Billy Crystal, Clearly Funny
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
So who will show up? Fernando from "Saturday Night Live"? Harry from "When Harry Met Sally . . . "? Mitch from "City Slickers"?
We'll see when the long and diverse career of Billy Crystal is saluted Oct. 11 by the Kennedy Center. The center announced yesterday that Crystal is the winner of the 10th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
"To be given the same award as Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Neil Simon is a great honor," Crystal said in a statement. "As my grandfather said, if you hang around the store long enough, once in a while they'll give you something!"
Crystal, 59, a native of Long Beach, Long Island, N.Y., grew up during the era of influential television shows, such as Jackie Gleason's "The Honeymooners" and the Ed Sullivan variety show. Crystal has said, "From the first time I saw Sid Caesar be funny, I knew that's what I had to do," and he started doing stand-up comedy at age 16. A high school baseball player, his childhood dream was to be Mickey Mantle, the New York Yankees great.
Instead, he ended up being Billy Crystal, doing a dead-on take of Howard Cosell interviewing Muhammad Ali.
Crystal first attracted national attention when he played an openly gay character on the series "Soap" from 1977 to 1981. Then he became a regular on "Saturday Night Live" and, among many highlights, created the snappy greeting "You Look Mahvellous" with his Fernando Lamas imitation.
His Hollywood résumé includes "When Harry Met Sally . . . ," with Meg Ryan; "City Slickers," with Jack Palance; "Deconstructing Harry," with Woody Allen; and "Analyze This" and "Analyze That" with Robert De Niro.
In "City Slickers" he laments: "Did you ever reach a point in your life where you say to yourself, 'This is the best I'm ever going to look, the best I'm ever going to feel, the best I'm ever going to do, and it ain't that great'?"
His popularity in Hollywood was sealed after he hosted the annual Academy Awards show eight times, starting in 1990. The Grammys called on him three times.
Crystal has also directed several films, starting with "Mr. Saturday Night" in 1992, a look at a stand-up comic who refuses to retire. In 2001 he directed a made-for-TV film, "61*," about the 1961 baseball season, when Mantle and Roger Maris tried to break Babe Ruth's home run record. The film won 12 Emmy nominations.
In 2004 Crystal took an autobiographical one-man show, "700 Sundays" to Broadway. It became one of the highest-grossing non-musicals in the history of Broadway, running for 163 sold-out performances. He won a Tony, Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award.
The title was taken from the number of Sundays he spent with his father, who died when Crystal was 15. His father ran a record store on 42nd Street in New York and was a concert promoter who co-founded Commodore Records. Crystal's uncle was also a founder of Commodore and later Decca Records, and he produced the seminal Bill Haley song "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock."