Wednesday, October 31, 2018



LARAMIE's Bobby Crawford, Robert Fuller
and John Smith

When the Emmy nominations for 1959 were announced, the Crawford clan managed a trifecta that no other show-business family has ever matched – not the Barrymores, not the Hustons, not the Fondas -- even though none of the Crawfords won. Robert Crawford Sr. was nominated for Best Editing of a Film for Television for THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW, and lost to Silvio D'Alisera on PROJECT 20. Son Johnny Crawford’s work on THE RIFLEMAN saw him nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Continuing Character, in a Drama Series, which he lost to Dennis Weaver, playing Chester in GUNSMOKE.  

But perhaps the most impressive nomination was for Johnny’s older brother, 14-year-old Robert Crawford Jr., whose appearance on PLAYHOUSE 90, in an episode called CHILD OF OUR TIME, would not only earn him a nomination for Best Single Performance by an Actor, but pit him against Fred Astaire, Paul Muni, Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, and Mickey Rooney. “I got to sit right in front of Fred Astaire during the show,” Bobby recalls, “And he tapped me on the shoulder and he says, ‘Oh, we're the same category, and that's ridiculous.’  And he won the award that night.” But remarkably, fourteen years later, Bobby would re-team with his show’s soon-to-be-legendary director, George Roy Hill, not as an actor, but as producer on a string of classic films including THE STING, THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER, SLAPSHOT, A LITTLE ROMANCE, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, and THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL.

In the heat of this past summer, I had the opportunity to chat with Bobby about his wide-ranging career, and his family, who already had a history in “the biz.” His mother, Betty Megerlin, was a stage actress with parents who were both vaudeville violinists. “On the other side of the family tree, my grandpa Bobby Crawford was a music publisher.” When he met his soon-to-be-bride, Thelma Briney, Bobby relates, “She was a piano player at a five and dime store. My grandpa later on was a music publisher with DeSylva, Brown and Henderson. And they created the song, I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cent Store.” Grandpa Bobby, who managed Al Jolson, built Crawford Music
“Sold it to Warner Brothers in 1928. And then lost his fortune in the 1929 [Stock Market Crash].”
Jump ahead a generation, and it’s déjà vu: Robert Crawford (the soon-to-be-editor), is working as an extra at Universal Pictures when a fellow extra wants to introduce him to the girl he’s been courting.  

“So, my dad walked into the room and my mom was playing the piano and he was smitten immediately by her.” It took some time, but he stole her away, and they were married in New York City by Norman Vincent Peale, the Minister famous for his bestseller, THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING. Robert was working as a film librarian at Columbia Pictures when he was drafted into World War II. He joined the Marines, wanting to be a cameraman, but when they learned of his background, he was made a military film librarian at Quantico. “He never talked a lot about it, but he felt guilty about doing the librarian work because he would get all this footage in; the cameraman's shooting everything, and then oftentimes you'd see the camera images fall into the sand, as the man had been hit. He did that from ‘43 to ‘46 and I was born in Quantico.”

HENRY PARKE: When did you start acting?

BOBBY CRAWFORD: [My parents] did some shows at the Pasadena Playhouse. He had a scooter and they'd go out to Pasadena from Hollywood, Mom riding on the back, and then have to change from her scooter clothes into the costume. I remember being a child and watching them in a small theater in Hollywood. My brother I think was four years old when he did Little Boy Lost in a stage show somewhere in Hollywood. And I did a few little things that I don't recall except I recall being Tiny Tim in some Christmas show. I was about eight years old. My folks never really belonged to a church, but Grandma sent us off to Sunday school; we went to the Christian Science Church on Olympic Boulevard, and our Sunday School teacher just happened to be one of the major agents for children in Hollywood. She took an interest in both John and I, and she started representing us and sending us out on commercials. John started getting MATINEE THEATRE [an hour-long daily live TV drama anthology], and small parts, and I'd get a commercial now and then. Johnny was the Anglo-looking blond kid and I was the Hispanic-looking Latino, and I did Indians and French and Spanish-looking roles as a child. I remember the Fritos commercial, being at the factory and eating them hot off the assembly line; it was really good.

