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Broderick Crawford Biography

from All Movie Guide written by Bruce Eder
with photos and other additions from Gary Goltz and Kelly Crawford


WILLIAM BRODERICK CRAWFORD* was born on December 9, 1911 in Philadelphia, PA.

He is the typical example of "overnight" success on Hollywood -- the 1949 release of All the King's Men turned him into one of the most popular "character" leads in Hollywood, a successor to Wallace Beery and a model for such unconventional leading men to come as Ernest Borgnine. His "overnight" success, however, involved more than a decade of work in routine supporting roles in more than 20 movies, before he was ever considered as much more than a supporting player. Crawford was born into a performing family -- both of his maternal grandparents, William Broderick and Emma Kraus, were opera singers, and his mother, Helen Broderick, was a Broadway and screen actress, while his father, Lester Crawford, was a vaudeville performer.

Vaudeville annoucement featuring Brod's parents

Helen Broderick

Broderick accompanied his parents on tour as a boy and later joined them on-stage. He attended the Dean Academy in Franklin, MA, and excelled in athletics, including football, baseball, and swimming.

Broderick Crawford

Crawford entered show business as an adult through vaudeville, joining his parents in working for producer Max Gordon. With vaudeville's decline in the later 1920s, he tried attending college but dropped out of Harvard after just three months, preferring to make a living as a stevedore on the New York docks, and he also later served as a seaman on a tanker ship. Crawford returned to acting by way of radio, including a stint working as a second banana to the Marx Brothers. He entered the legitimate theater in 1934 when playwright Howard Lindsay selected him for a role in the play She Loves Me Not, portraying a football player in the work's London run -- although the play only ran three weeks, that was enough time for Crawford to meet Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (then theater's leading "power couple" on either side of the Atlantic) and come to the attention of Noel Coward, who selected him for a role in his production of Point Valaine, in which the acting couple was starring.

After a string of unsuccessful plays, Crawford went to Hollywood and got a part as the butler in the comedy Woman Chases Man, produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Crawford's theatrical breakthrough came in 1937 when he won the role of the half-witted Lennie in the theatrical adaptation of John Steinbeck's, Of Mice and Men.

His performance won critical accolades from all of the major newspapers, and Crawford was on his way, at least as far as the stage was concerned -- when it came time to do the movie, the part went to Lon Chaney Jr., giving that actor the best role of his entire career. In movies, Crawford made the rounds of the studios in one-off roles, usually in relatively minor films such as Undercover Doctor and Eternally Yours. The murder mystery Slightly Honorable gave him a slight boost in both billing and the size of his role, but before he could begin to develop any career momentum the Second World War intervened. Crawford served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was the announcer for the Glen miller Orchestra as a member of Special Services. When he returned to civilian life, he immediately resumed his screen career with a series of fascinating films, including The Black Angel, based on the work of Cornell Woolrich, and James Cagney's production of The Time of Your Life, based on the William Saroyan play.

Start Cheering (1938) - with the Three Stooges and Jimmy Durante

The Time of Your Life (Policeman Krupp - 1948)

Broderick Crawford and Lucille Ball (1930s)

True stardom however, and recognition beyond the ranks of his fellow actors, still eluded him. That all changed when director-producer Robert Rossen selected Crawford to portray Willie Stark in All the King's Men. In a flash, Crawford became a box-office draw, his performance attracting raves from the critics and delighting audiences with its subtle, earthy, rough-hewn charm. His portrayal of the megalomaniac political boss of a small state, based on the life and career of Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long, won Crawford the Oscar for Best Actor. A recent Critics' Pick is available.


Oscar winners (L-R) Mercedes McCambridge (Supporting Actress), Broderick Crawford (Best Actor), Olivia deHavilland (Best Actress) and Dean Jagger (Best Supporting Actor) during 22nd annual Academy Awards at RKO Pantages theater.
Location: Hollywood, CA, US   Date taken: March 23, 1950   Photographer: Ed Clark, Life Magazine

He signed a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures in 1949, which resulted in his starring in the comedy hit Born Yesterday (1950). That was to be his last major hit as a star, though Crawford continued to give solid and successful lead performances for much of the next five years, portraying a tough cop in the crime drama The Mob, and a villainous antagonist to Clark Gable in Vincent Sherman's Lone Star.

