Michael Crawford, OBE (born 19 January 1942) is an English actor and singer. He has received 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.
He is best known for playing the hapless Frank Spencer in the popular 1970s British sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (which made him a household name), as well as for originating the title role in The Phantom of the Opera.
He met and married actress Gabrielle Lewis in Paris in 1965. The couple had two daughters, Emma (b. 1966) and Lucy (b. 1968), before divorcing in 1975.
Michael Crawford was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England as Michael Patrick Dumbell Smith. He was brought up by his mother, Doris Agnes Mary Pike, and her parents, Montague Pike and his wife, Edith Emaline Kathleen (née O’Keefe), in what Crawford described as a “close-knit Roman Catholic family”. His maternal grandmother was born in County Londonderry, Ireland, and lived to be 99 years old.
His mother’s first husband, who was not his biological father, Arthur Dumbell “Smudge” Smith (born 1917/1918 – died 6 September 1940) was killed, aged 22, in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, less than a year after they married. Sixteen months after Smith’s death (on 6 September 1940), Crawford was born, the result of a short-lived relationship and given the surname of his mother’s first husband.
During his early years, he divided his time between the army camp in Wiltshire, where he and his mother lived during the war, and the Isle of Sheppey off the coast of Kent, where his mother had grown up and where Crawford would live with his mother and maternal grandparents. There he attended St Michael’s, a Catholic school run by nuns, who Crawford later described as not being shy in their use of corporal punishment, in Bexleyheath. At the end of the war, his mother re-married, to a grocer, Lionel Dennis “Den” Ingram. The couple moved to London, where Crawford attended Oakfield Preparatory School, Dulwich, where he was known as Michael Ingram. His mother’s second marriage, however, was stormy and abusive, according to Crawford, and she died at age 44 from acute pancreatitis. After his mother’s death, young Michael was taken under the wing of an acting family, the Kendalls, led by music hall star Marie Kendall.
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. 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 after, he was hired by the English Opera Group for the role of Jaffet in another 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 realised 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 to change his name, as another young performer in the children’s theatre group that Crawford was in had the same surname.
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 appeared in hundreds of BBC radio broadcasts and early BBC soap-operas, such as Billy Bunter, Emergency – Ward 10, Probation Officer, and Two Living, One Dead. He appeared as the cabin boy John Drake in the TV series Sir Francis Drake, a twenty-six part adventure series made by ITC starring Terence 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.
Early Adult Career
At age nineteen, he was approached to play an American, Junior Sailen, in the film The War Lover (1962), which starred Steve McQueen. 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 and, after playing the lead role in the 1963 British film Two Left Feet, was offered a role in the British television series, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, as the Mod-style, tough-talking, motorbike-riding Byron. It was this character that attracted film 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.
Lester also cast him in the 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, and How I Won the War with Roy Kinnear and John Lennon (during the filming of which he lived in London with Lennon and his first wife Cynthia, and Gabrielle Lewis) He starred in The Jokers (directed by Michael Winner) with Oliver Reed in 1967.
In 1967, he made his Broadway debut in Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy 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 walls and falling down staircases. 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; the film did well at the box office.
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! 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.
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
Crawford’s acting career took off again after he appeared on the London stage in the farce No Sex Please, We’re British, in which he played the part of frantic chief cashier Brian Runnicles. His performance led to 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 part had been offered to comedy actor Ronnie Barker but after he and Norman Wisdom had turned it down, Crawford took on the challenge, adopting a similar characterisation to that which he used when playing Brian Runnicles. 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. Initially, only two series were produced, from 1973 to 1975, while the show’s creators felt that it should stop while at its peak. There was a brief hiatus until popular demand saw it revived for a short series in 1978. The immense popularity that followed the sitcom was due perhaps to the unusual amount of physical comedy involved. Crawford said he had always been a fan of comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy, as well as the great sight gags employed in the days of silent film, and saw Some Mothers as the ideal opportunity to use such humour himself. He performed 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. This was his first leading man role on the West End stage and greatly helped to cement his career as both a singer and showman. The part was extremely demanding, requiring proficiency in both song and dance, and in preparation for the role, Crawford began taking both more seriously, studying professional singing under the tutelage of vocal coach Ian Adam and spending 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, his popularity soared, and he was on the road to becoming a household name.
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 its first series and returned to theatre work.
Crawford starred in the 1981 Disney comedy/adventure film Condorman, playing an eccentric 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. Critics panned the film. On their television show, critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert featured the film in their round-up of the year’s worst films pointing out the less-than-special effects such as the visible harness and cable used to suspend Condorman in the air and the obvious bluescreen effect. The film did poorly at the box office but years later gained a cult following among Disney fans.
