Michael Crawford OBE (born ) is an English actor and singer, known for his tenor voice and powerful performances. He has won critical acclaim and numerous awards during his career, which includes radio, television and stage (including appearing on stage in the West End in London, and on Broadway in New York City).
Although he most often appears on stage, in musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera and Barnum, he first became a household name and famous to millions for his role as the hapless Frank Spencer on the British television sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973-78), for which he performed most of his own stunts. The series became one of the BBC's most successful programmes of all time. Crawford has been appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and has also been named Showbusiness Personality of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain. He also worked extensively with Torvill and Dean and can be seen rinkside with them as they received their 'perfect six' marks in the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Crawford was born Michael Patrick Dumbbell-Smith in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. He was raised by his widowed mother, Doris, and her parents, Montague Pike and Edith Kathleen O'Keefe, whom Crawford always called "Monty" and "Nan". Doris's first husband, Arthur Dumbbell-Smith, had been killed during the Battle of Britain, less than a year after they married. Two years after his death, Crawford was born, the result of a short-lived relationship, and given his mother's first husband's surname. During his early years, he divided his time between the army camp in Wiltshire, where he and his mother were living during the war, and the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, where he also lived with his mother and grandparents. However, at the end of the war in 1945, his mother was re-married to a grocer named Den Ingram in 1945 and they moved to London. There Crawford attended Oakfield Preparatory School, Dulwich, where he was known as Michael Ingram.
From an early age, it was clear that he demonstrated both an aptitude for comedy and an exceptional singing voice. At the age of seven, he made one of his first (and briefer) public appearances as a chorister at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, but his membership of the choir was short lived.
He made his first stage appearance in the role of Sammy the Little Sweep in his school production of Benjamin Britten's Let's Make an Opera, which was then transferred to Brixton Town Hall in London, England. But his professional break did not come until Britten hired him to play Sammy in another production of the opera, this time at the Scala Theatre in London, which he alternated with another boy soprano, David Hemmings.
Soon afterwards, the English Opera Group hired him for the role of Japhet in another Benjamin Britten opera, Noye's Fludde, based on the story of Noah and the Great Flood. Crawford remembers that it was while working in this production that he realized he seriously wanted to become an actor.
It was in between performances of Let's Make an Opera and Noye's Fludde that he was advised that he had to change his name, as another young performer in the children's theatre group that Crawford was in had the same surname. While he was riding home on a bus after an audition, he noticed a lorry with the slogan "Crawford's Biscuits Are Best". It was then that he decided to change his name to Michael Crawford.
He went on to perform in a wide repertoire. Among his stage work, he performed in Andr? Birabeau's French comedy Head of the Family, Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn, Bernard Kops's Change for the Angel, Francis Swann's Out of the Frying Pan, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and Twelfth Night, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, The Striplings, The Move After Checkmate, and others. At the same time, he also appeared in over 400 radio broadcasts on the BBC and early BBC soap-operas, such as Billy Bunter, Emergency - Ward 10, Probation Officer, and Two Living, One Dead, and he even appeared as the cabin boy John Drake in the TV series Sir Francis Drake, a twenty-six part adventure series made by ITC starring Terrence Morgan and Jean Kent. His film work included leading roles in two children's films, Blow Your Own Trumpet and Soapbox Derby, for The Childrens' Film Foundation in Britain.
Early adult career
At nineteen, he was approached to play an American, Junior Sailen, in the film The War Lover opposite Steve McQueen in 1962. To prepare for the role, he would spend hours listening to Woody Woodbury, a famous American comedian of the time, to try to perfect an American accent. After The War Lover, Crawford briefly returned to the stage until he was offered a more prominent role in the British television series, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, as the Mod-style, tough-talking, motorcycle-riding Byron. The character became so popular that Crawford was asked to write a column, as Byron, in which he answered any questions regarding the character.
It was this character that attracted British director Richard Lester to hire him for the roles of Colin in The Knack ?and How to Get It opposite Rita Tushingham and Ray Brooks in 1965. The film was a huge success in the UK and very soon afterwards Lester also hired him for the roles in such films as film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Buster Keaton, and Phil Silvers, The Jokers starring Oliver Reed, and How I Won the War with Roy Kinnear and John Lennon. In between he met and fell in love with an actress-disc jockey named Gabrielle Lewis and they married in Paris in 1965. They had two daughters, Emma (b. 1966) and Lucy (b. 1968).
In 1967, he made his Broadway debut in Black Comedy/White Lies with Lynn Redgrave (making her debut as well) in which he began to demonstrate his aptitude and daring for extreme physical comedy, such as walking into and through walls in the dark. While working in the show, he was noticed by Gene Kelly and was called to Hollywood to audition for him for a part in the upcoming film adaptation of the musical Hello, Dolly!.
