Milwaukee-born Nancy Ann Olson was the daughter of Henry, a physician, and Evelyn Olson, and educated at the University of Wisconsin. Discovered on stage after transferring to California’s UCLA, the pretty, peaches-and-cream blonde was quickly signed by Paramount Studios in 1948 and almost immediately handed co-starring parts after an uncredited bit part in Portrait of Jennie (1948).
After playing in the film Canadian Pacific (1949), Olson went on to win the role of script girl Betty Schaefer, who attracts never-do-well screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) and irks the reclusive and increasingly deranged former film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in the towering classic Sunset Blvd. (1950). Olson received an Oscar nomination for “Best Supporting Actress” for her role. Her pairing with Holden, in fact, went over so well, they were teamed in a succession of standard features: Union Station (1950), Force of Arms (1951), and Submarine Command (1951), none holding a candle to their “Sunset” pairing. Other male co-stars during this active period included John Wayne as Big Jim McLain (1952), Steve Forrest in So Big (1953) (one of her finer post “Sunset” roles), and Will Rogers Jr. in The Boy from Oklahoma (1954).
Her increasing status in Hollywood came to a virtual halt in the mid-1950s, after marrying renowned lyricist Alan Jay Lerner (who later wrote “On a Clear Day…” and “Camelot”). She abruptly put her acting on hold in favor of raising their two daughters and her career never fully recovered. The couple divorced in 1957 and she decided to return full-time to acting but by the late 1950s she was perceived as too mature to now play the fresh-faced, girl-next-door type for which she was so identified.
Disney Studios came to the rescue, however, in the early 1960s and gave her mid-career an added luster by playing Fred MacMurray love interest in both The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). Her poise, charm and ever-animated appeal was absolutely in sync with the studio’s squeaky-clean image, and adding just the right amount of feisty, feminine starch for the light slapstick happenings around her. Other Disney films in which she participated included Pollyanna (1960) and Snowball Express (1972). She also made an uncredited cameo appearance in the Flubber (1997) remake starring Robin Williams.
Olson went on to find sunny work on Broadway, notably in the plays “The Tunnel of Love,” “Send Me No Flowers” and “Mary, Mary”. In the 1970s and 1980s, she came back with a couple of secondary parts on regular series TV, but the shows were both short-lived. She retired for all intents and purposes in the mid-1980s. Her second marriage in 1962 to record executive Alan Livingston, who also created the TV character of Bozo the Clown, was long lasting (he died in 2009) and their son, Christopher Livingston has three film credits as, variously, director, editor, cinematographer, producer and actor.
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