James Olson of ‘The Andromeda Strain’ Dies @ 91

I was just marveling at the long lives lived of the cast of the telekinesis TV movie The Spell (1977), and now the repressive dad in that, James Olson, has died at 91.

The actor in his early years (Image via headshot)

Olson died April 17, and his death was just reported.

Born October 8, 1930, in Evanston, Illinois, Olson served in the U.S. military, experience that informed his tendency to play taciturn, authoritarian figures.

He made his TV debut in a Kraft Theatre production of The Life of Mickey Mantle in 1956. His film debut, that same year, was in The Sharkfighters (1956).

Adept onstage, he made numerous appearance on play-driven series of the era, including Robert Montgomery Presents (1956), Playhouse 90 (1960), Play of the Week (1961) and Armstrong Circle Theatre (1961-1962). He appeared on Broadway many times, including his 1955 debut in The Young and Beautiful, J.B. (1958) and Of Love Remembered (1967), his final Broadway show.

In 1966, he was in the cast of Holly Golightly, the legendarily bad Breakfast at Tiffany's adaptation that was closed before its proposed opening night by producer David Merrick, who called it "excruciatingly boring" in an ad he placed in The New York Times.

Olson toiled in guest spots on many popular series, including Have Gun — Will Travel (1958), The Defenders (1962-1963) and Route 66 (1963) ahead of his film breakthrough opposite Joanne Woodward (b. 1930) in the acclaimed Rachel, Rachel (1968), directed by Paul Newman (1925-2008).

Olson and Woodward in their Oscar-nominated Rachel, Rachel (Image via Warner Bros.)

He was also memorable in The Andromeda Strain (1971), but faltered in The Wild Rovers (1971).

His work in The Andromeda Strain would've gone viral today. (GIF via GIPHY)

Later TV appearances included on Columbo (1972), Hawaii Five-O (five spots, 1972-1979), in a several-episode arc as a senator on Maude (1975), The Bionic Woman (1977) and Jake and the Fatman (1988), and in TV movies including Manhunter (1974), The Sex Symbol (1974), The Missiles of October (1974), Strange New World (1975), the syphilis drama Someone I Touched (1975) and The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer (1977), in which he played the titular historical figure.

Olson as part of one of the Fembot episodes of The Bionic Woman (Images via NBC)

His final films were Ragtime (1981), Amityville II: The Possession (1982), Commando (1985), and 1987's Rachel River, and his last TV performance came on an episode of Murder, She Wrote (1990), after which he retired.

Olson's final TV gig, Murder, She Wrote (Image via CBS)

Olson is survived by his nephew and nieces.

1 Response

  1. He was one sexy shit heel in Rachel, Rachel.

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