Arthur Stanton Eric "Arte" Johnson (born January 20, 1929) is an American actor who was a regular on NBC's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. His best-remembered "character" was that of a German soldier with the catchphrase "Verrrry Interesting", but... ('Stupid', 'Not Very Funny', and other variations).
Johnson was born in Benton Harbor in Berrien County in far southwestern Michigan, the son of Edythe Mackenzie (nee Golden) and Abraham Lincoln Johnson, an attorney. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois from which he graduated in 1949, having worked at the campus radio station and the UI Theater Guild along with his brother, Coslough "Cos" Johnson.
He initially unsuccessfully sought employment in Chicago advertising agencies but left for New York City to work for Viking Press. His first "Show Business" job came when he impulsively stepped into an audition line and was cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Johnson appeared in Ben Bagley's "The Shoestring Revue", which opened off-Broadway at the President Theater in New York on February 28, 1955, along with Bea Arthur, Dody Goodman, Chita Rivera and Jane Connell.
Johnson appeared three times in the 1955 to 1956 CBS sitcom It's Always Jan, starring Janis Paige and Merry Andres. In 1958, he joined the cast of the short-lived NBC sitcom Sally, starring Joan Caulfield. He played Bascomb Bleacher, Jr., the son of a co-owner of a department store, Bascomb, Sr., portrayed by Gale Gordon. In 1960 and 1961 he was cast in three episodes of Jackie Cooper's CBS military sitcom/drama series, Hennessey. In 1961, he played "Mr. Bates" in the episode "A Secret Life" on CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was cast in an episode of Frank Aletter's CBS sitcom, Bringing Up Buddy.
Johnson appeared in The Whole Truth, a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, as an underpaid car salesman who punches dishonest used car salesman Jack Carson.
Before his big Breathrough on Laugh-In, Johnson appeared as Corporal Coogan in the 1962 episode The Handmade Private of the CBS anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. In 1965, he made a first-season guest appearance on the ABC sitcom Bewitched as Samatha's Cousin Edgar. A mute elf, Edgar is initially sent to observe and undermine Samantha's marriage - all with the blessing of Endora. Once he sees how happily married Samantha and Darrin Stephens are, Edgar reverses his mischief and gives his (albeit quiet) blessing to their still-newlywed marriage. Johnson appeared in one of the final episode in 1966 of ABC's The Donna Reed Show. He was cast in the 1967 satirical James Coburn film The President's Analyst, in which he gave a comically chilling performance a a federal agent with a blindly obedient 'orders-are-orders' mentality.
Johnson also starred in the 1971 episode of Rod Sterling's Night Gallery entitled The Flip-Side of Satan playing ruthless, fringe-leather vested disc jockey "J.J. Wilson", who is forced to confront his past transgressions.
Johnson is best known for his work on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, an American television series from 1963 to 1973, on which he played various characters including "Wolfgang", a smoking World War II German Soldier scouting the show from behind a bush (still fighting the war) invariably commenting on the preceding sketches with the catchphrase "Verrrry Interesting..." followed by either a comic observation or misinterpretation, or simply "But Stupid!" Johnson indicated later that the phrase came from Desperate Journey, a 1942 World War II film with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing Royal Air Force pilots show down in Nazi Germany; they managed to cross much of the country without speaking German or knowing the territory but, when captured, their Nazi interrogator doubts the story with the phrase. Johnson reprised the role while voicing the Nazi-inspired character Virman Vundabar on an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
His other iconic Laugh-In character was "Tyrone F. Horneigh" (the last name pronounced "horn-eye" - a "clean" variant of the vulgar term "horny"), the white-haired, trenchcoat-wearing, "dirty old man" who repeatedly sought to seduce "Gladys Ormphby"(played by Ruth Buzzi) on a park bench. Tyrone would enter the scene, muttering the song (usually In the Merry, Merry Month of May) and spying on Gladys on the bench, would sit next to her. He would ask two related 'leading questions', each earning him a hard whack from a shocked Gladys using her purse. His third statement would would be an appeal to the medical assistance, at which tim he would fall off the bench.
Referring to an only moderately popular candy made form caramel and walnuts, Tyrone would also frequently ask Gladys, "How about a Walnetto?"
Years after Laugh-In ended its run, the two characters were made into an animated Saturday morning children's show, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits with Tyrone as a helpful, muttering 'superhero'.
Arte and his brother, Cos, earned their Emmy Awards while working on Laugh-In.
In 1974, Johnson appeared in the first season of the Detroit-produced children's show Hot Fudge. Johnson also appeared in 1974 as a guest panelist (for one week) on Match Game. In the late 1970s, he was a semi-regular celebrity guest panelists on The Gong Show.
In 1976, he voiced the animated cartoon character "Misterjaw", a blue German-accented shark (with a bow tie and top hat) who liked to leap out of the water and shout "HEEGotcha!" or "Gotcha!" at unsuspecting folks on The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half Show. He also voiced the character Rhubarb on The Houndcats.
Later in 1977, Johnson hosted the short-lived NBC daytime game show Knockout. Instead of being introduced by the show's announcer Jay Stewart and later John Harlan, he would always start the show with a small monologue, then he would introduce today's contestants. Prior to this, in September 1977, Johnson appeared on an episode of the NBC daytime version of Wheel of Fortune as a "substitute letter-turner" for Susan Stafford after she suffered from an injury and to promote his short-lived game show.
In 1979, Johnson was cast as Renfield, the comic sidekick of George Hamilton's Dracula, in the surprise box office smash Love At First Bite.
In 1985, he voiced Weerd in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. Also in the same year he played a disgruntled "Firm" employee denied severance pay in an episode of Airwolf.
In 1990, he appeared in an episode of the NBC sitcom Night Court.
In 2008, he appeared in the Justice League Unlimited episode called “The Ties That Bind” as the voice of Virman Vundabar.
Johnson has performed some memorable audiobook readings, including Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan (2006) and more than 80 other books.
Johnson lives in southern California with his wife, Gisela, and does voice tracks and recordings.