Also in 1981, Crawford starred in the original London production of Cy Coleman’s Barnum (1981) 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, learning 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 11 June 1981 at the London Palladium, where it ran for 655 performances. Crawford and Deborah Grant headed the cast. It was well-received, becoming a favourite of Margaret Thatcher as well as the Queen Mother. Crawford earned his first Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical on the London stage. 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 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. Crawford’s Barnum is one of the longest runs by a leading actor.
The Phantom of the Opera
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 then wife, Sarah Brightman, had taken 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 practising a piece from Handel’s Atalanta, namely the aria Care Selve. Intrigued, Lloyd Webber inquired of Mr. Adam as to the identity of his student. Soon after, Crawford was called in for an audition and was hired nearly on the spot.
Many critics were skeptical; Crawford was still largely pigeonholed as the hapless Frank Spencer, and questions were raised if Crawford could manage such a demanding role, both vocally and dramatically. In 1986, Crawford began his performance in London, continuing on to Broadway in 1988, and then Los Angeles in 1989. He played the role for 2½ 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 Snr. 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 1991, 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 saddened at his departure, and, during the Final Lair scene, altered the Phantom’s line to “Christine….I loved you…”, acknowledging that this was his final performance.
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 film Once Upon a Forest, which was, in fact, produced by David Kirschner. During his voice over sessions, 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 cinemas over the summer of 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 1,700-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 operation.
2000s to Present
Crawford had a short comeback to Broadway as the Count von Krolock in the short-lived musical Dance of the Vampires (2002–03). He originated the role of the morbidly obese Count Fosco in Lloyd Webber’s 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 because of ill health caused by dehydration resulting from the enormous fat-suit he wore during the performance. He spent several months recuperating and was thus unable to reprise the role on Broadway. He learned he was suffering from the post-viral condition myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), which debilitated him for six years. He moved to New Zealand, both to be near his daughter and her family in Australia and to convalesce from his illness.
In 2006, Crawford attended the Gala Performance of the stage version of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre to celebrate the show’s becoming the longest-running musical in Broadway history (surpassing the run of 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.
On 23 October 2010, Crawford attended the celebratory 10,000th performance of The Phantom of the Opera in London alongside composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Crawford spoke of his own memories of the first performance 24 years ago, and was then presented, along with Webber, with a special cake to commemorate the landmark achievement.
Beginning with previews in February 2011, Crawford originated the part of the Wizard in the new Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical version of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium, which had its official opening on 1 March 2011. He stated on This Morning: Sunday, on 14 August 2011, that he had signed on for a further six months in the show. He left the production on 5 February 2012; the same day as co-star Danielle Hope played her final performance as Dorothy. From 14 February, Russell Grant took over the role.
On 2 October 2011, Crawford made a special appearance during the finale of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall — a fully staged production of the musical at the famous London venue — marking 25 years since the show received its world premiere. Although reunited with Sarah Brightman, he did not sing as he had just finished performing in a matinee of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium.
Crawford was interviewed for BBC 2 series The Many Faces Of… which was shown on 20 April 2013
Crawford has performed 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, 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 Michael Crawford International Fan Association (MCIFA) exclusive concerts around the United States. The MCIFA makes contributions to many charities.
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 since 1987..
He supported the theatre charity the Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America by helping to unveil a commemorative plaque to the famous music hall star Marie Kendall at her former home in Clapham, where he was once her neighbour
- Appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1988.
- 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
- Named Showbusiness Personality of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain
- Voted #17, ahead of Queen Victoria, in the 100 Greatest Britons (2002) poll sponsored by the BBC.
- BroadwayWorld UK Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – for The Wizard of Oz (2011)
- The Wizard of Oz (2011—2012) – Professor Marvel/Emerald City Doorman/Tour Guide, and The Wizard
- The Woman in White (2004) – Count Fosco
- Dance of the Vampires (2002) – Count Giovanni von Krolock
- EFX (1995) – H.G. Wells, Merlin, P.T. Barnum, Harry Houdini; various other characters
- The Phantom of the Opera (1986) – The Phantom
- Barnum (1981) – P.T. Barnum
- Flowers for Algernon (1979) – Charlie Gordon
- Billy (Billy Liar – The Musical) (1974) – Billy Liar
- No Sex Please, We’re British (1971) – Brian Runnicles
- WALL-E (2008)- Archive footage from the film version of Hello Dolly!
