Veteran Hollywood Publicist Dale Olson Remembered at Memorial Service

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Hundreds of guests, including Valerie Harper, Garry Marshall and George Schlatter, paid their respects to the man who represented Rock Hudson during the actor's public fight with AIDS.

The memorial on Sept. 20 at the Hollywood Museum for Dale Olson, who died Aug. 9 at 78, was – like Olson himself – a relic from a kinder, gentler Hollywood. It had aspects that don’t happen often. For example, how often does a 98 year-old sing (and do it well) at a remembrance?

The afternoon affair began with remarks from John Bowab to the crowd of roughly 300, including Valerie Harper, Garry Marshall, George Schlatter and JoAnne Worley, that filled the museum’s fourth floor. “Wouldn’t Dale love this? It’s a sold-out house,” said Bowab. “And if Dale heard that he’d say, ‘Yeah, but it’s all papered.’”

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Among the speakers were Harlan Boll, who told of Olson’s talent for mentoring; Doris Roberts and Maxwell Caulfield, who together spoke of the extensive show biz memorabilia collection that he donated to USC; and Dick Guttman, wearing his trademark fedora, who knew Olson from his reporting days at Variety in the 1950s and nudged him towards working in PR. “You get paid more and you have more fun,” Guttman said he told Olson. He then got a laugh when he said, “In journalism you have to vet things and be sure they’re correct. As publicists, we’re not limited by that.”

Diane Ladd spoke forcefully when she said, “The Dale Olsons of the world lift up the rest of us”; Charlotte Rae spoke just before Patricia Morison, who at 98, belted out “So in Love” accompanied by a grand piano and received a standing ovation.

The Hollywood Museum’s Donelle Dadigan told of Olson’s support for its establishment on the site of the former Max Factor Building. Mitzi Gaynor said she’d come to speak “directly from my chiropractor’s table”; and Kevin Thomas remembered Olson as someone who “when he became your friend, he became your mentor.”

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David Rambo talked about Olson’s work as a publicist with Rock Hudson at the time the actor revealed he had AIDS; Marion Ross read a Henry Scott Holland poem on dying (“Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away to the next room”); Keith McNutt recalled Olson’s extensive work with the Actor’s Fund; and, accompanied by a grand piano, David Gaines sang “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

The last speaker was Gene Harbin, who was Olson’s husband and companion for 30 years. Like Guttman, he also wore a trademark hat – this one of the cowboy type – and ended his remarks by saying: “They say grieving is the price you pay for love. I’m grieving, so I guess I loved him a lot.”

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