At this point the conventional switch would be to offer evidence proving that Crawford's opinion of himself doesn't jibe with the truth, that actually he's a fire-breathing bull of a man who locks horns with any-thing that stands in his way. The switch, however, just doesn't fit in this case. Apparently, Crawford has a heart of melted butter topped with a squirt of whipped cream.
One man who will attest to Crawford's softness is Harry Wilson, who for 25 years was Wallace Beery's stand-in. About 10 years ago Wilson was up in San Francisco, flat broke and out of work. He bumped into Crawford, who was making a picture there, and related his woes.
"You got a job," said Crawford shortly. Today, Wilson is still working for Crawford as his stand-in and personal assistant. They even share an apartment together in Hollywood's swank Sunset Towers. Crawford is separated from his wife, the former Kay Griffith. Vernon Clark, producer of Highway Patrol, is another who debunks the Crawford myth. "Tough guy?" he says. "You ought to see him work with kids. He's the essence of gentle-ness. Why, he'll even suggest bits of business they can do, and throw scenes their way. Maybe it's because he's a father himself. [Crawford has two boys-Kim, 9; Kelly, 5.)
"But Brod's tough in another way, as a professional actor. I've watched him do 15 shows in a row, one every two days, without missing a beat. In our business that takes the strength of an ox. And another thing: Brod won't use any stunt men. Last year, for one episode, Brod jumped off a bulldozer into a seven-foot ditch and wrenched his back. He had to wear a brace for four months, and that was no publicity stunt."
Today Crawford's rough-hewn mug is as well-known as that of any matinee idol (one St. Patrick's Day a policeman halted the traditional parade down New York's 5th Ave. to let Crawford cross the street. "It's the commissioner!" bawled the cop, extending his arms against the line of marchers). However, for much of Crawford's long career his fate was near-anonymity.
"I was always the second heavy," growled Crawford. "And plenty of times I even moved down to playing the third heavy.
His low-man-on-the-totem- pole status, according to Crawford can be blamed on Hollywood type-casting. "Back in 1938," he explained, "I did the role of the half-wit Lenny in Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men.' The play was a tremendous success except when I came out to Hollywood I found that all I could get were half-wit roles."
A photograph taken just before the
Highway Patrol pilot
and part of the ZIV press kit.
"You know," he said with a slight trace of bitterness, "when I got back I discovered they didn't even want me for third heavies. I didn't get a day's work for seven-and-a-half months. I was all set to go back to New York and start over-when the phone rang. It was Robert Rossen."
Crawford still finds it hard to believe what happened next. Rossen asked him to come down the next day and audition for the starring role in "All the King's Men." Without an advance look at the script, on the following day Crawford read a scene. Rossen asked him to read two more scenes. That was it. From almost complete obscurity he leaped to Academy Award winner as the best actor of the year.
Actually, winning the award was no fluke. Crawford's parents, Lester Crawford and Helen Broderick, were famous stage performers in their day, and Philadelphia-born Crawford grew up immersed in fine theater-between going to various private schools.
"My folks said they didn't want me to get into show business, but before I was in kindergarten I was earning a dollar a week for running across stage and saying, 'Tag, you're it!' They taught me a great deal and they're still teaching me. They'll watch Highway Patrol, then get on the phone with some pretty stiff but accurate criticisms."
Crawford pulled on his chin and dipped back into the past.' "Funny, being Helen Broderick's son was a problem for a long time. When I was a young man I used to go to Broadway producers' offices looking for a job and they'd say, 'Are you as funny as your mother?' I had to be honest so I'd say, 'No.' As a result I usually didn't get the job."
Now, Crawford, in his mid-40's, has no complaints so far as his career goes. The only thing that disturbs him is the fact that working so continuously on Highway Patrol (he's made 78 episodes to date) prevents him from taking off more often for Europe, which he loves with an intense passion: He spent five months in Germany making "Night People" with Gregory Peck, later another six months in Italy making "Il Bidone" with Richard Basehart.
"It's hard to explain why I like Europe so much," said Crawford. "Maybe it's because people don't bother you. I remember an evening I spent with Jean Gabin in Paris. Now he's probably as famous in Europe as an actor can get. Yet, as he proved to me, no one disturbed him. We went to several restaurants, sidewalk cafes, walked along the streets, and his fellow Frenchmen respected his right to privacy. Of course, that's not the only reason I like Europe, but it helps explain a certain way of life they have there."
Crawford hopes to spend the summer poking around the Continent. "It all depends on the Highway Patrol shooting schedule but at the first break I'm off like an arrow." He doesn't particularly like Hollywood. Commenting on Hollywood parties, Crawford said acidly, "I don't go to them anymore. When people tell you they saw your last picture - well, the way they say it sounds like they hope it was."