HENRY PARKE: Did you take acting classes, or did your parents teach you?

BOBBY CRAWFORD: My mom was our coach. We’d go on interviews, and we'd sit out in the lobby and read through the lines. And the instruction I got from mom, then reinforced when I got my first big break, by the director George Roy Hill, is the most important thing about acting? Don't. Don't act. Just be real. I think that was my cue. Therefore, I figured I'd better not study acting, I'd better just do it. I remember years later reading the James Cagney autobiography. They asked him, what's your secret to acting? And he says, stand there and tell the truth. So, I think those are my two bits of instruction. And I was afraid to get into school plays or get into theater at UCLA, thinking whatever it was that I did -- and I didn't know what it was I did -- it seemed to be working, and I was afraid I'd get corrupted if I started to try to learn it.

HENRY PARKE: You appeared on a number of TV shows – DONNA REED, WYATT EARP, ZORRO.

BOBBY CRAWFORD: I did a couple of ZORROS. I remember, I loved being at the Disney Studios and I also loved being with Zorro, Guy Williams, a wonderful man and a beautiful man. And Mary Wickes played my aunt. And the sergeant on ZORRO, Henry Calvin. I didn't realize he was a great opera singer. A roly-poly fellow, and a wonderful man. Zorro saves me from the well, I guess, but I remember hugging the big burly Spanish soldier.

Bobby in Playhouse 90's
A Child of Our Time

HENRY PARKE: Before LARAMIE, you were nominated for an Emmy for A CHILD OF OUR TIME, where you play Tanguay, a boy who winds up in a Nazi Concentration Camp. How big an effect was your Emmy nomination on your career? Had you already been cast in LARAMIE?

BOBBY CRAWFORD: No, I got LARAMIE immediately after doing A CHILD OF OUR TIME, right about the time we were nominated. A Producer, Robert Pirosh, cast me, wanted me. He was the writer of the pilot, [and] strongly committed to the series, involved and in charge. I came out to do a reading with Bob Fuller, a screen test; we did the scene together. Slim [Sherman, the role John Smith would ultimately play], was the part that he had originally been cast for, and he went up to talk to a fellow I later worked with, Pat Kelly, and said, ‘It's wonderful, but the part's wrong. I should be Jess.’ And Pat Kelly said, ‘Oh yeah?’ He said, ‘Absolutely, I can't do it otherwise.’ John Smith was a very nice man and he said, ‘It's fine with me.’ Fuller said, ‘Let me test for it.’ And so we did the scene in which he was going to convince the powers that be that he should play Jess. And he convinced them that I should play Slim’s brother. Of course, me being the Latino, I’d had my head shaved. It's just, John Smith was blond, and I'm supposed to be his brother, and I looked a lot more like Bob Fuller. So they dyed my hair blond for the pilot. And it grew out in like four months. I went from being a short haired blond to brunette with long hair in the series. But anyway, it didn't really matter. They had their show and it went on the air along with RIVERBOAT which featured some unknown guys, one of them being Burt Reynolds. I just remember Eastwood starting RAWHIDE and Burt Reynolds on RIVERBOAT our same season, and I was astonished that our show was a hit. I just said, wow, I got a job, and I get to go to the studio every day. And then I was worried.  I still wanted to get into UCLA at that time. I was just starting high school, and I’d just run into the first defeat of my career in school, geometry. But I remember getting a leg up because I had a private tutor on LARAMIE.

HENRY PARKE: What were Robert Fuller and John Smith like?

John Smith and Bobby

BOBBY CRAWFORD: They were jolly. They were in their prime. They were just thrilled to be starring in the series. They were congenial and having fun on the set, which is the only time I got to be with them for the most part. We had some publicity stunt things that we did, I did a double- date with Bob Fuller once. At 14 or 15 years old I got myself a moped, and I would tool around, in the Hollywood Hills, before I could have a driver's license. And there is a shot of Bob Fuller on my moped. Other than that we had very little social contact off the set. But it was like going to Disneyland each a day of work when you walked into the set. The guys were all about the business of shooting the scene and the story and getting onto the next one. There isn't a whole lot of time between takes and so would have our chairs. I remember that first Christmas in the show, Bob Fuller bought us all nice leather director's chairs, with our names engraved on them.

