Johnny Crawford (Mar 26, 1946)
A first season wonder, Johnny turned out to be a good singer, despite a lack of formal training. He was primarily an actor, had no dancing skills, but still made Roll Call. Let go early, he went on to be an Emmy-nominated TV star, recording idol, film actor, rodeo cowboy, and leader of his own vintage dance orchestra.
John Ernest Crawford was born in Los Angeles, the youngest of three children of Robert Crawford and Betty Megerlin. His older siblings, Nance and Bobby, were also child actors, and both remain active in the profession today. The family had moved to Los Angeles from Quantico, Virginia, just before Johnny was born. Robert was an assistant film editor at Columbia Pictures, while Betty, a former bit actress at Warner Brothers, kept house. Both Johnny and Bobby were used as extras in a few pictures at Columbia; by age five Johnny had made his stage debut in a local theater production of Mr. Belvedere, and in 1954 had a bit part in the film Jesse James vs. the Daltons.
Johnny's maternal grandfather was concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic in the 1920's, and his dad's father had been head of the Songwriting Department at Warner Brothers. Despite an early interest in singing, Johnny was much more into sports. He and Bobby enjoyed fencing, and it was their fencing instructor who sent them to the auditions for the Mickey Mouse Club in March 1955. Though impressed with their bouts, the casting agents asked the brothers if they could do anything else. Johnny claimed he could sing, and gave them Johnny Ray's Cry. That was enough to cinch him a spot on the Red Team.
Johnny looked good on camera, but at that stage of his career he was focused on acting, not musical variety. He was in Roll Call all five days of the week, and could do simple movement patterns, but without dancing skills his usefulness to the show was limited. He was paired with Karen for singing; his voice lacked power but was appealing for its softness and sincere delivery. Brother Bobby joined him for a wild and wooly Talent Round-Up Day fencing match, that had them ranging all over the set while the female Mouseketeers screamed.
Johnny was, by his own admission, a terrible ham at that time, and would readily change scripted lines or actions to steal a scene. Sometimes it worked, but more often it didn't, and re-takes would ensue. Though he had undeniable potential and nascent star quality, the show's producers decided by early October 1955 that Johnny wasn't working out, so they let him go.
In a much later interview Johnny said that he was depressed by his dismissal from the show, despite getting other work right away. Johnny had a bit part in the Gregory Peck film The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and appeared on The Lone Ranger and Loretta Young's TV show in 1956, while the following year he had guest roles on twelve different television series. It was his appearances on TV westerns and a low budget movie in 1957 called Courage of Black Beauty that introduced him to what would become his favorite sport, horseback riding. Johnny became a rodeo performer with the American Junior Rodeo Association all through his five years starring on The Rifleman with Chuck Connors. Johnny's acting had matured rapidly, and in 1959 he was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Mark McCain.
In 1960 Johnny signed a recording contract with Del-Fi records, which produced four albums and many singles of his singing, including the Top 10 hit Cindy's Birthday in 1963. He frequently sang on The Rifleman, and for several years in the early sixties was quite the idol, with his picture splashed all over the teen fan magazines, just like another former Mouseketeer, Paul Petersen.
After The Rifleman ended in 1964, Johnny continued to guest star on TV shows and make movies, though the parts got smaller each year. He continued working up through the late 1980's, though for a long time he had to live down the notoriety of appearing nude in The Naked Ape (1973). He also performed in nightclubs and on the dinner theatre circuit, and in the late eighties was a featured singer with Vince Giordano's Nighthawks Orchestra in New York. His love of music from the first half of the 20th Century led him to start a vintage orchestra in Los Angeles in 1990. Johnny Crawford's Orchestra has for many years now been the hot group to book for "A" list show biz functions.
Understandably, Johnny has had little interest in Mickey Mouse Club or other Disney activities. He dated Karen Pendleton for a short while, and was friends with Paul Petersen in the sixties, but to my knowledge has attended only one Mouseketeer Reunion, the 25th Anniversary in 1980.