Broderick Crawford, the bulky, bulldog-faced actor who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the self-aggrandizing demagogue Willie Stark in "All the King's Men," and barked his way through 156 weekly episodes of "Highway Patrol," died yesterday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Mr. Crawford, 74, had been hospitalized since April 16, when he suffered a series of strokes.
A third-generation actor who made his stage debut at 9 months and delivered his first line at age 7, Mr. Crawford spent nearly 20 years as a journeyman performer, playing secondary roles on the New York stage and heavies in B-Westerns.
"I used to yearn to be a matinee idol," he once said. "I'm no Apollo . . . . My face, however, was one casting directors remembered, even if sorority girls didn't."
And ultimately, it was his face that became his fortune. In 1937 he had his first critical success as the gentle giant Lennie in the Broadway version of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." His casting as Robert Penn Warren's populist powermonger Stark, a character modeled on Louisiana's charismatic commoner-to-Kingfish Gov. Huey Long, came only when he was 39 and nearly resigned to a life of second-billing.
However, his bravura performance in "All the King's Men" in 1949 led to a flipflop comedy role, that of the self-made millionaire junk dealer in "Born Yesterday" who loses his girlfriend (Judy Holliday) to a crusading Washington reporter (William Holden).
And, in the last half of the 1950s, Mr. Crawford became a major television success as the jowly Chief Dan Matthews of "Highway Patrol," whose brusque "10-4" became a national sign off. In fact, "Highway Patrol" became such a landmark of the Baby Boomer generation during its five years that one of Mr. Crawford's last TV guest shots was as host of "Saturday Night Live."
Mr. Crawford had more than a passing acquaintance with Washington. Parts of both "All the King's Men" and "Born Yesterday" were filmed here, and he once was interested in developing a television series called "Treasury Agent" based on real case files here.
But Washington lost some of its appeal in 1954, when a public relations consultant who arranged a reception at the Woodner Hotel, supposedly in Mr. Crawford's honor, used the occasion to serve the actor with papers alleging breach of contract in connection with the "Treasury Agent" proposal.
The six-foot-two, 220-plus actor had one other brush with the law. In 1969, a Los Angeles grocery store claimed that Mr. Crawford owed more than $4,500 in food bills.
Mr. Crawford was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 9, 1911. His mother, Helen Broderick, was a musical-comedy star and his father, Lester Crawford, and his grandparents were vaudeville performers.
His marriages to actresses Joan Tabor and Kay Griffith both ended in divorce. He had two sons by his first wife and one by his second.