John Smith was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life. I don't know what kind of curse that was on him, but he just wasn't real to see in life. He was decent, charming man, but it was so hard to get over -- it was like he was back-lit all the time. He just glowed in the dark, in the sunlight. You couldn't be help but be struck by it.  He's not real, he's so good looking. And Fuller was good-looking, but rugged; it wasn't quite the same impact.

Robert Fuller and Bobby

Bob Fuller had a forearm as big as my thigh. And my ambition as a kid in that series was to get a forearm as big as Bob Fuller's. So I would do my push-ups and pull-ups and my fencing. But I never learned how to build my body so I'd get a forearm like Bob Fuller. Bob was a great charismatic fellow. He was a quick draw. What I was learning on LARAMIE was my lines, and how to be a quick draw. I got the steel holster that helped make you a quick draw. But I could never quite out-draw Bob. I came close, but I didn't get the cigar.

HENRY PARKE: How about Hoagy Carmichael?

Smith, Fuller, Hoagy Carmichael and Bobby

BOBBY CRAWFORD: I adored Hoagy Carmichael. I'm ashamed to say I didn't get to know Hoagy other than in passing.  We have a couple of episodes where he's showing me the piano, and he's singing a cute song. Now in my later years, I find myself driving down the road singing Stardust in the morning. And I'm thinking, if only I'd known about that when he was playing at the piano.

HENRY PARKE: Did you have any favorite guest stars?

Ernest Borgnine plays a former soldier accused
of cowardice in this episode

BOBBY CRAWFORD: It was just terrific fun to work with Ernie Borgnine. I remember being under the table with him. I knew he was an Academy Award winner, and doing TV was still a second gig for a movie actor. He was always playing these mean tough guys, but in person, he was just the most easygoing, charming guy who just loved being there on the set, as I did. And on the first episode, Dan Duryea, playing the bad guy. He had this wonderful demeanor about him. I just remember him being scary. A scary man. He was good casting, a dangerous fellow. I loved all the actors that I got to be around. Every one of them was a character, but it was true of all the grips, electricians, the prop men; everybody who would be on a Hollywood set is a pro, especially if you got lucky enough to get into the major leagues, and I was in the majors then. Those guys are having fun. They're so confident about what they do that they can just have fun doing it. There's the pressure of getting it done, but they're very confident they're going to get it done well. You’re imbued with confidence when you're on a set like that. Everything works, and nobody gets hurt. You only appreciate as an adult, that movie-making is all about moving. You are moving arcs and lights, and in those days the equipment was big, heavy. And it's horses and wagons and, and I only appreciated later how physical making a good movie can be, and making a Western in particular. And also how absolutely prone to accidents things can be, and that's why you want guys who don't have accidents.

Dan Duryea is the villain in
Laramie's pilot

HENRY PARKE: On LARAMIE you had two of my absolute favorite action directors, Leslie Selander and Joe Kane. Do you have any memories of working with them?

BOBBY CRAWFORD: I remember Leslie Selander, because I loved his name. I remember the directors telling me what to do. I don't remember them vividly; in fact the only director I remember vividly was Lee Sholem, who was a director on CHEYENNE. Who was called “Roll 'em Sholem.” Which was because -- look, there's an airplane! Roll 'em! He was a forceful character. And you didn't want to do two takes with Roll 'em Sholem. You wanted to do one take.  I remember the cameramen and I remember faces, but I think I was kind of intimidated and shy on the set; I didn't develop relationships with the crew. I was always feeling a bit like I was the kid on the show, not necessarily the pro on the show. I don't know. Somehow, my brother John would get around to every member of the set, [even]the background extras. He knew everybody on the set, and I knew everybody to say hi, but I didn't develop relationships. I think I just sort of passed through my experience as a kid on LARAMIE, enjoying the moments and remembering some of them, but mostly just saying this too will pass.

HENRY PARKE: You did a few guest shots on THE RIFLEMAN. How did you like working with your kid brother?

BOBBY CRAWFORD: I did, and the problem was it was just a couple of days work. We got to get on horses, we'd be here and we'd be there. We had to go to school for three hours and then we’d get to be on the set a bit. We got to wrestle in one of them; we got a lot of practice at that.

