Mitzi Olson entertained audiences alongside the likes of Liberace and Victor Borge.
Later in life, Olson and her husband founded and ran a Twin Cities mobile home park that was its own municipality.
Olson, a formally trained dancer who helped give birth to the tiny Ramsey County community of Landfall, died May 26 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was 82 and lived her later years in Afton.
She was born Mitzi Hunter in Chicago in 1930 and as a teenager rode the El downtown from Oak Park for rehearsals and performances in the chorus as a Muriel Abbott dancer, which called the elegant Palmer House its home.
"It would be like being a Broadway dancer," said daughter Jamie Olson, "but the show changed all the time -- rollerskating, tap dancing, acrobatics -- they all got trained."
Mitzi's career as a dancer suffered a setback while touring in Europe, when she fell on a slanted stage and injured her back. The pain would stay with her for a lifetime, her daughter said.
A Hollywood agent, drawn to Mitzi's beauty and grace onstage, wanted her to pursue a career in film. But Mitzi's mother objected, and it was off to drama studies at Macalester College in St. Paul for the young dancer.
There she met Jim Olson, and the two wed in 1951. They moved to Massachusetts, where he was a stage manager for the Falmouth Playhouse.
The couple lived in a homemade travel trailer, where they would receive actors Walter Matthau, Eva Gabor and others as guests.
Inspiration from their RV lifestyle prompted Mitzi and Jim Olson to return to the St. Paul area in 1953 and buy 45 acres on the eastern shore of Tanners Lake, where they built a park for travel trailers and mobile homes. The Olsons raised their three children in the community they named Landfall.
The Olsons' Landfall cottage had been there many years when they moved in and "we heard rumors that Dillinger used to live there," Mitzi Olson said in a 1998 interview. "A fellow who used to deliver propane gas said he used to deliver packages for Dillinger as a boy."
In 1974, Landfall became Minnesota's smallest municipality in geographic terms, made up completely of mobile homes, along with tennis courts, a community center, a beach and other amenities.
"It was a kids' paradise," recalled Jamie Olson, who now lives near Everett, Wash. "We just had everything, and it was safe. One day my dad put in trampolines. ... It was a very unique community. I really considered it a glamorous lifestyle."
Mitzi Olson realized a parent's dream and performed with her two daughters in the Twin Cities-based Andahazy Ballet Borealis Company. Productions included "Scheherazade," "Petrushka" and "Swan Lake."
In 1985, Jim Olson died, leaving Mitzi to run the mobile home park.
"She was real lady-like," said Lonnie Lindemann, who did maintenance and whatever odd jobs were necessary at the park from 1981 to 1991, "nice and polite to all the workers."
Lindemann, who also lived in Landfall for nearly 30 years until 2007, said Jim and Mitzi Olson worked hard to "improve the park for residents the best they could. A lot of people weren't doing things the right way, but they tried to get a handle on that to make the place look better, not to leave junk laying around, mowing their grass."
In the early 1990s, the park was in danger of being bought by a developer with designs of building a shopping mall or luxury housing. The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority stepped in and bought the city to preserve the affordable residences.
In 1997 the authority sold the city to the Landfall Housing and Redevelopment Authority. It continues today, its population roughly 700, with about 300 mobile homes.
Mitzi Olson enjoyed her later years in Afton with a new love in her life, Richard Herreid, who died in 2009.
Along with Jamie Olson, Mitzi Olson is survived by daughter Wendy Olson and son Todd Olson. A remembrance is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. June 23 at Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center, 2800 Curve Crest Blvd., Stillwater.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482