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F.R. Crawley

F.R. Crawleyb. November 14, 1911, Ottawa, Ontario; d. May 13, 1987, Toronto, Ontario


A unique and unusual figure in the history of Canadian filmmaking, Frank Radford "Budge" Crawley was a dynamic, vigorous, infuriating man and a larger-than-life character. An audacious rogue, a trail-blazing entrepreneur and a true pioneer, he is often considered Canada’s answer to Sam Goldwyn or Jack Warner.

It has been said Crawley’s goal was not just to make films, but to build a film industry, and it is almost impossible to overstate his contribution to the development of Canada’s filmmaking infrastructure. He founded one of the country’s key early independent film production companies – Crawley Films – with his first wife and business partner, Judith Crawley, and built it from humble beginnings in their Ottawa attic into Canada’s largest independent film company – and the most successful of its kind in North America. Crawley Films operated a studio in Ottawa that rivalled the National Film Board in the production of sponsored films; in its forty-three-year existence, it produced more than five thousand films – including industrial films, features, documentaries, animation, television series and commercials – and won 255 international awards.

The athletic son of a straitlaced Ottawa accountant, Crawley was bitten by the film bug when his father bought him a Stewart-Warner movie camera for his sixteenth birthday so he could study his swimming stroke. He became a chartered account and joined his father’s firm, but continued filmmaking as a hobby throughout the thirties. His first film, L’Île d’Orléans, was made during his honeymoon with Judith in 1938 and went on to win the Hiram Percy Maxim Award for Best Amateur Film of 1939. Eager to pursue a Hollywood career, he was forbidden by his Methodist father and instead founded Crawley Films with Judith in 1939, months before the inception of the NFB. (Crawley Films was fully incorporated as a limited company in 1946.)

The onset of World War II brought an urgent need for training and informational films and, in 1939, Crawley Films made its first sponsored film, Canadian Power. The studio made many films commissioned by the nascent NFB, including Canadian Landscape (1941), and became the first in Canada to utilize 16mm synchronized sound. Though the staff grew to thirty-three by 1949, Crawley continued to direct and shoot many documentaries himself, including The Loon’s Necklace (1948) and Newfoundland Scene (1950), which both won Canadian Film Awards for Film of the Year. The Loon’s Necklace has become an iconic film; Barbara Wade Rose, in her 1999 book, Budge: What Happened to Canada’s King of Film, claims that since it was made the film has been seen by thirty-three million people worldwide.

Crawley Films expanded to Toronto in 1954 to make television commercials and built a studio in the Gatineau Hills near Ottawa in 1958. By this time, the company’s success was firmly established, having won twelve Canadian Film Awards, including a Special Award to Budge and Judith for their outstanding contribution to the industry. Judith would continue to be an integral force in the success of Crawley films, often acting as a balancing influence on Budge, keeping his occasionally misdirected enthusiasm in check. This task also fell to Crawley’s father, Arthur A., who overcame his initial resistance to Budge’s career choice and became an important financier of Crawley Films in its early years.

The company developed a family-like atmosphere and though Crawley was heavily involved in all aspects of the company’s operation, he also relied heavily on producer Graeme Fraser, who supervised the sponsored films while Crawley concentrated on feature films and more entertainment-oriented projects. These included a number of key works in the development of Canadian film: the first animated series for television, The Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1962); the second animated feature, Return to Oz (1964); the RCMP series for television (1959-1960); the influential Au pays de neufve-France series (1959-1960); and two of Canada’s first independent features – Amanita Pestilens (1962) and The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964).

The latter two works highlight another of Crawley’s important contributions to Canadian film – his discovery and cultivation of young talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Amanita Pestilens (which, notably, was the first Canadian feature filmed in colour and the first shot simultaneously in both English and French) featured the screen debut of a young GeneviPve Bujold, while The Luck of Ginger Coffey starred then-unknown British thespian Robert Shaw and was directed by Irvin Kershner. (It is rumoured Shaw was so taken with Crawley’s character that he based his posturing portrayal of Henry VIII in 1967's A Man for All Seasons on Crawley’s extroverted mannerisms.) Christopher Plummer and Lorne Green also worked with Crawley early in their careers, as did director-animator Bill Mason and documentarian Pierre Perrault.

The limitations of the Canadian film industry led Crawley to diversify his business as much as possible. Crawley Films maintained its own laboratory, sound stage, animation facilities and engineering equipment; it produced educational films, television series, documentary series, animated series, theatrical features and even film programmes for World’s Fair pavilions. Throughout its existence, Crawley Films remained one of the world’s leading producers of industrial films; by the early seventies, the company had produced films for over eighty percent of Canada’s largest corporations – more than two hundred companies, one hundred different associations and institutions and one hundred federal, provincial and civic government departments. Crawley Films also made numerous films for the American government and even leased its production facilities to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

An integral part of Crawley’s success was his personal fortitude – his energetic determination and fiercely stubborn confidence – which continually led him into territory where others seemed hesitant to tread. He personally salvaged two notable projects that were headed for oblivion and turned them into major successes. After rescuing the documentary Festival Express (which screened at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival®), he used much of the footage to segue into a project that became the highly-successful documentary Janis (1972), based on the life of rock singer Janis Joplin. He later purchased the footage from a failed Japanese production about skier Yuichiro Miura and, shooting additional footage himself from a script by Judith, fashioned it into The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1973), a visually stunning film that went on to become the first Canadian feature to win an Academy Award® (for Feature Length Documentary).