Brod in the 40's back set playing cards with the future 40th President
The Mob (1951)

Broderick and his Shaving Mug Collection

Broderick Buying Hats (1950)

During the early '50s, Crawford was Hollywood's favorite tough-guy lead or star antagonist, his persona combining something of the tough charm of Spencer Tracy and Wallace Beery, and incorporating the rough-hewn physicality of Neville Brand -- he could be a charming lunkhead, in the manner of Keenan Wynn, or dark and threatening, calling up echoes of his portrayal of Willie Stark. In the mid-'50s at 20th Century Fox, he added vast energy and excitement to such films as Night People and Between Heaven and Hell -- indeed, his performance in the latter added a whole extra layer of depth and meaning to the film, moving it from wartime melodrama into territory much closer to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, with his character Waco serving as the dramatic stand-in for Kurtz. In 1955, after working on the melodrama Not As a Stranger and Fellini's Il Bidone (his portrayal of the swindler Augusto being one of his best performances),

Brod with his first wife, Kay Griffith (Kelly's Mom), in the early 50's

Brod with his second wife, Joan Tabor in the early 60's

Brod's third wife, Mary Alice Moore. They were married in the 1970s, in St. Louis. This photo shows her in an episode of the CBS TV series The Web (1950). More info is available at tvtome and imdb.

Crawford became one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the era to make the jump to television. He signed to do the series Highway Patrol for Ziv TV, which was a hit for four seasons. In its wake, however, Crawford was never able to get movies or roles of the same quality that he'd been offered in the early '50s. He did two more series, King of Diamonds and The Interns, and did play the title role in Larry Cohen's The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), which attracted some offbeat notice; otherwise, Crawford's work during his final 30 years of acting involved roles as routine as the ones he'd muddled through while trying for his break at the other end of his career.

from the Steve Kiefer Collection (taken November 25, 1970)

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977)

One of his most visible screen appearances took place on television, in a 1977 episode of CHiPS that played off of his work in Highway Patrol, with Crawford making a gag appearance as himself, a motorist pulled over and cited for a moving violation by the series' motorcycle police officers. [A publicity still from this episode is available.] Crawford then hosted Saturday Night Live, which featured a Highway Patrol skit with Dan Ackroid as his side kick! Crawford died following several strokes, on April 26, 1986 in Rancho Mirage, CA and was laid to rest in the Ferndale Cemetery, located in Johnstown, NY.   --   Bruce Eder

leave a flower and a note at Broderick Crawford's gravesite

Broderick Crawford’s Awards and Filmography: (also see his page in the International Movie Database)

Academy Awards Winner, USA 1950 for Best Actor for: All the King's Men (1949)

Golden Globes Winner, USA 1950 for Best Motion Picture Actor for: All the King's Men (1949)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards Winner 1949 for Best Actor for: All the King's Men (1949)

Actor - (1980s) (1970s) (1960s) (1950s) (1940s) (1930s)

1.Liar's Moon (1981) .... Colonel Tubman

2.Harlequin (1980) .... Doc Wheelan ... aka Dark Forces (1980) ... aka Minister's Magician, The (1980)

3.Little Romance, A (1979) .... Himself

5.There Goes the Bride (1979) .... Gas Station Attendant

6.Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, The (1977) .... J. Edgar Hoover

7.Mayday at 40,000 Feet! (1976) (TV) .... Marshal Riese

8.Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976) (TV) .... Sheriff Holtzman ... aka Rosemary's Baby II (1976) (TV)

9.Hunter (1976) (TV)

10.Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) .... Special Effects Man

11.Phantom of Hollywood, The (1974) (TV) .... Captain O'Neal

12.House of Dracula's Daughter (1973)

13.Terror in the Wax Museum (1973) .... Amos Burns

14.Candidate, The (1972) .... Voice of Jarmon, Narrator

15.Adventures of Nick Carter (1972) (TV) .... Otis Duncan

16.Embassy (1972) .... Dunniger ... aka Target: Embassy (1972)

17.Tattered Web, A (1971) (TV) .... Willard Edson

18."Interns, The" (1970) TV Series .... Doctor Peter Goldstone

19.Challenge, The (1970) (TV) .... General Lewis Meyers

20.Hell's Bloody Devils (1970) .... Brand ... aka Fakers, The (1970) (USA: TV title) ... aka Operation M. (1970) ... aka Smashing the Crime Syndicate (1970) (UK) ... aka Swastika Savages (1970)