He was cast and shared top billing with Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau. It did well at the box office, garnering Crawford fame as the "attractive idiot" Cornelius Hackl. His later films fared less successfully, although Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in which he played the White Rabbit, enjoyed moderate success in the UK. After performing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and with offers of work greatly reduced and much of his salary from Hello, Dolly! lost due to underhanded investments from his agent, Crawford faced a brief period of unemployment, in which he helped his wife stuff cushions (for her brother-in law's upholstery business) and took a job as an office clerk in an electric company to pass the time between. During this difficult time, his marriage fell apart and divorce followed in 1975; but he and Gabrielle have remained very close friends.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
His career was saved with an invitation to star in a BBC television comedy series about a childlike and eternally haphazard man who causes disaster everywhere he goes. Crawford was not the first choice for the role of Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Originally, the role had been offered to actor-comedian Ronnie Barker but after he and Norman Wisdom had turned it down, Crawford took on the challenging role. Cast alongside him was actress Michele Dotrice in the role of Frank's long-suffering wife Betty, and the series premiered in 1973.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em soon became one of the BBC's most popular TV series. At first it ran only until 1975 when it was felt that it would be best to stop while still successful. Popular demand saw it revived for a short period from 1977 to 1978, and when it finally closed in 1978, it remained one of the top 10 British TV series of all time.
At the same time he was playing in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, Crawford was approached to star in the musical Billy (based on the novel, Billy Liar) in 1974 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. Having not sung professionally in some time, Crawford went back to studying singing seriously with a vocal coach, Ian Adam, and spent hours perfecting his dancing capabilities with choreographer Onna White. The show was a huge hit and soon, along with the fame from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, his career was back on track.
Furthermore, in this pre-CGI age, Crawford performed all his own stunts on the show yet always chose to wear his lucky black leather gloves whilst doing so.
Pre-Phantom stage productions
After the closing of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em during this time, Crawford continued to perform in plays and musicals, starring in the ill-fated Flowers for Algernon (1979) in the role of Charly Gordon, based on the book of the same title, and Cy Coleman's Barnum (1981) (one of the longest runs by a leading actor) in London.
The Phantom of the Opera
In 1984, at the final preview of Starlight Express, Crawford bumped into the show's creator, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lloyd Webber had met Crawford socially several times and remembered him from his work in Flowers for Algernon. He informed Mr. Crawford that he was working on a new project based on a Gaston Leroux novel and wanted to know whether he was interested. Crawford said he was, but the show was still in the early planning stages, and nothing had been decided.
Several months passed, during which Lloyd Webber had already created a pitch video featuring his then-wife Sarah Brightman as the female lead Christine and British rocker Steve Harley as the Phantom, singing the title song in the manner of a contemporary New Wave video. Crawford was turned off by this, supposing the songwriter had chosen to do a more "rock opera"-inspired spectacle in lieu of a more traditional operatic musical.
Since casting Harley, however, Lloyd Webber had also begun to regret his artistic choices, wanting instead a performance and singer with a more classic, melodic voice, as described in the original book. By an amazing coincidence, Lloyd Webber's wife Sarah Brightman, who at the time took lessons with the same vocal coach as Crawford, suggested her husband audition him. Crawford was called in, and history was made.
In 1986, Crawford began his performance in London, later going onto New York, in 1988, and then Los Angeles a year later, in 1989.
Crawford won an Olivier Award (Best Actor in a Musical), a Tony Award (Best Performance By An Actor in a Lead Role, Musical), an N.Y's Drama Desk Award, and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Distinguished Achievement in Theatre (Lead Performance).
During the run of Phantom in Los Angeles, Crawford was asked to perform "The Music of the Night" at the Inaugural Gala for President George Bush in Washington, D.C., on . At the gala, Crawford was presented with a birthday cake (it was his own 47th birthday).
On 29 April 1990, three and a half years and over 1,300 performances into The Phantom of the Opera later, Crawford left the company. He admits to having been genuinely broken up at his own departure, and, during the Final Lair scene, altered the Phantom's line to "Christine....I loved you...", acknowledging that this was his last and final performance.
1990s to present
In 1993, at the request of Liz Kirschner, wife of acclaimed film producer David Kirschner, he obtained the role of Cornelius in 20th Century Fox's animated motion picture Once Upon a Forest, which was, in fact, produced by David Kirschner. During filming, Michael stated that he had a terrible time singing one of the musical numbers called "Please Wake Up". This was because he had to struggle not to cry when this was being completed, as the scenario was that his character Cornelius was singing to a child who was on the verge of dying. The film was completed nonetheless and was released in theaters on June 18, 1993.
In 1995, Crawford created the high-profile starring role in EFX, the US$70 million production which officially opened MGM's 1700-seat Grand Theatre in Las Vegas. The Atlantic Theater label released the companion album to EFX. But early into the run, Crawford suffered an accident during a performance (which involved him sliding from a wire hanger from the back of the theatre all the way to the stage and then jumping down 12 feet (4 m) to the stage itself) and left the show to recover from his injury, which resulted in an early hip-replacement.
