Dale Olson, the veteran Hollywood publicist who convinced Rock Hudson to admit that he was dying of AIDS, died Thursday, August 9 at the age of 78 after a long battle with cancer. Because the first victims of AIDS were homosexuals, AIDS was an unmentionable disease in 1985 when Olson persuaded the actor to go public and use his misfortune to educate people.
Hudson was one of many stars that Olson represented during his more than 40-year career as one of the movies’ top press agents. The roster of his clients includes Steve McQueen, Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Laurence Olivier, Gene Kelly and Clint Eastwood. During his nearly 20 years at Rogers & Cowan, perhaps the major publicity firm in that era, he helped orchestrate publicity campaigns for “Terms of Endearment” and “Tender Mercies” which won 1983 Oscars for MacLaine and Robert Duvall, respectively. And he helped launch the “Superman,” “Halloween,” and “Rocky” series. In 1985, he left his position as president of R&C’s movie division to form his own public relations company.
An enthusiastic party giver, Olson was also the cook at the many parties he gave at his house. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was not averse to bending the Academy rules during Oscar season. In 1987, he made 50 copies of the small independent film “Anna,” starring Sally Kirkland one of his clients, and handed them to select Academy members and major journalists. Kirkland was nominated for best actress.
Born in Fargo, North Dakota in 1934, Olson began in Hollywood as an industry journalist. He served as West Coast editor for Boxoffice magazine and worked at Daily Variety as a reporter and reviewer before becoming publicity director of the Walter Mirisch indie production company. According to Variety, he was “key” to the founding of the Los Angles Drama Critics Circle.
When he moved to Hollywood in 1951, Olson joined the Mattachine Society, one of the early gay rights organizations. After Hudson’s death, he was active in AIDS fund-raising and in the Actors Fund, a human services organization.
On July 12, Shirley MacLaine presented to Olson the Actors Fund Medal of Honor, the organization’s highest award. “He was not only an ace publicist but also a true friend to me and to so many in need in our industry,” Ms. MacLaine said on Thursday. “A great, loyal and generous man.”
Olson is survived by his partner of more than 30 years, Eugene Harbin. The couple were married in 2008.