- The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (2001) — Himself
- My Favorite Broadway:The Love Songs (2001) — Himself
- Tony Palmer’s Film About The Fantastic World of Michael Crawford (1996) – Himself
- David Foster’s Christmas Album (1993) – Himself
- Once Upon a Forest (1993) (voice) — Cornelius
- Barnum (1986) — P.T. Barnum
- Condorman (1981) — Woody Wilkins/Condorman
- 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
- Don’t Call Me A Horse! (1959) – Harris
- Soapbox Derby (1958) – Peter Toms
- Blow Your Own Trumpet (1958) – Jim Fenn
- Songs from the Stage and Screen (1987)
- The Phantom Unmasked (1990)
- Michael Crawford Performs Andrew Lloyd Webber (1991)
- With Love (1992)
- A Touch of Music in the Night (1993)
- Favorite Love Songs (1994)
- On Eagle’s Wings (1998)
- In Concert (1998)
- A Christmas Album (1999)
- The Disney Album (2001)
- The Early Years – MCIFA Members Only Exclusive (2001)
- The Best of Michael Crawford – Australian Release (2002)
- The Very Best of Michael Crawford (2005)
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
- Hello, Dolly! (1969)
- Billy (1974)
- Flowers for Algernon (1980)
- Barnum (1981)
- Phantom of the Opera (1986)
- Highlights from Phantom of the Opera (1986)
- Once Upon a Forest (1993)
- EFX (1995)
- Woman In White (2004 London Cast) (2004)
- WALL-E (2008) (excerpts from Hello, Dolly!)
- The Wizard of Oz (2011 musical) (2011)
- Save The Children: Christmas Carols and Festive Songs (1988)
- Premier Collection Andrew Lloyd Webber (1988)
- Barry Manilow: Showstoppers (1991)
- A Christmas Spectacular (1992)
- Barbra Streisand: Back To Broadway (1993)
- David Foster’s Christmas Album (1993)
- The London Symphony Orchestra Performs Rice/Webber (1994)
- Sarah Brightman: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection (1999)
- Millenium Chorus (2000)
- Child of the Promise (2000)
- My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs (2001)
- Duet with Susan Boyle on the track The Music of the Night, from Susan Boyle album : Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs From The Stage (2012)
- Michael Crawford official website
- Info re Arthur D. Smith at CWGC website
- Phantom: Michael Crawford Unmasked, Anthony Hayward (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991)
- Crawford website, ibid.
- Crawford family info. and background at MCIFA website
- As told to Matt Baker and Alex Jones on the BBC show “The One Show” on 1 August 2011.
- Crawford, Michael (23 August 1999). Parcel Arrived Safely, Tied with String.
- Crawford, Michael (23 August 1999). “Parcel Arrived Safely, Tied with String”. Retrieved 11 September 2007.
- Crawford, Michael. Parcel Arrived Safely, Tied with String.
- Crawford, Michael (23 August 1999). Parcel Arrived Safely, Tied with String
- Crawford, Michael. “Condorman(1981)”. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Crawford with Torvill & Dean receiving marks at World championships 1983
- Hennessey, John. Torvill & Dean; David & Charles, 1983; ISBN 0-7153-8476-7
- Crawford, Michael (4 February 1998). Michael Crawford: In Concert.
- Crawford, Michael (23 August 1999). Parcel Arrived Safely, Tied with String.
- “biography, timeline”. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Weekend Wogan, 25 September 2011
- “An Interview with Michael Crawford”. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
- Crawford, Michael (16 January 2011). “Michael Crawford on his long-awaited return to the stage”. Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 16 January 2011.
- Hintz, Paddy (11 March 2012). “The secret life of a Phantom star”. News.com.au. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
- “Play it Again: Michael Crawford on the day he ended up on Spaghetti Junction in his pyjamas.”. Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
- Crawford, Michael. “Michael Attends Record-Breaking Phantom”. Retrieved 6 April 2009. )
- “Phantom Celebrates 10000th West End Performance with Michael Crawford Andrew Lloyd Webber”. 23 October 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
- Singh, Anita (24 September 2010). “Wizard role for Michael Crawford in new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical”. The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 24 September 2010.
- ”This Morning: Sunday”. 14 August 2011. ITV1.
- Tim Glanfield (23 January 2012). “Russell Grant to join Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz stage musical”.
- Broadwayworld.com: Phantom 25 — Sweet Intoxication
- “biography,timeline”. Retrieved 2 February 2010. )
- Crawford, Michael. “The Sick Children’s Trust”. Retrieved 12 September 2007.
- Michael Crawford at the Internet Broadway Database
- Michael Crawford at the Internet Movie Database
- Michael Crawford – BBC Guide to Comedy
- Michael Crawford profile at BroadwayWorld International Database
- Broadway World interview with Crawford
- “Crawford Talks Return to the Stage”
- “Phantom of the Opera Tour Ends Two-Decade Run: Phantoms from Gleason to Crawford Talk Tour Closing”
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