converted to Judaism.  She remained active in the faith for the rest of her life.

  • Carter has the distinction of having won two awards for the same performance.  In 1978, she won the Tony Award for her role in the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin'.  Then in 1982, she won an Emmy Award for a televised broadcast of the show.

  • On more than one occasion, Carter performed The Star Spangled Banner at Major League Baseball games, including Game 4 of the 1989 World Series.  Here's a performance from April 1997 at Shea Stadium.

  • Carter's bisexuality was a well-guarded secret.  Although she was married and divorced twice, she spent her final years with partner Ann Kaser.

  • Carter died nearly penniless, with just $200 in her bank account. 

  • This blogger attended a taping of the Bill Maher series Politically Incorrect in 1997.  One of the panelists that night was Nell Carter.  Other guests that night included Billy Connolly and some country singer who's name I've long since forgotten.  I do remember Maher's tacky introduction of Carter though.  "And from her Jenny Craig commercials, here's Nell Carter!"

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Johnny Olson


"Come on down!"
    - Johnny Olson

John Leonard Olson was born in Windom, Minnesota on May 22, 1910.  He knew from a young age that he wanted to be in show business.  By the time he graduated from high school, he was already working at radio stations in Wisconsin and South Dakota.

In 1933, Olson went to work at WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee, where he organized a five-piece jazz band called "The Rhythm Rascals."  Not only was Olson one of the station's most popular personalities, but his band was successful enough to make it to Hollywood, where they produced a series of hit recordings.  Take a listen to their single "Wah Hoo" on YouTube.

Olson's next project brought him back to Milwaukee and WTMJ.  There he produced his first series, entitled Johnny Olson's Rumpus Room.  It was an overnight success, attracting such notable performers as The Andrews Sisters and Spike Jones.  As a result of the series and its success, WTMJ was able to expand to television, with Johnny Olson's Rumpus Room as it's star attraction.

Then in 1944, Olson and his wife moved to New York City, where they produced and hosted a new radio program called Ladies Be Seated.  The series was essentially a game show, featuring blind taste tests and other household-related games that housewives of the era would surely understand.  

In the 1950s, Olson became an announcer on television, working on such forgotten game shows as Break the Bank and Fun for the Money.  His first series of note was the original Name That Tune, for which he worked during the show's final season.  When it was over, he went to work for Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions, an association that would continue for the rest of Olson's life. 

His first programs from this era were a game show hosted by Merv Griffin called Play Your Hunch and the original version of Supermarket Sweep (I always thought David Ruprecht's version was the first).

In the 1960s, Olson announced on such series as To Tell the TruthWhat's My Line and the original daytime version of Match Game.  He was also the announcer for The Jackie Gleason Show, which ran from 1962 until 1970, as well as The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon from 1966 to 1970.

Hollywood beckoned, and in 1972, Olson moved west and assumed announcing duties at CBS, which was reviving two classic game shows, I've Got a Secret and The Price is Right (TPIR), the latter of which cemented Olson's fame.  When inviting audience members to appear as contestants, Olson would always bellow "come on down," a catchphrase that became a part of Americana.  In this role, he frequently left the announcer's booth, serving as both a sidekick to series host Bob Barker and as a performer in the showcase showdowns.

In 1973, CBS also revived Match Game (left), and Olson was invited back to the series.  He served as announcer for its entire nine-year run, through which he coined a second catchphrase, "get ready to match the stars."  Olson would occasionally serve as a panelist himself, whenever a scheduled celebrity failed to appear.

On the morning of October 6, 1985, Olson was leaving for work when he suffered a stroke.  He was transported to St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, where he died just six days later.  He was 75 years old.

Olson and his wife owned property in the hills of West Virginia and would often spend time there during TPIR's hiatus.  As such, his ashes were interred in the mausoleum at Rosewood Cemetery in Lewisburg. 

It's a very small facility, so this grave is rather easy to find.  When you come in the front door, walk all the way down the hall and turn to your left.  Olson and his wife will be on the wall behind you. 

Rest in peace, Johnny.

  • Author Randy West published the definitive Johnny Olson biography in 2013.  You can order a copy of Johnny Olson: A Voice in Time, From the Birth of the Modern Media to "The Price is Right" from Amazon

  • Before entering show business, Olson studied pharmacy at the University of Minnesota.

  • At the time of Olson's passing, there were a number of his episodes that had not yet aired.  Bob Barker recorded an "In Memoriam" message for those episodes, which you can watch on YouTube.  Seven years after his passing, both Barker and Olson's successor Rod Roddy paid tribute to him in a TPIR 20th anniversary episode.  You can also watch that tribute on YouTube.

  • Since Olson's passing, three different announcers have replaced him on TPIR, each one continuing his long-standing catchphrase of "come on down."

  • Although Olson originated the catchphrase, it appears on the headstone of his successor Rod Roddy, who is buried in Fort Worth, Texas.