Longtime Hollywood publicist Dale Olson, who represented stars including Rock Hudson, Dyan Cannon and Shirley MacLaine and spearheaded the publicity campaigns for more than 150 films, died today at a Burbank hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.
Olson handled the delicate issues of Hudson’s death from AIDS in 1985, and went on to work on fund-raising and awareness for the disease.
His other clients over the years included Steve McQueen, Gene Kelly, Doris Roberts, Marion Ross, Clint Eastwood, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Robert Blake, Tony Curtis, Cleo Laine, Diane Ladd, Sally Kirkland, Jean Stapleton and Marilyn Monroe.
Known for his large thick-rimmed glasses and jovial demeanor, he was at Rogers & Cowan for nearly 20 years, where he was senior VP and president of the motion picture division until leaving in 1985 to found his own firm.
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Among his publicity efforts for films, he launched the “Rocky,” “Superman,” “Rambo” and “Halloween” series and was involved in the Oscar campaigns for a number of films that went on to win Academy Awards, including “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Fortune Cookie,” “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry,” “Tender Mercies,” “Terms of Endearment,” “American Beauty,” “Gladiator” and “Shrek.”
Dale C. Olson was born in Fargo, N.D., and began as a reporter in Oregon. He moved to Los Angeles, wrote for the Hollywood Reporter and served as West Coast editor of film exhibitor trade magazine Boxoffice; then, in the early 1960s, he worked as a reporter and reviewer for Variety, where he was key to the formation of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
He left to become publicity director for film producer Walter Mirisch’s Mirisch Corp. and then headed to Rogers & Cowan. Attending the Cannes Film Festival 20 years in a row, he roamed the Croisette planning publicity stunts, sometimes attired in a one-piece jumpsuit to save time. An enthusiastic cook, he hosted many industry parties at his Mulholland Drive house.
Later he served as a trustee and on the executive committee for the Actors Fund.
“Dale was a staunch advocate for this organization, and I’m personally humbled by his commitment and dedication,” said actor and Actors Fund chairman Brian Stokes Mitchell. “When the HIV/AIDS crisis devastated the entertainment community, Dale was among the first to speak out for those suffering and in need. His work led to programs and services that bring comfort and relief for thousands of our clients every year across the country.”
Olson was awarded the Actors Fund Medal of Honor on July 12. In presenting the organization’s highest honor to Olson, MacLaine said, “He was not only an ace publicist, but also a true friend to me, and to so many in need in our industry.”
Olson served on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Public Relations Coordinating Committee and Executive Committee for more than 20 years and chaired the committee for three years.
He received two achievement awards from the Publicists Guild of America and the Entertainment Industries Prism Award for community service.
Olson is survived by his partner of more than 30 years, Eugene Harbin. Services and memorials will be scheduled in the coming weeks. Donations may be sent to the Actors Fund.