Ole Olsen was born John Siguard Olsen on November 6, 1892, in Peru, Indiana. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1912 with a degree in music and hit the Vaudeville circuit. In 1914 he met Chic Johnson, who was advertising himself as the "Greatest Ragtime Pianist in the Midwest." The two hit it off and formed 'Olsen and Johnson.' They struggled for 24 years in Vaudeville before hitting the "big time" with the Broadway show and movie, "Hellzapoppin."
Ole's ambition was to make people laugh. He is remembered for the quote, "May you live as long as you laugh, and laugh as long as you live." Those words are engraved on his headstone. Ole Olsen died in 1963, at the age of 71, a year after the death of his long time partner and friend, Chic Johnson.
Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre was born in the fall of 1964, with the goal of promoting an interest in the theater arts on a nonprofit basis. The group's first play, "Come Blow Your Horn," was presented in the old Peru High School auditorium in March 1965, directed by Rex Friedline. The group's first president was Bob Gross. There were several lean years, when rehearsals were held in homes, props were stored in area businesses and schools, and furniture for sets came literally from the living rooms of members. Ole staged its first musical in October 1967. Ron Blackman directed "The Music Man," and loaned the theater group enough money to produce the play. In 1972, Ole presented "South Pacific" in the new Peru High School auditorium. That production put the group on its feet financially. The Ole building on Wallace Row was purchased in 1974, and in 1977 an addition was added to the building.
In 1992, Ole merged with Our Town Peru, and in so doing acquired the restored Depot at Broadway and Canal Streets. At least two of Ole's four productions each season are presented in the intimate atmosphere of The Depot. The theater group looks toward the future in bringing quality entertainment to Miami County, and counts among its future goals the construction of its own theater near The Depot.
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