Billy (William Edward) Crystal - biography
William Edward "Billy" Crystal (born March 14, 1948) is an American actor, writer, producer, comedian and film director. He gained prominence in the 1970s for playing Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom Soap and became a Hollywood film star during the late 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the critical and box office successes When Harry Met Sally... and City Slickers. Additionally, he has hosted the Academy Awards eight times.
Crystal was born in the Doctor's Hospital in Manhattan and grew up in Long Beach, New York, the son of Helen (née Gabler), a housewife, and Jack Crystal, a record company executive and producer of jazz records, who owned and operated the Commodore Record store. His uncle was a musician and songwriter Milt Gabler, and his brother, Richard Crystal, is a television producer. Crystal grew up in a Jewish family that he has described as "large" and "loving". After graduation from Long Beach High School, Crystal attended Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, on a baseball scholarship, having learned the game from his father, who pitched for St. John's University. Crystal never played a game at Marshall because the program was suspended during his freshman year and he didn't return as a sophomore, staying back in New York with his future wife. He then went on to Nassau Community College, and later attended New York University where he graduated with a B.F.A. from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 1970. He was also the Editor-in-Chief of the BG News from 1969-70. Billy Crystal and his wife Janice have two daughters, actresses Jennifer and Lindsay, and are now grandparents. They reside in Pacific Palisades, California.
Start in television
Crystal returned to New York and performed regularly at The Improv and Catch a Rising Star. He studied film and television direction under Martin Scorsese at New York University. In 1976, Crystal appeared on an episode of All in the Family. He also was on the dais for the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Muhammad Ali on February 19, 1976 where he made dead-on impersonations of both The Champ and sportscaster Howard Cosell. He was scheduled to appear on the first episode of Saturday Night Live (October 11, 1975), but his sketch was cut. He did do a stand-up bit later on that first season as "Bill Crystal", on the April 17, 1976, episode.
Crystal's earliest prominent role was as Jodie Dallas on Soap, one of the first gay characters portrayed on American television. He continued in the role the series' entire 1977-1981 run.
After hosting Saturday Night Live in 1984, he joined the regular cast. His most famous recurring sketch was his parody of Fernando Lamas – Fernando, a smarmy talk show host whose catch phrase, "You look... mahvelous!," became a media sensation.
Crystal subsequently released an album of his stand-up material titled Mahvelous! in 1985, as well as the single "You Look Marvelous", which peaked at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the same year. Also in the 1980s, Crystal starred in an episode of Shelley Duvalls Faerie tale theater as the smartest of the three little pigs.
Acting in film and hosting the Oscars
Crystal's first film role was in Joan Rivers's 1978 film Rabbit Test. Crystal also made game show appearances such as The Hollywood Squares, All Star Secrets and The $20,000 Pyramid. He holds the record for getting his contestant partner to the top of the pyramid in the bonus round in the fastest time, 26 seconds.
Crystal appeared briefly in Rob Reiner's 1984 "rockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap as Morty The Mime, a waiter dressed as a mime at one of Spinal Tap's parties. He shared the scene with a then-unknown, non-speaking Dana Carvey. Crystal's line in the film was "Mime is money." Reiner directed Crystal again in The Princess Bride (1987). Reiner directed Crystal for a third time in the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally... (1989), for which Crystal was nominated for a Golden Globe. Crystal then starred in the buddy comedy City Slickers (1991), which proved very successful both commercially and critically and for which Crystal was nominated for his second Golden Globe. Causing a minor controversy on the set of City Slickers Crystal was quoted as saying about his co-star Daniel Stern "This is a guy who was in C.H.U.D. for Christ's sakes, and you expect him to carry a movie with me?".
Following the success of these films, Crystal wrote, directed, and starred in Mr. Saturday Night (1992) and Forget Paris (1995). In the former, Crystal played a serious role in aging makeup, as an egotistical comedian who reflects back on his career. He directed the made-for-television movie 61* (2001) based on Roger Maris's and Mickey Mantle's race to break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961. This earned Crystal an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special.
Crystal has continued working in film, including Analyze This (1999) and Analyze That (2002) with Robert De Niro, and in the English version of Howl's Moving Castle as the voice of Calcifer. Pixar originally approached him to provide the voice of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story (1995). He turned down that offer, but regretted it after the film became one of the most popular releases of the year. Crystal later went on to provide the voice of Mike Wazowski in the Pixar film, Monsters, Inc. (2001), which was nominated for the inaugural Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Crystal hosted the Academy Awards broadcast in 1990–1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2004; and he reportedly turned down hosting the 2006 ceremony to concentrate on his one-man show, 700 Sundays. His eight times as the M.C. is second only to Bob Hope's 18 in most ceremonies hosted.
Crystal won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for 700 Sundays, a two-act, one-man play, which he conceived and wrote about his parents and his childhood growing up on Long Island. He toured the U.S. with the show in 2006 and Australia in 2007.
Following the initial success of the play, Crystal wrote the book 700 Sundays for Warner Books, which was published on October 31, 2005. In conjunction with the book and the play that also paid tribute to his uncle, Milt Gabler, Crystal produced two CD compilations: Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story, which featured his uncle's most influential recordings from Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" to "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets; and Billy Remembers Billie featuring Crystal's favorite Holiday recordings.
- In 1986, Crystal started hosting Comic Relief on HBO with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg.Founded by Bob Zmuda, Comic Relief raises money for homeless people in the United States.
- On September 6, 2005, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Crystal and Jay Leno were the first celebrities to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to be auctioned off for Gulf Coast relief.
- Crystal has participated in the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Portraying himself in a video, Crystal introduces museum guests to the genealogy wing of the museum.
New York Baseball
On March 12, 2008, Crystal signed a minor league contract, for a single day, to play with the New York Yankees, and was invited to the team's major league spring training. He wore uniform number 60, in honor of his upcoming 60th birthday. On March 13, in a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Crystal led off as the designated hitter. He managed to make contact, fouling a fastball up the first base line, but was eventually struck out by Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm on 6 pitches and was later replaced in the batting order by Johnny Damon. He was released on March 14, his 60th birthday. Although a life-long Yankee fan, he is a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, even earning a World Series ring in 2001 when the Diamondbacks beat his beloved Yankees.
In addition to his Golden Globe Award-nominations, Emmy Awards, and Tony Award, Crystal won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for 700 Sundays and received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2007.