HENRY PARKE: Early in season two of LARAMIE, you and Hoagy Carmichael disappeared.

BOBBY CRAWFORD:  Bob Pirosh left, and then John Champion came along. [Note: Writer and producer John Champion had made several successful Westerns for Allied Artists, and would produce LARAMIE and write 36 episodes.] I didn't know who John Champion was, and I didn't make it a point of trying to stay in the show, or even think that I wouldn't, until the next season began and they said well, they've written you out. And I said, okay, I'll do something else. Whether Hoagy wanted to leave or not, I don't know. And I never talked to anybody about it.

With LARAMIE, my experience with the cowboys and the horses, what was probably 20 weeks of working and being part of it, was sensational. It made me feel like a real Hollywood cowboy, and I could go to Griffith Park, where I had a horse for about three years, that I would groom and take care of, and be the king of corral 17, and go on parades and riding. I felt comfortable around horses and always have felt at home in a stable around the big animals. That I thought was my gift from LARAMIE.

HENRY PARKE: A couple of seasons later they brought in a new kid, Dennis Holmes and Spring Byington essentially playing a female version of Hoagy Carmichael. Did you feel vindicated?
BOBBY CRAWFORD: Well, I'm ashamed to say I haven't watched it, but I don't think I was watching it when I was making it, either. I didn't want to be inhibited. I do have the DVD set of the first season, and I have watched some episodes. If I'm going to a signing show, I'll run an episode or two, but I'm ashamed to say I haven't done that with THE RIFLEMAN episodes either. So I am an uninformed participant. And before I go to Kanab, I think I'm going to run some RIFLEMANS and some more LARAMIES, LARAMIES I haven't been in. I owe Dennis Holmes a look.
In the next Round-up, the second and final part of my interview, Bobby Crawford discusses his work on BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and twenty years as Producer to iconic movie Director George Roy Hill.

SHOUT FACTORY has put LARAMIE out on DVD, although season one is out of print. The entire series is available on STARZ.


Following up on the fascinating Emmy-winning documentary TENDING THE WILD, produced in partnership with KCET and THE AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST, the partners have made a 3-year commitment to continue with the series TENDING NATURE, which premieres Wednesday, November 7th. Just as TENDING THE WILD examined land management techniques used for centuries by American Indians, TENDING NATURE will explore California’s Native stories, traveling across the state to visit and hear from several Indian communities striving to revive their cultures and inform western sciences. This season, the Tolowa Dee-Ni’, Ohlone, Pit River tribes, and the multi-tribal Potawot Health Village, will welcome the series and share their knowledge on topics including ocean toxicity, decolonizing cuisine, tribal hunting, food deserts, and traditional sweats.  Henry’s Western Round-up is honored to share the exclusive following first look.


Director Edwards on location

Filmmaker Jay Wade Edwards set out to make an American film, pretending to be an Italian film, which is itself pretending to be an American film: an Italian-language Spaghetti Western shot in, well, the West! Not just any west, but around one of the most photographed of western locales, Pioneertown!  And he shot it, spectacularly, on an iPhone!  I’ll have more details coming soon to the Round-up, but for now, here is the wonderfully daft movie itself.  Enjoy!


UNSPOOLED’s Paul Scheer and Amy Nicholson are re-examining all of the films on the  AFI 100 Best Movies of All-Time list, with 100 individual podcasts. They're very knowledgeable about film, but are not Western nerds, which makes their discussion of HIGH NOON, and its placement on the list all the more insightful and entertaining. They’re also funny as Hell. I had a great time as their guest on this segment, and think you’ll enjoy it – especially since, whether you’re a HIGH NOON or RIO BRAVO loyalist, you’ll find plenty to be offended by! Here’s the link to the series. HIGH NOON is #19, and APOCALYPSE NOW, #20, begins with listener comments about HIGH NOON. Enjoy them all! 


If you’re looking for a spooky Western to watch on Hallowe’en (and who isn’t?) Here’s a link to my True West article on the best and worst of the ‘Weird Westerns.’

Happy Trails, and Happy Hallowe'en!
All Original Content Copyright October 2018 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved