Saturday, 19 January 2013

Britain will always be a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old actor / singer / dancer and now New Zealand islander called Michael Crawford

Michael Crawford, whose career covers radio, tv, film and stage in London's West End and on New York's Broadway, is 71 today.

What you possibly didn't know about Michael, that he :

* was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, as Michael Smith and spent his early days during the Second World War in an Army camp and on the Isle of Sheppey off the Kent coast living withing with his grandparents.
My earlier posts about Sheppey :

* at the end of the War, moved to London with his mother and new Stepfather and under the name of Michael Ingram, was a church chorister and attended the Oakfield Preparatory School, Dulwich.

* had his mother die at age of 44 from acute pancreatitis after a short stormy and abusive second marriage and was taken under the wing by the famous theatrical 'Kendall Family' whose head was the music hall star, Marie Kendall.

* started his stage career as Sammy 'The Little Sweep' in his school production of Benjamin Britten's 'Let's Make an Opera' and got his professional break when hired by Britten to play in a production the Scala Theatre in London, alternating with another boy soprano called David Hemmings.

* had a name clash with another stage aspirant and changed his to 'Crawford' after seeing a lorry with the slogan 'Crawford's Biscuits Are Best' and after playing a number of parts on stage and on radio, at the age of 19, played an American, 'Junior Sailen', in the Steve McQueen film, 'The War Lover' in 1962.

* played the lead role in the 1963 film 'Two Left Feet' :
Watch out for a young David Hemmings :

* was given by Richard Lester, the role of 'Colin' in 'The Knack …and How to Get It' in 1965.

* was next cast in the film adaptation of the musical, 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' with Zero Mostel.

* played in 'How I Won the War' with John Lennon

and then starred in 'The Jokers' with Oliver Reed.

* made his Broadway debut in 1967 in Peter Shaffer's 'Black Comedy' and began to demonstrate his aptitude and daring for extreme physical comedy, such as walking into walls and falling down staircases.

* was noticed by Gene Kelly and cast in 'Hello, Dolly!' alongside Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau and related that he got the part of Cornelius Hackl, and 'attractive idiot', because Kelly's wife thought he was 'attractive' and Kelly thought he was 'an idiot'.

* saw 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', in which he played the White Rabbit, enjoy moderate success in Britain.

* next faced a brief period of unemployment, helped his wife stuff cushions for their upholstery business, took a job as an office clerk and saw his marriage fell apart and divorce follow.

* playing the hapless Frank in the tv series 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em', saw his career take off again and his extreme physical comedy came into its own.

* played in his first leading man role on the West End stage in the musical 'Billy' and improved his singing under the tutelage of vocal coach and spending perfected his dancing with a choreographer.
Interviewed at this time :

* in 1981, starred in the London production of 'Barnum' after training at the Big Apple Circus School in New York City to prepare for the stunts, learning to walk the tight-rope, juggle and slide down a rope from the rafters of the theatre and became a 'British Amateur Gymnastics Association' qualified coach.

* starred in Barnum for 655 performances and saw it becaome a favorite of Margaret Thatcher and the Queen Mother.

* started his performance in 'Phathom of the Opera' in London in 1981, and continued on Broadway and then Los Angeles winning a host of awards and sang 'The Music of the Night' at the Inaugural Gala for President George Bush in Washington, in 1989.

* in 2004, playing the obese 'Count Fosco' in Lloyd Webber’s musical 'The Woman In White', his rubber fat-suit made him sweat so much he became dangerously dehydrated and his immune system broke down which led to him developing ME or chronic fatigue syndrome.

* in 2012 played the Wizard in the musical version of 'The Wizard of Oz'.

* five years ago moved to a small house by the beach north of Auckland in New Zealand where he goes sailing and fishing, has discovered the joys of gardening and restored his poor health  which he once feared would end his career.

A tribute :

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