A surprise perhaps, given what fans know of Broderick Crawford’s (1911-86) gruff screen persona in tv shows like Highway Patrol (1955-59) and countless westerns and crime drams from the big screen, but Crawford (born this day in 1911) started out his career as a vaudevillian. He was actually a third generation vaudeville performer.
Crawford’s mother had been well-known movie character actress Helen Broderick (profiled here). He performed with his parents in vaudeville and for Broadway producer Max Gordon. After a brief stab at college (Harvard, actually) and some real world experience he jumped right back into show business as part of the cast on the Marx Brothers radio show Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel.
The pinnacle of Crawford’s short Broadway career was the role of Lenny in the original stage version of Of Mice and Men (1937-38.). Sadly, the part was played by Lon Chaney Jr in the movie version but Crawford went on to a terrific screen career anyway — close to 150 credits, including major parts in things like All the King’s Men (1949), Born Yesterday (1950), The Mob (1951), Scandal Sheet (1952), Night People (1954), New York Confidential (1955), Big House USA (1955), and The Fastest Gun Alive (1956). His part on the long running, gritty Highyway Patrol, gave audiences a major shot of Crawford every single week.
When Crawford returned to films after his TV stardom, as with many actors of his generation it was largely in amusing schlock. This period includes Goliath and the Dragon (1960), A House is Not a Home (1964, about prostitutes), The Oscar (1966), The Vulture (1966), Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970), The Naughty Cheerleader (1970), The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go (1970), Terror in the Wax Museum (1973), The Phantom of Hollywood (1974), Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976), Mayday at 40,000 Feet! (1976), and Harlequin (1980). He played a gas station attendant in the 1980 Tom Smothers comedy There Goes the Bride. Crawford’s last credit was a 1982 episode of Simon and Simon.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold