In 1979, hard-living Oscar winner Broderick Crawford lit up St. Ed’s

Longtime photojournalist Robert Godwin has been going through his archives to rescue an abundance of Austin history.

This arresting image catches Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford, who won an Academy Award in 1949 for his role as populist politician Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men,” in half light.

“I remember wanting to move his drink,” Godwin says, “but thought I’d pull back a stub if I reached a hand towards it. It was about 9 or 10 in the morning and he finished his third Bloody Mary — that only had a splash of tomato juice — and then started on martinis that came in a tumbler instead of a martini glass! Never blinked or slurred a word while I was there.”

So why was hard-working, hard-living Crawford in town? He was best known at the time for the syndicated TV crime series, “Highway Patrol.” Yet he came to Austin in November 1979 to reprise his role in “Born Yesterday.” Almost 30 years earlier, in 1950, Crawford had played the bullying boyfriend of Judy Holliday in the film version.

In Austin, he worked with Mary Moody Northen Theatre founder Ed Mangum, who fertilized his budding Equity acting union program at St. Edward’s University with the stars of stage, screen and television. So Crawford joined the ranks of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Mercedes McCambridge and Sal Mineo as a guest star.

“During the 1950s, Crawford became known for his large appetite for food and alcohol,” writes actor, teacher and writer Ev Lunning, Jr. “He brought these appetites to Austin, along with his crusty personality.”

Lunning recently released “Stars over St. Edward’s: The SEU Theater Arts Program, 1962-1982,” a thorough and invaluable online resource published by the Munday Library.

Zelma Richardson, in charge of Crawford’s publicity appearances, was so put off by his brusqueness that she as Bill McMillan to accompany Crawford on one day’s publicity itinerary. When McMillan reported to the hotel, he found Crawford beginning his breakfast Bloody Mary. After each appearance and interview, Crawford suggested a stop at a tavern.”

The long day did not end well for McMillan.

Crawford’s co-star, Susan Loughran, remembered one of Crawford’s first evenings in Austin.
“He drank,” she says. “Tom Graves, who also drank, and Broderick and I went out to talk about the show. We went to — I don’t think it’s there anymore — there was a bar at the corner of Oltorf and Interstate 35 and it had a second story, and it was dark, and the reputation was that there were a lot of divorcees and it would be a good place to meet if you wanted to have an affair. And we went up there to have drinks.”
She recalls that Crawford ordered scotches on the rocks.
“Some manly drink — he was a very manly man, a big rumbling voice, and he wore this hat, a hat that he got from Bear Bryant,” Loughran says. “I probably had maybe two drinks but the bar bill was something like $150. You know, when drinks were maybe $2 apiece. … So that was my introduction to Broderick.”

 

Revisiting the Continental Club in the 1960s

A reader asks our Austin Answered project: “Was the Continental Club a sleazy topless bar back in the early 1960s? I remember having a roommate in 1963 who danced there.”

Yes. What was founded by Morin Scott in 1957 on South Congress Avenue as a swanky jazz supper club became by the early ’60s what has been variously described as a “burlesque,” “strip club” or “topless bar.”

1415120943411
There’s more to this image than meets the eye. ©Andrew Shapter

According to the Handbook of Texas, Martin Schuler took over the lease in the late 1960s and turned it into a neighborhood tavern. He purchased the club in the 1970s and leased it out. That’s when it became a music venue again. Mark Pratz and J’nette Ward operated it during the 1980s before it was made over by Steve Wertheimer, the current owner, in 1987 as part of an effort to revive some of the club’s ’50s allure.

MORE OLD AUSTIN SPOTS: Stallion Drive Inn

On his Austin Clubland website, music journalist and historian Michael Corcoran reports that the building had an earlier history as a laundromat in 1947. He also reminds us that during the tawdry ’60s, happy hour ran from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. — “That’s not a misprint” — and that it briefly served as a disco.

Now about the striking image that accompanies this story. It is not what it seems. And there’s a great story to go with it.

“It was spring of 1993, almost exactly 25 years ago from today,” wrote Andrew Shapter, photographer and documentary maker, when we asked to republish it. “It was a Sunday and at that time, very few people were around (unlike today). I was doing a portrait session on South Congress when rain interrupted the session and forced me to reschedule my client.”

The roll of black and white film in his camera had a single frame left.

“I was aiming my camera up towards the Continental Club sign just as the sun had broken through the clouds. It was a near perfect photo,” Shapter wrote. “But just before I snapped the picture, a guy named Steve, the iconic club owner, popped out and said ‘You’d get a much better picture from the roof.’”

Next thing he knew, Wertheimer escorted him to the roof.

“Just seconds before I snapped it, a lone vintage motorcycle pulled out from a side street into the center of the shot,” Shapter says. “Flash forward to years later, The New York Times was doing a travel story on South Austin. The photo caption read ‘The Continental Club, circa 1960.’

“I took it as a compliment.”