Though it undoubtedly shaped and influenced all his professional accomplishments, Crawley’s unshakeable independence and audacious personality also extended into his personal life: his unrestrained adventurousness and willingness (if not insistence) to gamble – with both his career and his life – would eventually be his downfall. The same brazen fortitude that had built his company took the form of financial foolhardiness in his later years.

By the late seventies, Crawley Films had become a financial mess, due in no small part to Crawley’s decades-long obsession with adapting Fred Bosworth’s novel The Strange One, about a black barnacle goose that migrates from Scotland to the Canadian Arctic and mates with a Canada goose. Disney had relinquished the rights to the book on the grounds that it was unfilmable, but Crawley built a million-dollar wind tunnel in Pickering, Ontario, bought one hundred geese and filmed them in simulated flight. The project bankrupted his company. In 1982, Crawley Films, along with its laboratory subsidiary, Graphic Films, was bought out by former employee Bill Stevens, then head of Atkinson Film Arts, for the whopping sum of one dollar. (Atkinson Film Arts came upon hard times in 1989 and announced on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Crawley Films that all the old Crawley studios and facilities would be sold. Crawley continued in his efforts to complete The Strange One well after his company’s demise.)

Crawley personally won fourteen Canadian Film Awards and, in 1986, he and Judith received the Air Canada Genie Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Canadian Film Industry. He was president for many years of the Canadian Film and Television Association (CFTA) and received that organization’s Jack Chisholm Award in 1981 for "outstanding contribution to the development of the film and television industry in Canada."

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

(Note: includes only those films that credit Crawley personally)

L’Île d’Orléans, 1938 (co-director; co-cinematographer; co-editor with Judith Crawley)
Canadian Power, 1939 (director; cinematographer; co-producer with Judith Crawley)
A Study of Spring Wild Flowers, 1939 (co-directed with Judith Crawley)
Four New Apple Dishes, 1940 (co-director, co-writer, and co-producer with Judith Crawley)
Call for Volunteers, 1941 (director)
Canadian Landscape, Canadian Artists series, 1941 (director; cinematographer)
Iceland on the Prairies, 1941 (director; cinematographer)
Ottawa on the River, 1941 (cinematographer)
Portage, 1941 (director)
Battle for Oil, Canada Carries On series, 1942 (co-cinematographer with Donald Fraser)
Great Lakes, 1942 (co-director and co-cinematographer with Donald Fraser; producer)
Quebec: Path of Conquest, Canada Carries On series, 1942 (co-director with Raymond Spottiswoode; cinematographer)
Cité de Notre-Dame, 1944 (co-cinematographer with Grant Crabtree) a.k.a. Montreal Tercentenary
Four Seasons, 1944 (cinematographer)
Bronco Busters, Canada Carries On series, 1946 (co-cinematographer with Julien Saint-Georges)
The Loon’s Necklace, 1948 (director)
Mr. Barnaby Sleeps in the Sky, 1949 (producer)
Newfoundland Scene: A Tale of Outport Adventure, 1951 (director; co-cinematographer with Stanley Brede)
No. 2, Frustrating Fours and Fascinating Fives, Ages and Stages series, 1952 (executive producer)
Brasil, 1953 (director)
Alpine Bread, 1954 (director)
Houses in a Hurry, 1956 (director; cinematographer)
Jamaica Flavour, 1957 (director; producer)
RCMP series, 1959-60 (executive producer; TV, ten episodes)
Beaver Dam, 1960 (director)
Abitibi, 1962 (producer)
Amanita Pestilens, 1962 (producer)
The Luck of Ginger Coffey, 1964 (executive producer)
Return to Oz, 1964 (co-director with Thomas Glynn, Larry Roemer; TV)
Saskatchewan Jubilee, 1965 (co-cinematographer with Stanley Brede, Donald Carter, Robert Ennis, Thomas Glynn, Kenneth Patterson)
Canadian National Railways Motion, 1967 (executive producer)
Global Village, 1967 (director; co-cinematographer with Herb Taylor; producer)
Ottawa Reflection of a Nation, 1967 (producer)
Power in Perpetuity, 1967 (producer)
A Matter of Attitudes, 1968 (producer)
Invisible Force of Direction, 1968 (producer)
Rendezvous ’67, 1968 (executive producer)
The Want of a Suitable Playhouse, 1968 (co-producer withVincent Vaitiekunas)
Canada at 8.30, 1971 (executive producer)
Good Friday in Little Italy, 1971 (producer)
The Tragicall Hiftorie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, 1971 (executive producer) a.k.a. Hamlet
The Rowdyman, 1971 (executive producer)
August and July, 1972 (executive producer)
Janis, 1972 (executive producer)
The Man Who Skied Down Everest, 1973 (director; producer)
The Human Collision, 1975 (producer)
What Makes Them Run?, 1975 (producer)
Heartland Reggae, 1978 (supervising producer)
November Gale, 1978 (co-producer with Ian McDougal)
The Strange One, 1987 (producer; never completed)

Note:  Updated to April 5, 2004




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