This page copyright 1998 The Shrubbery
A Tribute to Oldy Olsen
The Actor William Preston
It was September, 1996. I was in the audience at Conan's 3rd Anniversary Special. Carl "Oldy" Olsen had just come out and did his piece introducing the next in a series of video segments. After the video ran in the studio and they went out to commercial, "Oldy" was no more. He got up, did some energetic dancing, and in general, hammed it up for the crowd. This was not the frail, elderly caricature that was Carl "Oldy" Olsen. This was the actor who portrayed him: William Preston.
William passed away after a short illness on July 10th. I wonder how few people really knew that "Oldy" was just an act, a character he played. I'm sure many got an education during Late Nights touching tribute the Tuesday after his death. The picture at the end of the montage was clearly not "Oldy," but the man who played him. William wasn't the disheveled and crazy-looking Olsen, but an accomplished actor who achieved his widest fame with that role.
William's story is as interesting as Carl's probably was. Born in Columbia, PA, he took his education through a Masters degree in English literature from Penn State. Changing gears, he spent most of his career as the bookeeper for a Philadelphia trucking firm. At 47, when most people are beginning to think about retirement, William took up acting. He accumulated extensive stage experience, performing in over 60 Shakespeare productions and earning a nomination for Florida State's supporting actor award. In 1985, in his 60s, he broke into the movies with a part in Goodbye New York. Since that debut, he has appeared in over a dozen roles in major films, including The Fischer King, Reckless, and Far and Away. His role as the Well Guardian was called the "only good thing in Waterworld."
He became known to most of us when he first showed up on Late Night with Conan O'Brien as Carl "Oldy" Olsen. During the baseball strike in 1994, Conan sought to ease the pain of the baseball-loving populous by starting his own league, where a team of 80 year-old men played a team of 8 year-old boys. "Oldy" made his first appearance as a player for the White Stockings, becoming famous for his team cry: "White Stockings, Whiiite Stockiiings, Ha-ha-ha-ha!" Olsen soon began appearing in other sketches for the show, almost always ending with that maniacal laugh.
"Oldy" held a strange appeal, with his slurred, subtitled speech and confused demeanor. You wondered sometimes whether it was okay to laugh. But everyone has their favorite "Oldy" moment, whether it be his modeling of new Olympic uniforms, his performance in the Orlaf series, or his disturbing version of Flashdance. My own favorite was his stretch in Time Travel week, where he jumped from parts like the last Civil War soldier alive to the deranged captive of the Baby Space Chickens on each successive night.
He enjoyed his work and life, and brought happiness to millions. In the end, thats more than most people can say. He will be missed.