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Johnson at the premiere of Seems Like Old Times in December 1980
Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson
January 20, 1929
|Alma mater||University of Illinois (B.A., 1949)|
Gisela Johnson (m. 1968)
Arthur Stanton Eric Johnson (born January 20, 1929) is an American comic actor who was a regular on television's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. His best-remembered characters on the sketch show were a German soldier with the catchphrase "Verrrry interesting...", and an old man who habitually propositioned Ruth Buzzi's spinster character.
Johnson was born January 20, 1929, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and is the son of Abraham Lincoln and Edythe Mackenzie (Golden) Johnson. 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" 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 roles
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. In it he played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr., the son of a co-owner of a department store, portrayed by Gale Gordon. In 1960, he played Ariel Lavalerra in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's novel The Subterraneans. He also appeared on "The Andy Griffith Show" as a hotel clerk in 1962 in the episode "Andy and Barney in the Big City".
In 1960 and 1961, he was cast in three episodes of Jackie Cooper's military sitcom/drama series, Hennesey, also on CBS. The following year, he played "Mr. Bates" in the episode "A Secret Life" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was cast in an episode of Frank Aletter's sitcom, Bringing Up Buddy. He also 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 anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. He played a bumbling navy cameraman on an episode of "McHale's Navy" in the first season.
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, aired on October 2, 1964. The joke performed in the sketch was the "ugly baby" story, later associated with Flip Wilson.
In 1965, he made a first-season guest appearance on 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-new marriage.
Johnson appeared in one of the final episodes of ABC's The Donna Reed Show in 1966. 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.
In 1968, he acted in the Season 3 episode of Lost in Space, "Princess of Space". 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 various characters, with his most notable being "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 1942 film Desperate Journey. 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 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, 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 "Do you believe in the hereafter?" And she would reply "Of course I do." He would then respond "Then you know what I am here after," at which point she would whack him with her purse and he would fall off the bench.
To boost ratings in the third season, Tyrone successfully courted Gladys which led to an on-air wedding on the March 16th 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".
In 1972, Johnson guest-starred in an episode of The Partridge Family as Nicholas Minsky Pushkin in the episode, "My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage".
In 1973, Johnson guest-starred in an episode of the situation comedy A Touch of Grace. In 1974, he appeared in the first season of the Detroit-produced children's show Hot Fudge. He also appeared, 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. Also in 1976, he appeared as a guest on Canadian TV show Celebrity Cooks with host Bruno Gerussi and a clip from his episode was featured in the opening credits until the show ended in 1987.
In September 1977, Johnson appeared on an episode of the NBC daytime version of Wheel of Fortune 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.
In 1979, he was cast as "Renfield," the comic sidekick of George Hamilton's Dracula in the surprise box office smash, Love At First Bite. The following year he appeared in the all-star television disaster movie Condominium.
In 1985, he voiced "Weerd" in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and played a disgruntled employee denied severance pay in an episode of Airwolf. He also voiced several characters, such as: Dr. Ludwig Von Strangebuck and Count Ray on two episodes of Ducktales, Devil Smurf on The Smurfs, Top Cat and Lou on Yo Yogi!, Newt on Animaniacs, and many other shows.
In 1987, Johnson guest-starred in the Murder, She Wrote episode, "No Laughing Murder." Johnson's character, Phil Rinker, is a guest at a wedding engagement party of the children of a legendary, but bitterly estranged, comedy team, Mack & Murray (played by Buddy Hackett & Steve Lawrence and based loosely on the genuinely legendary Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis split). After discovering that their on-going dispute is a result of the theft of a video deal's residuals, Johnson's character is murdered but made to look like a suicide.
In 1990, Johnson appeared in an episode of Night Court.
From 1991 to 1992 Johnson appeared in multiple episodes of General Hospital as Finian O'Toole. In 1996, he played the old laboratory head of a team of scientists working on a serum of youth in Second Chance.
- 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)
- 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)
- Evil Spirits (1990)
- Evil Toons (1992)
- Munchie (1992)
- Justice League Unlimited (2005, TV)
- "Arte Johnson biography". filmreference.com. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
- Weekly Variety, Jan. 20, 1954; April 7, 1954.
- "'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.
- "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.