Crawford also had a short comeback to Broadway as the Count von Krolock in the short-lived commercial and financial flop musical Dance of the Vampires in 2002 and early 2003. Many fans of the original version, Tanz Der Vampire, blame Crawford for the show being such a disaster. The reasons for the show's failure were actually more complicated and included the frequent absences of the show's director, John Rando, because of the illness and ultimate death of his mother. The lack of a firm hand controlling the show in previews contributed to difficulties that led to its failure.
The producers of the show wanted a rewrite with a more comic angle instead of adapting the successful Austrian version, so they hired comic playwright David Ives to write what amounted to a new book, which was then revised and rearranged by Crawford, who had creative control. Crawford also agreed that the piece should be a comedy on the lines of Mel Brooks. The result was an altered version with a lot of campy humor that differed considerably from the original show. Whether a darker show more like Tanz der Vampire would have succeeded is conjecture. Both the darker Lestat and Frank Wildhorn's Dracula the Musical later also were failures.
Jim Steinman, who wrote the musical, refused to attend the premier in protest. In his personal blog, however, Steinman said he was fired by his manager.
Later, Crawford went on to originate the role of the morbidly obese Count Fosco in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Woman in White which opened at the Palace Theatre, London, in September 2004. However, he was forced to leave the show three months later due to ill health caused by dehydration due to the enormous fat-suit he wore during the performance. He spent several months recuperating and was thus unable to reprise the role on Broadway.
In 2006, Crawford was invited to attend the Gala Performance of the stage version of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway at the Majestic Theater to celebrate the show becoming the longest running musical in Broadway history (supplanting Cats). He was delighted with it, stating this was the first time he had been an audience member of any of the shows he had done, and after the show, went up to the stage and congratulated the then-current Phantom, Howard McGillin.
Crawford was ranked #17 in the 100 Greatest Britons (2002) poll sponsored by the BBC. He has also been president of the Sick Children's Trust since 1987. The Michael Crawford International Fan Association (MCIFA) makes large contributions to many charities.
Crawford has also been known to be something of a prankster, including planting fake mice around mouse-phobic Dale Kristien's dressing room, shouting in his "Phantom Voice" to lighten the mood on the set of a tedious shoot, and pretending that the van he was riding in hit someone (very nervous driver and Crawford told her she'd knocked someone with the van).
Crawford has done several concert tours in the last eighteen years, beginning with The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber to promote his second album featuring various Lloyd Webber showtunes. In 1998, Mr. Crawford began Michael Crawford: Live In Concert tour around the United States. One performance, done at the Cerritos Arts Center in Los Angeles, was filmed and broadcast on PBS for their annual fundraiser. In 2006, he made a small concert tour of Australia and New Zealand, as well as a one-night benefit to open the LaSalle Bank Theatre in Chicago. He has also done various M.C.I.F.A exclusive concerts around the United States.
In 2006, Crawford bought a house on a ridge at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, looking up the inlet from Opito Bay to Kerikeri, and has become part of the Kerikeri community.
In 2008, somebody announced that Crawford was working on a new PBS special and concert tour, aptly referenced as a "One Man Show", including a new version of It Only Takes A Moment from Hello, Dolly! and a possible record along with it. As of 2009, nothing had come about, but Crawford was expected to begin touring sometime in 2010 or possibly later.
Awards and nominations
Awarded Olivier Award for "Best Actor in a Musical" for his performance of the title role in Barnum (1981)
Awards won for his performance in the title role in Phantom of the Opera:
Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical (1986)
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical (1988)
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical (1988)
Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a Musical (1988)
Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for "Distinguished Achievement in Theatre (Lead Performance)" (1990)
Awards won for his performance as Count Fosco in "The Woman in White" (2004):
Outstanding Stage Performance Award from the Variety Club of Great Britain (2004)
"Best Supporting Actor in a Musical" -- Theatregoers Choice Award voted by on-line readers of WhatsonStage.com
Additionally, received Olivier Award nomination (2004)
Stage productions and movies
The Woman In White (2004) - Count Fosco
Dance of the Vampires (2002) - Count Giovanni von Krolock
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (2001) ? Himself
Once Upon a Forest (1993) (voice) ? Cornelius
The Phantom of the Opera (1986) - The Phantom
Barnum (1981) ? P.T. Barnum
Condorman (1981) ? Woody Wilkins
Flowers for Algernon (1979) - Charlie Gordon
Billy (Billy Liar - The Musical) (1974) - Billy
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (1972) ? White Rabbit
Hello-Goodbye (1970) - Harry England
The Games (1970) ? Harry Hayes
Hello, Dolly! (1969) ? Cornelius Hackl
How I Won the War (1967) ? Goodbody
The Jokers (1967) - Michael Tremayne
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) ? Hero
The Knack ?and How to Get It (1965) - Colin
Two Left Feet (1963) - Alan Crabbe
The War Lover (1962) ? Sgt. Junior Sailen
Two Living, One Dead (1961) - Nils Lindwall
A French Mistress (1960) - Kent
Soapbox Derby (1958) - Peter Toms
Blow Your Own Trumpet (1958) - Jim Fenn