21.Mir hat es immer Spaß gemacht (1970) ... aka How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get Into This Business? (1970) ... aka Naughty Cheerleaders (1970) ... aka Wie kommt ein so reizendes Mädchen zu diesem Gewerbe? (1970) (West Germany)

22.Yin and Yang of Mr. Go, The (1970) .... B.B. O'Kelly ... aka Third Eye, The (1970)

23.Red Tomahawk (1967) .... Columbus Smith

24.Oscar, The (1966) .... Sheriff

25.Gregorio y su ángel (1966) ... aka Gregorio and the Angel (1966)

26.Per un dollaro di gloria (1966) ... aka Escuadrón de la muerte, El (1968) (Spain: dubbed version) ... aka Mutiny at Fort Sharp (1966) (USA)

27.Texican, The (1966) ... aka Texas Kid (1966) (Spain)

28.Vulture, The (1966) .... Brian F. Stroud

29.Up from the Beach (1965) .... Military Policeman (M.P.) Major

30.Kid Rodelo (1965) .... Joe Harbin

31.House Is Not a Home, A (1964) .... Harrigan

32.No temas a la ley (1963) (uncredited) .... Man in hotel ... aka Cave est piégé, Le (1963) (France) ... aka Chasse à l'homme (1963) (France)

33.Convicts Four (1962) .... Warden ... aka Convicts 4 (1962) (USA) ... aka Reprieve (1962)

34.Valle de las espadas, El (1962) .... Don Sancho ... aka Castilian, The (1962) (USA) ... aka Valley of the Swords (1962)

35."King of Diamonds" (1961) TV Series .... Johnny King (1961)

36.Nasilje na trgu (1961) 37.Square of Violence (1961) .... Dr. Stefan Bernardi

38.Ultimo dei Vikinghi, L' (1961) ... aka Dèrnier des Viking, Le (1961) (France) ... aka Last of the Vikings, The (1961)

39.Vendetta di Ercole, La (1960) .... Eurystheus ... aka Goliath and the Dragon (1960) (USA)

40.Decks Ran Red, The (1958) .... Henry Scott

41.Between Heaven and Hell (1956) .... Waco

42.Fastest Gun Alive, The (1956) .... Vinnie Harold

43.Not as a Stranger (1955) .... Dr. Aarons

44."Highway Patrol" (1955) TV Series .... Chief Dan Mathews

45.Bidone, Il (1955) .... Augusto ... aka Swindle, The (1955) (USA) ... aka Swindlers, The (1955) (UK)

46.Big House, U.S.A. (1955) .... Rollo Lamar

47.Man On a Bus (1955) .... Bus driver

48.New York Confidential (1955) .... Charlie Lupo

49.Down Three Dark Streets (1954) .... FBI Agent John Ripley

50.Human Desire (1954) .... Carl Buckley

51.Night People (1954) .... Charles Leatherby

52.Last Posse, The (1953) .... Sheriff Frazier

53.Scandal Sheet (1952) .... Mark Chapman ... aka Dark Page, The (1952) (UK)

54.Last of the Comanches (1952) .... Sergeant Matt Trainor ... aka Sabre and the Arrow, The (1952) (UK)

55.Stop, You're Killing Me (1952) .... Remy Marko

56.Lone Star (1951) .... Thomas Craden

57.Mob, The (1951) .... Johnny Damico ... aka Remember That Face (1951) (UK)

58.Born Yesterday (1950) .... Harry Brock

59.Cargo to Capetown (1950) .... Johnny Phelan

60.Convicted (1950) .... George Knowland ... aka One Way Out (1950) (USA)

61.Kiss in the Dark, A (1949) .... Mr. Botts

62.All the Kings Men (1949)…. Willie Stark

63.Night Unto Night (1949) .... Shawn

64.Bad Men of Tombstone (1949) .... Morgan

65.Anna Lucasta (1949) .... Frank

66.Sealed Verdict (1948) .... Captain Kinsella

67.The Time of Your Life, The (1948) .... Policeman Krupp

68.Flame, The (1947) .... Ernie Hicks

69.Slave Girl (1947) .... Chips Jackson

70.Black Angel (1946) .... Captain Flood ... aka Black Angel, The (1946) (USA: copyright title)

