1/23/05 Obituary Article On Chuck Olin - Chicago Tribune
Emmy-award winning Chicago filmmaker Chuck Olin died last Thursday night in Stinson Beach, California from complications related to a rare blood disease called Amyloidosis.
As a creative and committed filmmaker, Chuck made films that often focused on the plight of an underdog group trying to gain basic rights. Whether he was shooting a documentary about the international struggle for human rights or the Jewish Brigade saving lives after the Holocaust or a commercial about aging or health care, Chuck told his stories with great sensitivity, perceptiveness and insight into the humanity of his subjects. On more than one occasion, Chuck’s dedication led him to bankroll a film that he believed needed to get done and afterwards continue fundraising for years to pay for it. It is those qualities, along with his humor, his sense of fun, his wry smile, his intelligence, his warmth and his amazing charm that those who knew him will miss so much.
For many young people starting out in film production, Chuck assumed the role of mentor, hiring them at Chuck Olin Associates or giving them advice on shooting, directing, editing, fundraising, and distribution. The day before he passed away, Chuck was deeply moved watching a film made by a young relative he had coached, Max Skor, about the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Chuck was a tireless advocate for many causes, and especially supportive of the work of "Facing History and Ourselves." Facing History’s work to help young people critically examine the past in order to better engage as citizens resonated for Chuck, whose passion for documenting the past was equaled by his care for our collective future. He was one of the founding board members of Facing History in Chicago and then joined the board in San Francisco when he and his wife, Nancy Olin, moved to Stinson Beach, California.
Chuck was born January 11, 1937 and grew up in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where he attended high school at the Harvard School for Boys. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard in 1959 and went into the family business: Goldenrod Ice Cream. Chuck was responsible for Vala's Ice Cream, which was a hand-packed premium product with exotic flavors that anticipated Ben & Jerry’s by twenty years. Some Chicagoans will remember the Peter Max style purple, pink and black packaging of "the world’s most expensive ice cream." Frustrated that his elders did not share his vision for developing Vala's nationwide, Chuck left the ice cream business to assist then unknown director Philip Kaufman ("The Right Stuff") make a feature film starring another unknown Jon Voight (who later won the Oscar for best actor in "Coming Home").
Chuck then became a producer with The Film Group in Chicago, whose work included chronicling the social unrest of the late 1960s with films like "The Murder of Fred Hampton" and "American Revolution II." In 1974, Chuck founded his own production company, Chuck Olin Associates, and for the next twenty-five years continued to produce and direct documentaries across a wide-range of subject areas, while also producing special project films for corporate, healthcare, educational and institutional clients. Some of his films include:
Palette of Glass: The America Windows of Marc Chagall. An Emmy-award-winning film about the making of Chagall’s stained-glass windows for the Art Institute in Chicago.
In Our Own Hands: The Hidden Story of the Jewish Brigade in World War II. A documentary about the only all-Jewish fighting unit in World War II.
Out of the Silence: Fighting for Human Rights. A documentary about the international struggle for human rights, which compares the successful human rights revolution in Czechoslovakia with what was then a human rights nightmare in Guatemala.
Box of Treasures: Cultural Survival on the Pacific Northwest Coast. A three-year ethnographic study produced in cooperation with the U’Mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, British Columbia, about the history and meaning of Indian culture on the Northwest Coast, the restoration of the Potlach celebration, and the ongoing fight for cultural survival among the Kwakiutl people.
Chuck worked with a wide range of companies and organizations. His corporate clients included Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies, McDonald’s, Florida Power and Light, General Motors, The Alliant Exchange, GATX, Inland Steel, and Honda of America. His healthcare clients included the University of Chicago Hospitals, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, University of Colorado Hospital, and City of Hope National Cancer Center. His educational/academic clients included the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum of Chicago, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Facing History and Ourselves. Finally, his advertising agency clients included Riney/Heartland, Storandt Pann Margolis, BBDO/Chicago, Ogilvy & Mather, Foote Cone & Belding, and Ammirati Puris.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to "Facing History And Ourselves" (www.facinghistory.org), 200 East Randolph Street, Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60601, tel. (312) 726-4500 or to the Stinson Beach Fire Department, Stinson Beach, California 94970.
There will be a memorial gathering in Stinson Beach, California on the beach at the spit at the end of the Seadrift road on Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 9:30 a.m. There will also be a memorial service in Chicago on February 6, 2005, at midday, the precise time and place of which are still to be determined.