After my graduation from Northwestern University in June of 1980, the birth of my daughter Maura that July, and our establishment of The Practical Theatre Company in the newly-built John Lennon Auditorium at the corner of Howard and Custer Streets – the most important thing that happened to me (and all of us at the PTC) was our serendipitous introduction to the remarkable Ron & Sydney Crawford and their fabulous children: Suzy, Jennifer and Ronny, who would soon come to be known as Rockin’ Ronny.
I can’t remember the exact moment I first met Ron & Syd Crawford in 1981 – but it was a moment that changed my life. It’s hard to catalogue the many ways in which the Crawfords contributed to my personal and artistic growth. They gave freely and generously of their love, their many talents, their warm hospitality – and their genuine enthusiasm for what these crazy kids were doing in their tiny storefront theatre on Evanston’s border with Chicago.
Ron and Syd Crawford were – and are – artists of the first rank. To me, they were – and are – a living, breathing cultural institution. In those days, their splendid Victorian “painted lady” on Elmwood Avenue in Evanston was home to the North Shore’s most vital and progressive salon — something I’ve only begun to fully appreciate in recent years. According to Wikipedia, a “salon is a gathering of intellectual, social, political, and cultural elites under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation.”
Rush & Paul, two of Evanston's avant-garde habitues of Le Salon de Crawford.
I didn’t realize it back then, but that was the scene at Ron and Syd’s house. Artists, writers, musicians, peaceniks, revolutionaries, madcap recent NU graduates, and assorted interesting members of the Evanston avant-garde – they all gathered at the Crawford’s home. Sydney and Ron were inspiring hosts, to be sure, and we all increased our knowledge through the passionate, party-driven conversation and camaraderie, as we dug the scene, hanging out with the groovy creative spirits, iconoclasts, and free thinkers at les Salon de Crawford!
Inside the Crawford house, you could still feel good vibrations lingering from the Summer of Love. The walls were covered with the evidence of an artistic and socially conscious life well lived – all arranged with impeccable taste: a poster from Eugene McCarthy’s campaign, neon artwork, and a museum’s-worth of paintings, photos and drawings. Oh, the drawings!
The Crawford's living room turned into an impromptu recording studio.
Yet another fabulous Ron Crawford poster for a PTC/Rockme event.
I’ll get back to the drawings in a moment. But for those who don’t know the Crawfords as well as I do, I should provide some basic biographical info…
They live in New York City now, but Ron & Sydney raised their children in Evanston and lived there for 30 years. (Ron’s dad was Captain Robert Crawford, the “Flying Baritone,” who wrote the Army Air Corps Song, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder…”) Ron did a lot of animation work in the 60’s and 70’s, creating educational films, corporate videos, TV commercials (Fiddle Faddle, anyone?) and television station graphics. When we met him, Ron still had an animation studio and film and video editing equipment in their coach house. (He often used his equipment and skills in the service of the PTC.)
Long before Sydney became the PTC’s beloved den mother, she helped Ron run their business (she even starred in some of their commercials), worked in a local frame store — and made the world turn for everyone in her salon.
Twenty years ago, Ron started working as an actor and, of course, he found success. He appeared in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of The Grapes of Wrath that went to Broadway, and his film career took him to Paris, where he starred in the movie Arthur and the Invisibles, as well as its two sequels. He also performs a one-man stage show, Travels with Mark Twain. You can fill in the gaps regarding Ron’s acting career here and here. Once Ron got to Broadway, Ron & Syd wound up staying in New York City — where they reside to this day. Lucky, NYC…
In recent years, Ron does for New York City what he did for Evanston, Illinois.
Today, Sydney is a talent agent representing fashion stylists, prop stylists, and photographers for print work: advertising, celebrity shots, and catalogs, etc. She started her agency, Sydney Represents, in 1994. Of course, Syd’s still doing what she does best: creating an enthusiastic, encouraging and productive environment in which artists can flourish. She certainly helped one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met to thrive: her husband, Ron.
Willard Hall at Northwestern University
Which brings me back to those drawings.
Ever since I’ve known him, Ron has always had a pencil and art pad in hand, rendering every scene, every gesture that draws his interest into a kinetic snapshot made of exquisite lines. He drew every important building in Evanston, and every Victorian home that captured his fancy. What Ansel Adams photos are to Yosemite – Ron’s drawings are to Evanston. Lucky for me — and everyone at the PTC — Ron has also illustrated just about every major event and many candid, everyday moments in the life of The Practical Theatre and its house band, Riffmaster & the Rockme Foundation (for whom his son, Rockin’ Ronny, bangs the drums with uncommon artistry).
You can check out the wide range of Ron Crawford’s truly awesome work at his website by clicking here.
What follows is a gallery of drawings that Ron has blessed me with over the years, from the early 1980’s up through today, drawn from the hundreds of fabulous Ron Crawford sketches I’ve been saving ever since I met Ron & Syd — and was drawn into their happy, heavenly circle. Vive le Salon de Crawford!
Note: To see any of the Ron Crawford drawings in this post in glorious detail, simply click on the image. Presto!
Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation performing at Tuts on Belmont Ave. in Chicago (1982).
"The Basic Food Groups Four" in "Babalooney" at the Piper's Alley Theater. (1983)
"Babalooney" pre-Off-Broadway preview at Crosscurrents. (1983)
Rockme Foundation "World Tour" at Biggies in Cleveland, Ohio. (1983)
Paul & daughter Maura at Q&R Studios, Evanston. (1983)
Paul as Ghost of Christmas Past, Goodman Theatre. (1984)
Rockme party after a performance of "Hula-Rama" at the John Lennon Auditorium. (1984)
Paul hanging out in the house at the Provincetown Playhouse in NYC. (1984)
The Rockme Foundation playing at Limelight in Chicago, opening for Jimmy Sohns & the Cons. (1984)
A meeting of the John Lennon Athletic Club, trying to keep the 703 Howard space open. (1985)
SNL, Studio 8H at 30 Rock. (1985)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary Gross in make-up at SNL. (1985)
Ron's poster for "Art, Ruth & Trudy" (1986)
Paul as "All The King's Horses" in "Art, Ruth & Trudy" ('86)
"Art Ruth & Trudy" preview at Club Victoria. (On the PTC's 7th birthday in 1986)
"Greylord have mercy on me!" ('86)
"Professional Pessimist" ('86)
Paul and Victoria in rehearsal for "Art, Ruth & Trudy". (1986)
Paul, Brad Hall and Steve Rashid taping "Overnight Guest" at WMAQ-NBC. (1986)
Victoria and Paul at home in their apartment in Evanston. (1986)
Taping "Swan Lake" in "Bozo the Town" at the Vic Theatre at Belmont & Sheffield in Chicago. ('87)
"Bozo the Town" notes with Sheldon Patinkin, Victoria, Paul, Louis DiCrescenzo, Bea & Steve Rashid.
I wrote the copy, Ron did the drawing. ('89)
Paul in "The Dybbuk" at the National Jewish Theatre. ('87)
Victoria and Linda Emond in "Serious Money" at The Court Theatre, directed by Terry McCabe. (1989)
Victoria as "Jacinta Condor" in "Serious Money" backstage at Court Theatre. (1989)
Real life & drawing at Rockme Foundation's "Woodshed @ Woodside" recording sessions. (2008)
Paul at the mike. (2008)
Larry & The Rockmes at Woodside Sessions. (2008)
The best way to end this post is with the man himself, Ron Crawford. "Peace. Out!"