71.Runaround, The (1946) .... Louis Prentiss

72.Broadway (1942) .... Steve Crandall

73.Men of Texas (1942) .... Henry Clay Jackson ... aka Men of Destiny (1942) (UK)

74.Larceny, Inc. (1942) .... Jug Martin

75.Butch Minds the Baby (1942) .... Aloysius "Butch" Grogan

76.North to the Klondike (1942) .... Johnny Thorn

77.Sin Town (1942) .... Dud McNair

78.South of Tahiti (1941) .... Chuck ... aka White Savage (1941)

79.Badlands of Dakota (1941) .... Bob Holliday

80.Black Cat, The (1941) .... Hubert Smith

81.Tight Shoes (1941) .... Speedy Miller

82.Texas Rangers Ride Again, The (1940) .... Mace Townsley

83.Seven Sinners (1940) .... Edward Patrick 'Little Ned' Finnegan ... aka Cafe of the Seven Sinners (1940)

84.Slightly Honorable (1940) .... Russell Sampson

85.I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby (1940) .... Sonny McGann

86.Trail of the Vigilantes (1940) .... Swanee

87.When the Daltons Rode (1940) .... Bob Dalton

88.Undercover Doctor (1939) .... Eddie Krator

89.Beau Geste (1939) .... Hank Miller

90.Ambush (1939) .... Randall 91.Eternally Yours (1939) .... Don Barnes

92.Island of Lost Men (1939) .... Tex Ballister

93.Real Glory, The (1939) .... Lieutenant Larson

94.Sudden Money (1939) .... 'Doc' Finney 95.Start Cheering (1938) .... Biff Gordon

96.Woman Chases Man (1937) .... Hunk

Notable TV guest appearances

1."CHiPs" (1977) playing "Himself"(uncredited) in episode: "Hustle" (episode # 1.8) 11/24/1977

2."Harry O" (1974) playing "John Mackenzie" in episode: "Forty Reasons To Kill" (episode # 1.11) 12/5/1974

3."Banacek" (1972) playing "Gilbert Deretzo" in episode: "No Sign of the Cross" (episode # 1.3) 10/11/1972

4."Night Gallery" (1970) playing "Joseph Fulton" in episode: "You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore" (episode # 2.58) 2/23/1972

5."Alias Smith and Jones" (1971) playing "Powers" in episode: "Man Who Broke the Bank at Red Gap, The" (episode # 2.17) 1/20/1972

6."Cade's County" (1971) in episode: "Requiem for Miss Madrid" (episode # 1.11) 12/12/1971

7."It Takes a Thief" (1968) in episode: "Fortune City" (episode # 3.18) 2/2/1970

8."Land of the Giants" (1968) playing "Prof. Gorn" in episode: "Mechanical Man, The" (episode # 2.1) 9/21/1969

9."Get Smart" (1965) playing "Froggsy Debbs" in episode: "Treasure of C. Errol Madre, The" 1969

10."Cimarron Strip" (1967) in episode: "Blue Moon Train, The" (episode # 1.21) 2/15/1968

11."Man from U.N.C.L.E., The" (1964) playing "Mark Tenza" in episode: "J is for Judas Affair, The" (episode # 1967) 1967

12."Rogues, The" (1964) in episode: "Gambit by the Golden Gate" (episode # 1.17) 1/10/1965

13."Destry" (1964) in episode: "Solid Gold Girl, The" (episode # 1.1) 2/14/1964

14."Virginian, The" (1962) in episode: "Killer in Town, A" (episode # 2.4) 10/9/1963

15."Rough Riders, The" (1958) in episode: "Plot to Assassinate President Johnson, The" (episode # 1.18) 2/5/1959

16."Bat Masterson" (1958) playing "Ben Thompson" in episode: "Two Graves for Swan Valley" (episode # 1.2) 10/15/1958

*Note: According to Kelly Crawford, (Broderick’s son), Lester Crawfrord changed his name from Pendergast before he married Helen Broderick. "I guess he thought Crawford would look better on marquees." Crawford and Broderick were apparently a rather famous vaudeville team, the first to do a world tour, but Helen was the star and Lester just sort of gave up when Helen went into film. Helen was also one of the first Ziegfeld Girls, by the way. When our man William Broderick came along, he got his mother’s maiden name and his father’s last name and, following the family "I-Hate-My-Name tradition", used Broderick Crawford as his stage name.