Stan Olsen - A Life In Film

By Faye Ferguson

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In the early '60s, Stan Olsen was a young man unsure of his direction in life. He had grown up in California, completed high school, earned a degree in English, fulfilled his military service and was indecisive about what to do next. His mother was working as a production secretary at Universal Studios so, for lack of anything better to do, Stan decided to give the film and TV industry a try. He took a job in the mailroom at ABC Television.

Very quickly, Stan realized he might enjoy working in television. TV was in its infancy and there were many opportunities. It wasn't long before he secured a job as a producer's assistant at Universal Studios.

"It was one of those entry level jobs where you do a little bit of everything," says Stan.

It was also a job where a bright, creative young guy could learn a lot. In due time, he became a second assistant director and was part of crews that worked on programs such as *McHale's Navy*, *Rawhide*, *Wagon Train*, *The Virginian*, *Wells Fargo* and *The Addams Family*. Over the years, Stan encountered such luminaries as Burt Reynolds, Ernest Borgnine, Tim Conway, Caroline Jones, Rock Hudson and Steve McQueen.

In 1963-64, Stan was assigned to work on a TV movie based on Hemingway's *The Killers* starring Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes and Angie Dickinson. Part of his job was to accompany Lee Marvin to lunch to make sure the actor got back to the set.

"He was a great guy, but he had a pretty major alcohol problem," he says.

Stan, a lifelong Democrat, enjoyed exchanging political reading material with Reagan. He also accompanied a distraught Angie Dickenson from location back to the studio the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"The gossip was that she was having an affair with Kennedy," he says.

As Stan's experience and abilities expanded, he developed an interest in directing. At that time, however, the Director's Guild was a closed shop. Only if an individual could obtain a guarantee of a year's worth of directorial experience, would the Guild consider an application. In a business where work is project by project, this was not an easy task. As luck would have it, an experienced director for whom Stan had worked, took a liking to the eager young man and offered him the chance to go to Mexico to work on the television series *Tarzan*. Stan grabbed the opportunity. He stayed in Mexico City for five years honing his skills as a filmmaker and bearing witness to historical happenings such as the student riots and resulting massacre, which nearly caused the cancellation of the 1968 Summer Olympics.

During his time working on *Tarzan*, Stan gained substantial experience directing the second unit, the small film crew that generates all the "little stuff" such as chase and fight scenes that may require stunt people, but not regular actors. Working as a second unit director allowed Stan to develop skills he would later find indispensable.

After his role with *Tarzan* came to an end, Stan stayed in Mexico working with a film company that specialized in documentaries and commercials.

"I really liked living in Mexico," says Stan. "I loved the culture."

One of his productions was an art film focusing on the Formula Grand Prix races that had taken place in Mexico City. The film came to the attention of a producer at Universal Studios and Stan found himself being wooed to return to California. Not an easy decision, but in the end he returned.

In the late '60s, the TV commercial business was just getting started and most of the people shooting commercials had very little film experience. Stan was in his element and quickly amassed an impressive body of work.

During this time he cultivated another lifelong passion - his love of Porsches. Stan purchased his first Porsche in 1965 for the princely sum of $5,600. He has proudly owned and driven Porsches "on and off" ever since, becoming somewhat of an expert on the joys and tribulations of these fine cars.

In the early '70s, one of Stan's colleagues took a job with an advertising agency in Vancouver. Since there were no production companies in Vancouver, at that time, Stan's particular skills were in short supply and his colleague encouraged him to come north. Although Stan didn't know what to expect – he'd never been to Canada - an offer of work helped him decide to give it a try.

Very quickly, Stan was busy directing Canadian TV series and shooting commercials, spending a lot of time commuting between Vancouver, Toronto and Los Angeles. He worked as a director on the TV series, *The Swiss Family Robinson*, filmed in Toronto and Jamaica. Following this, he did several seasons of *Sidestreets* with Donnelly Rhodes. In the '80s, he directed and produced several episodes per season of *The Beachcombers* - the longest running TV series in Canadian history. He was also one of the alternating directors on *Danger Bay* and served as producer on the remake of *Sea Hunt*.

As time went by, Stan became settled in Canada. He was well established in the film and television community, he married and welcomed the birth of his daughter, Stephanie. Of his decision to remain in Canada, Stan says: "I ended up sacrificing much bigger money for a lifestyle in a far less competitive system." In fact, in the Canadian film industry in the '70s and '80s, it was possible to know everyone on a first-name basis.

Over the years, the projects that gave Stan the most satisfaction were those that "made a difference." A case in point was his work on the TV commercials for the NDP during the 1988 Federal Election where Ed Broadbent and his party won 44 seats - the best they'd ever done before or since. Stan is also proud of his TV campaign that helped reverse cutbacks of unionized social service positions in Alberta and another that was instrumental in stopping the introduction of Las Vegas-style dog racing into Washington State. Considering these projects, he says: "We contributed in a way that was powerful."

In the early '80s, Stan moved to Victoria where has lived ever since. He shares a sunny home with the special woman in his life, Sibylle Artz, along with two dogs, two cats and an exceptionally well-maintained silver Porsche. Although semi-retired, Stan still keeps his finger in filmmaking. He has volunteered his time to produce local film projects focused on homelessness and family self-sufficiency and is presently working with a Victoria urologist to produce patient information films. These projects have allowed him to work with a group of keen young men who run a local multimedia company.

"They are bright young guys, on top of everything," says Stan, smiling. "They are just terrific."

Clearly, he enjoys their energy and technological savvy, while relishing the opportunity to guide and mentor the next generation of filmmakers and communication specialists.

"The old dinosaur isn't done yet," says Stan.

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Showing 1 to 2 of 2 comments.

Hey Stan, Hoping you might remember that young kid that lived up above you and Pat on the old road in Malibu, the one that used to hang out with you guys arguably TOO much...'s me Chris,er...sorry - LARRY (changed my name to my middle name back in '75) I was listening to Abbey Road last night, and remembered the night you and I listened to it from start to finish, and I realized that you are someone I think of often. So thanks to Google, here I am.

Email me if you like - I'd love to catch up - it hasn't been 45 years, but it's right up there...


Posted by Chris Scott | November 20, 2011 Report Violation


Posted by Graham Alexander | June 19, 2011 Report Violation

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