by Gene Walz
F.R. “Budge” Crawley, the founder of a company that made thousands of highly regarded industrial documen-taries, fought an epochal and ultimately losing battle to transform himself into a media mogul producing “Northerns” for a Canadian and international film audience. Despite creating impressive bodies of work, both men were frustrated by commercial considerations that they could not change. Rogues, artists, hard drinkers and womanizers, Crawley and Thorson are fascinating subjects for biographers.
Canadian baby boomers, and those older, are likely to recall Budge Crawley as the lone filmmaker who provided a significant private voice in the 1950s and 1960s, opposing those heard from the government-funded media agencies, the NFB and CBC. Younger generations may not know him at all, or will possibly only recognize his name as the producer of the feature documentary, The Man Who Skied Down Everest, which won an Academy Award in 1976. When The Globe and Mail published an article on Canadian Oscar winners last spring, Crawley was mistakenly left off the list. That’s quite a fall for someone who Barbara Wade Rose calls “Canada’s King of Film.”
When Crawley Films celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1964, Rose calculates that it had received 143 awards, and Crawley’s feature film of that silver anniversary year, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, gained critical huzzahs from the United States to the Soviet Union. Yet Crawley claimed himself to be dissatisfied. “There isn’t the same pride taken by Canadians in achievements in the cultural field…as in many other countries” is a telling Crawley statement.
Crawley’s life is skillfully evoked by Rose, a veteran journalist. One learns of his youth in Ottawa, his free-spirited athleticism and bravado, and the paterfamilias, a wealthy accountant who funded his filmmaking son but kept him under strict fiscal reins for the majority of his life. Budge’s two marriages, to his filmmaking partner Judith and the more politically astute Lenore (which overlapped for years) is recounted without getting into tabloid-style excesses. And Budge’s fall from grace, turning into a fiscally irresponsible feature-filmmaking producer after the death of his father, is given a convincing Freudian spin. Missing from Rose’s book are a selected filmography and a more detailed description of Crawley’s filmmaking prowess. Still these are quibbles in what is a fine biography of a major Canadian film producer.