Film and TV

A salute to the "Tiny" movie career of another Colorado character actor

Last week, Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill authorizing the creation -- re-creation, actually -- of the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media. Such an operation is desperately needed, as witnessed by the dearth of big-time productions that shoot in these parts. Indeed, Imagine That, an Eddie Murphy effort that's finally slated for release this Friday, is the most recent major-studio feature to film in Denver for a substantial amount of time -- and the crew left town in October 2007. Yet the stop here provided a big boost to local actors like Barron Christian, who recently talked to our Kiernan Maletsky about his role in the flick.

Once upon a time, opportunities like Christian's weren't so rare. Filming in Colorado was commonplace, and local actors like the late Robert C. Johnsen, nicknamed "Tiny," were able to take advantage. The montage above, assembled by director/illustrator Sam Klemke, pays tribute to Tiny via clips from three late '60s/early '70s projects in his "canon:" a pilot for Then Came Bronson, a television series starring Michael Parks; a John Saxon TV movie called In the Company of Killers; and a comedy western called The Brothers O'Toole, featuring a post-Addams Family John Astin. Read Klemke's remembrance of Johnsen below -- and hope that more local actors are able to follow in his large footsteps.

Here are some short clips from 3 movies featuring cameos by Denver character actor Robert C. Johnsen. I was a neighbor of Bob Johnsen and as a kid in the early 1970's I was fascinated by the fact that whenever a Hollywood movie was being filmed in Denver or the Colorado rockies during that time, Bob seemed to get a small part, sometimes a speaking part. These 3 short parts featured "Tiny", as he was known by his friends, with a few lines of dialogue.

The first one was the Pilot for the pseudo famous TV series, Then Came Bronson, starring Michael Parks in 1969. Here, Tiny plays the local gas station attendant in a small town (Kremling, Colorado)

The second clip is from a dreadful 'Made for Television' movie called In the Company of Killers, 1970, starring John Saxon. ..As Leonard Pinth Garnell used to say, "That wasn't too good, was it?"

And lastly, a low budget Hollywood Comedy Western called The Brothers O'Toole, 1972, starring John Astin in his post Addams Family period. Bob has one line atop his massive horse.

These cameos in the movies turned Bob Johnsen into a local legend, and as I grew up, I befriend him more and we started hanging out, eating pizza and taking small trips in his plethora of cool autos.

As a budding young filmmaker, I was determined to give him the starring role he deserved and in 1987, I wrote Drab Days in Suburbia with him in mind, playing my alter ego, the Captain of Pleasure....

A man of many appetites, Robert Johnsen was a large man, nearly 6' foot 4", and weighing over 400 lbs. Having passed away in January of 1995, He was a robust character who lived large and I miss him.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts