|Born||Michael Patrick Dumbell-Smith
January 19, 1942
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
|Occupation||Actor, singer, comedian|
|Spouse(s)||Gabrielle Lewis (1965-1975)|
Michael Crawford OBE (born 19 January 1942) is an English actor and singer. He has garnered great critical acclaim and won numerous awards during his career, which covers radio, television, film, and stagework on both London's West End and on Broadway in New York City.
With a career that spans over four decades, his is known both in and out of Britain for originating the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, as well as playing the hapless Frank Spencer in the popular British sitcom, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, which successfully earned him a place as a household name and made him famous to millions around the world.
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).
Michael Crawford was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England as Michael Patrick Dumbell-Smith. He was raised by his mother, Doris, and her parents, Montague and Edith Kathleen (née O'Keefe) Pike. His mother's first husband, who was not his biological father, Arthur Dumbell-Smith, was 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.
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 André 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 Children's Film Foundation in Britain.
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. It was this character that attracted British director Richard Lester to hire him for the role of Colin in The Knack …and How to Get It 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 married actress Gabrielle Lewis 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 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 U.K. After performing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and with offers of work greatly reduced and much of his salary from Hello, Dolly! was lost, reportedly due to underhanded investments by his agent, Crawford faced a brief period of unemployment, in which he helped his wife stuff cushions (for their 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.
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. The series went on to become one of the BBC's most successful programmes of all time.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em soon became one of the BBC's most popular TV series. Initially, only two seasons were produced, from 1973 to 1975,while it was felt that the show should stop while at its peak; afterwhich, it was put on hiatus for several years until popular demand saw it revived for a short season from 1977 to 1978. The immense popularity that followed the sitcom was due perhaps to the unusual amount of physical comedy involved. Mr. Crawford said he had always been a fan of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy, and the great physical gags used in the days of silent film; and saw "Some Mothers" as a great opportunity to use such humor himself. He performed all all of his own stunts during the show's run, and never used a double.
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 began 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 as Frank Spencer in "Some Mothers", and greatly helped to cement his career as a singer and showman. 
After the closing of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, Crawford continued to perform in plays and musicals, starring in the ill-fated Flowers for Algernon (1979) in the role of Charley Gordon, based on the book of the same title. He pursued another role on a very short-lived ITV sitcom, Chalk and Cheese as the slovenly, uncouth Dave Finn. The show did not go over well with his fans, who admired him as Frank Spencer and were put off by the rapid departure; consequently, Crawford abandoned it within the first season and returned to theatre work.
Crawford starred in the 1981 Disney comedy/adventure movie Condorman, playing an American comic book writer and illustrator named Woody Wilkins who is asked by his friend at the CIA to help a Russian woman to defect while acting out the fantasy of bringing his comic book creation, Condorman, to life. 
Also in 1981, Crawford starred in the Original London production of Cy Coleman's Barnum (1981) (one of the longest runs by a leading actor) as the illustrious American showman P.T. Barnum. He trained at the Big Apple Circus School in New York City to prepare for the ambitious stunts. He learned to walk the tight-rope, juggle and slide down a rope from the rafters of the theatre. After further training for the second opening of Barnum, he was awarded a British Amateur Gymnastics Association badge and certificate as a qualified coach.
Barnum opened on June 11, 1981 at the London Palladium, where it ran for 655 performances. Michael Crawford and Deborah Grant headed the cast. It was well-received, becoming a favorite of Margaret Thatcher as well as the Queen Mother. After the initial production of the show, he worked extensively with Torvill and Dean and can be seen rinkside with them as they received their 'perfect six' marks in the 1983 world championships for their 'Barnum' routine.
In 1984 a revival of Barnum opened in Manchester at the Manchester Opera House, ending the tour at the Victoria Palace in the West End. In 1986 this production, with a new cast, though still headed by Crawford, was recorded for television and broadcast by the BBC.
In 1984, at the final preview of Starlight Express, Crawford happened to run 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 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. As production continued on the show, the bulk of the score was revealing itself to be far more classical and operatic, entirely unsuited to Harley's rough, contemporary voice. Wanting instead a performer with a more classic, melodic voice, as described in the original book, he began yet another search for the perfect actor to play his Phantom. Crawford's landing of the role was due largely in part to the coincidence that Lloyd Webber's wife, Sarah Brightman, took lessons with the same vocal coach as Crawford. She and her husband had arrived early for her lesson, and it was while waiting that they chanced to hear him practicing a piece from Handel's Atalanta, namely the aria Care Selve. Intrigued, Lloyd Webber inquired after Mr. Adam as to the identity of his student. Soon after, Crawford was called in for an audition, he had been busy with Barnum 1981 to 1985, it had been one years since he had work and was hired nearly on the spot. 
Many critics were highly sceptical of Webber's choice; Crawford was still largely pigeonholed as the hapless Frank Spencer, and questions were raised if Crawford could manage such a demanding role. History proves them wrong, for in 1986, Crawford began his performance in London, continuing on to Broadway in 1988, and then Los Angeles a year later, in 1989. He played the role for 2 1/2 years and over 1,300 performances, winning 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) for his efforts. 
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 19 January 1989. 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.
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 death. The film was completed nonetheless and was released in theatres on June 18, 1993. 1993 also saw the release of his special "A Touch of Music In The Night" to coincide with the release of his new album of the same name.
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.
Since the late 1980s, Crawford has affiliated himself with various charities, particularly for the good of children. He is a patron of the Lighthouse Foundation in Australia, and has also been President of The Sick Children's Trust (similar to the Ronald McDonald House organization) since 1987. The Michael Crawford International Fan Association (MCIFA) makes large contributions to many charities.
Crawford 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 a camp version that differed considerably from the original show. Whether a darker show, more like Tanz der Vampire, would have succeeded is conjecture. 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 onto the stage and congratulated the then-current Phantom, Howard McGillin.
A long-time devotee of New Zealand and Australia as well as sailing enthusiast, Crawford purchased a home in 2006 on a ridge at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, looking up the inlet from Opito Bay to Kerikeri, and has since become part of the Kerikeri community.
In 2008, Crawford announced to his official fan association that he was in the early stages of 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 2010, nothing has been made public as to the progress of the venture, but it is expected to come to frution sometime in 2011 or possibly later.
Archive footage of Crawford's performance in Hello Dolly! was featured heavily in the 2008 Disney-Pixar film "WALL-E", in which clips of the musical were shown, with particular emphasis on the songs "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and "It Only Takes A Moment".
Crawford has done many concert tours in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand in the last eighteen years, beginning with The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1992. 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.
Crawford was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1988 by HRM Queen Elizabeth II.