Michael Craig

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Michael Craig Pencil Portrait
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A veritable everyman of stage and screen, both big and small, but relatively unfamiliar to American audiences, Michael Craig – still active at 90 – is of Scots heritage, born in India to a father on military assignment. When he was three, the family returned to England, but by his eleventh year, they had moved on to Canada – where he undoubtedly acquired his North American accent. He can currently be seen reminiscensing about his early film career on “Talking Pictures,” a recent interview commissioned by the nostalgia channel.

Craig left school for the Merchant Navy at 16, but finally returned to England and the lure of the theater. By 1947, he debuted on stage and, in 1953, Sir Peter Hall gave him his first lead stage role. In the meantime, he was trying his hand at extra work and had speaking roles by 1954. This eventually led to discovery by Rank Films and a list of lead movie roles into the early 1960s. When his 7-year contract with that company expired, he was optioned by Columbia Pictures and his Hollywood career commenced. Yet his American work is perhaps only modestly remembered in two films, ironically co-American productions with the UK, Mysterious Island (1961), and Australia, the Disney TV instalment, Ride a Wild Pony (1975).

By the mid-1970s, Michael Craig’s TV and film work was heavily concentrated in Australia where he still resides. The depth of roles he has undertaken, both comedic and dramatic, includes memorable and solid character pieces . As a screen writer, he has written for and created several British TV series. Never far from the stage and remarkably for his age, he remains a remarkably familiar face in both London and New York theatrer.

From his Rank Films period and for my money, he was particularly noteworthy onscreen in The Angry Silence (for which his screenplay was Academy award nominated), and the war film Sea of Sand for which he would receive a BAFTA nomination for best actor. Also of note is Sapphire,” the 1959 British crime drama that focused on racism in London toward immigrants from the West Indies. Exploring the underlying insecurities and fears of ordinary people that existed towards another race, the film’s overt racism might date it, but the underlying themes remain topical.

His acting career began in the 1930’s as an ensemble player in a small town weekly repertory company in England. In 1949,after five years in the Merchant Navy, he left the sea and worked as Assistant Stage Manager at the Castle Theatre in Farnham, Surrey. He soon graduated to playing small parts and moved on to other repertory companies which included York, Windsor, Worthing and finally to the Oxford Playhouse on 1954 where the Director was the Young Peter Hall, later to become Sir Peter Hall. It was while he was at the Playhouse that he was seen by an Arthur Rank talent spotter who signed him to a seven year film contract. Michael made somewhere in the region of nearly thirty films for Rank, Romulus, ABPC, Fox, Columbia and also for some independent companies in Italy, Yugoslavia and Spain.

He returned briefly to the theatre in 1961 and in 1963/64 spent a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London.

He has performed in the theatre and film opposite some of the greats including Judi Dench in The country Wife, and also played “Nicky Arnstein” opposite Barbara Streisand in the London production of Funny Girl. Susan Hayward, Julie Andrews, Jean Simmons, Carole Baker and Pier Angeli number amongst his other leading ladies.

Michael also co-wrote “The Angry Silence” for which he received an Oscar nomination in 1960, and three Armchair Theatre TV plays for Thames Television. He visited Australia for the first time in 1971 with J.C. Williamson’s production of Move Over Mrs Markham with Honor Blackman, where he met his wife, Australian actress Sue Walker.

After returning to the UK for awhile he returned to Australia in 1973, and lived here until 1978. During this time he appeared in many TV dramas for ABC, playing at the Opera House Drama Theatre for the Sydney Theatre Company, the lead role in the film The Irishman whilst writing a number of television dramas, most notably The Fourth Wish for ABC and the film version for the South Australian Film Corporation. A regular commuter between England & Australia, he has made a number of films here and Abroad as well as guest starring in Television and Theatrical dramas.

Recommended viewing

House of Secrets (1956)

Sea of Sand (1958)

Sapphire (1959)

The Angry Silence (1960)

Cone of Silence (1960)

Mysterious Island (1961)

Doctor in love (1960)

Stolen Hours (1963)

G.P. (Tv series 1989-1996)

Recommended reading

The Smallest Giant: An Actor's Life (Michael Craig) 2005