Broderick Crawford is best remembered for two roles: his Oscar-winning turn as Willie Stark in All the King's Men (1949), and as Chief Dan Matthews on the syndicated TV series "Highway Patrol" (1955). He was also memorable as Judy Holliday's boisterous boyfriend in Born Yesterday (1950).
He was born William Broderick Crawford on December 9, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Lester Crawford and Helen Broderick, two vaudeville performers. His mother eventually had a small movie career acting in comedies shot in Hollywood. Her son, the large and burly Broderick Crawford, was no one's idea of a leading man due to his rough-and-tumble looks, but he broke through as an actor playing John Steinbeck's simple-minded giant Lenny in the Broadway adaptation of Steinbeck's novella "Of Mice and Men".
After his Broadway success, Crawford moved to Hollywood and made his cinema debut in the comedy Woman Chases Man (1937), in a supporting role to stars Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins. When producer-director Lewis Milestone was casting the movie version of Steinbeck's classic (Of Mice and Men (1939)), he passed over Crawford and chose Lon Chaney Jr. to play Lenny. Chaney gave a wonderful performance, and Crawford was in peril of being overlooked, as there were not many good roles for a man with his hulking bulk and gravelly voice.
After many supporting roles (including a memorable turn as a big but kind-hearted lug in the comedy Larceny, Inc. (1942)) and a stint in the military during World War II, Crawford had his breakthrough role in Robert Rossen's adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "All the King's Men". Crawford gave a masterful performance as the Southern politician modeled on Louisiana's Huey Long. In addition to the Oscar, he also won the New York Film Critics' Award as Best Actor.
"All the King's Men" was a hit, as was "Born Yesterday" (Crawford replaced Paul Douglas, who had originated the role on Broadway, in this cast). However, he was unable to keep up his career due to typecasting as a crude, boorish brute. The fact that he was a hard drinker and was occasionally belligerent on-set didn't help his career prospects.
Five years after copping the Academy Award, TV producer Frederick W. Ziv hired Crawford to play the lead role in his syndicated police drama, "Highway Patrol". The show ran for four seasons, and imprinted Crawford's character of Dan Matthews into a generation of Baby Boomers' minds in its first and subsequent runs in syndication on the boob tube. After being moribund in the early 1950s, Crawford's career was revived, and he generally eschewed making movies for TV for the rest of his life.
Broderick Crawford continued to act almost up until his death in Rancho Mirage, California, on April 26, 1986. He passed at the age of 74, after a series of strokes. Though he had a career that spanned 50 years, he never again got roles that brought out the true talent of the thespian under the gruff exterior.