December 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With the Nov. 7 screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, featuring a guest appearance by star Tippi Hedren, impresario Bruce Crawford marks his 35th film event over 22 years. The screening is a Nebraska Kidney Association benefit and it will take place in Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall.

“I can hardly believe that time has passed because it doesn’t seem so long ago I started this,” says Crawford, whose cinema passion growing up in Nebraska City blossomed into a high profile film exhibitor-historian career. “It’s all so fresh and vivid in my memory.”

His cinema journeys put him on a first name basis with movie legends. He brought the late Patricia Neal and special effects master Ray Harryhausen here along with such Hollywood royalty as Patty Duke, Shirley Jones, and Debbie Reynolds. His latest score, Hedren, was a model when a smitten Hitchcock tabbed her for The Birds (1963), an apocalyptic tale admired for its then groundbreaking special effects. Crawford says the hit film’s popularity has never waned.

He feels Hitchcock’s best films endure because they’re so well made and touch something deep inside us.

“His greatest gifts were his abilities to craft suspense and to have the audience identify with the story’s characters. His films appeal to people on the most primal level. I think that’s really the key to it. His films tap into our fear of the unknown, of being alone, of being vulnerable, all in the most unlikeliest of places—a shower (Psycho), a cornfield (North by Northwest) or sitting on a schoolyard bench (The Birds). He turns places you expect to be safe into places of terror.”

With its iconic scenes of massed birds laying siege to humans, he says The Birds “set the stage” for nature-gone-awry films like Jaws.

In what was her first major screen role, Hedren followed several blondes Hitchcock favored as leading ladies. His personal attraction to her apparently turned obsessional on The Birds and Marnie (1964). She’s described him as possessive, controlling and making unwanted sexual advances. She claims he blacklisted her, keeping her under personal contract even after they parted ways. Crawford says it wasn’t the first time Hitch severed ties with a once favored collaborator.

Some classic films and stars remain on Crawford’s bucket list, but things have a way of working out for this eternal optimist and enthusiast.

“If it comes together, it’s supposed to happen,” he says. “If it doesn’t come together, something else is supposed to happen and that’s exactly how my whole history has been. It just falls into place. I think about the present and what I’m going to do next—I don’t look back too much on the past. I got that from Ray Harryhausen. It’s one of many things he mentored-tutored me on. He always told me, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, all that matters is where you’re going.’”

Crawford’s received much acclaim for his work, which makes him an apt fit for another Harryhausenism:

“If you hang around and stick at something long enough,” he says, “people
take notice.”

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