Born March 26th, 1946 in Los Angeles, Johnny Crawford came from a theatrical family. As a child, he began a TV career as one of Walt Disney's original Mouseketeers. It wasn't long before he landed the role of Mark McCain in ABC-TV's popular Western series, The Rifleman, starring Chuck Connors. The show's debut was in the fall of 1958, on Tuesday nights. Johnny's recordings of the songs, Cindy's Birthday, Rumors and Patti Ann, just to name a few, are very well remembered to this day by teenaged girls who "grew up" with him.
After graduating from Hollywood High School in 1964, Johnny continued to appear in tons of television shows and movies. He learned how to ride and rope on The Rifleman set so he rode the professional rodeo circuit for two years. He was then drafted into the Army, where he spent two years making training films. When he was discharged, he returned to acting and singing.
So what's Johnny doing now? After spending two years on the New York cocktail circuit singing in another man's band, Johnny formed his own 16-piece, Los Angeles based 1920's orchestra in 1990. The Johhny Crawford Dance Orchestra is now a fixture on the local swing-dancing scene re-energized by the film, Swingers. Now 61, he's forsaken acting to forge a career and a business around that era in American history. "It was such a wonderful time," says Johnny. "There was a quality in almost everything in those days - the clothes, the architecture, the furniture, the cars and especially the music."
"Both sides of my family were musical," he explained. "One of my first memories is hearing my mother play the piano." The music of the late 20's was often played in his home, imprinting sweet recollections that would propel him eventually to a retro lifestyle. He has become one of the premier society crooners and orchestra leaders in Los Angeles. Crawford has appeared monthly at the Hollywood Athletic Club where he draws a crowd that range in age "from 21 to 101", says actress Julie McCullough, a regular who learned to Lindy Hop at his high-energy performances.
Wearing a top hat and tails and doing a mean Charleston, the lean bandleader approaches his role like any other part, right down to addressing the audience as if it were actually dancing at the old Cocoanut Grove. "I can't believe it's 1928 already", Crawford introduced a set one Tuesday night. "It seems like yesterday we opened at the Biltmore as a replacement for Earl Bertnett and his orchestra." The historically accurate asides are more than shtick. Crawford uses his onstage pulpit to educate the audiences about the unabashedly sentimental melodies Tin Pan Alley produced between the two World Wars, an era he thinks was unfairly maligned during the rise of 1940's big bands and later lost to bebop.