A year after Sun Valley Resort opened in 1936, 5-year-old Jack Crawford was skipping rocks in Warm Springs Creek beside a train depot in the old mining town of Ketchum.
Jack’s father worked as a telegraph operator during the Great Depression for Union Pacific Railroad, so the Crawford family spent the winter of 1937 in a railroad “outfit car” parked on the tracks, cooking meals over a coal-fired stove.
“I wanted to go places,” said Crawford, who today lives in more comfortable circumstances in the Warm Springs neighborhood of Ketchum. He has done all right with investments over the years, including real estate.
The Crawford family moved with the railroad work to other Idaho towns. Crawford ended up going to high school in Pocatello, but longed for adventure elsewhere. At 17, he used his family’s free pass on Union Pacific to catch a train to Salt Lake City, where he caught the Streamliner train to Los Angeles. By 3 p.m. the next day he was on Hollywood Boulevard, sizing his own hand up against those of movie stars immortalized in cement on the sidewalk outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
“The only one that mine fit was Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger’s,” he said. “I got back on the train to Idaho and then lived on a box of raisins because I had spent all of my money.”
Crawford returned to Sun Valley at his first opportunity, working as a busboy at Trail Creek Cabin. By then he had a proven knack for sports.
“Every manager at Sun Valley had a baseball team,” said Crawford, who batted a few balls out of the park, leading his team to victory over that of resort Manager Pappy Rogers. He also caught the eye of baseball scout Herb McDonald from Las Vegas.
“Herb got on the phone to Stanford and pretty soon I was there on a baseball scholarship,” Crawford said. He studied philosophy and literature, reading Sartre, Frank O’Hara, F. Scott Fitzgerald and especially Ernest Hemingway.
“I knew I did not want to live a boring life, but as a guy from Pocatello, I needed someone to look up to,” he said. “My first experience of existentialism was looking at a dessert cart in the Sun Valley Lodge with 50 choices. But Hemingway was a mentor for me. Reading his books, I learned about the world.”
During what he calls “the easy ’50s,” Crawford worked in Sun Valley. Room, board and medical care were provided by the company.
“It was a kind of socialism that spoiled me for years to come,” he said.
In 1959, Crawford had Ketchum resident Ernest Hemingway sign a copy of his book “Death in the Afternoon,” about matadors in Spain. With what little money he had saved from modeling and acting in promotional films for Union Pacific and Sun Valley, he went to Mexico to study bullfighting.
“I was the only American down there,” said Crawford. “I wound up Spain, too, but in a town that was a haven for Swedish girls. I soon lost all motivation for bullfighting.”
Crawford says he’s good for only seven years in a relationship, has married only once a very long time ago and has no children.
“I knew I shouldn’t have children,” he said.
In keeping with Hemingway’s wartime experience, as depicted in “A Farewell to Arms,” Crawford volunteered in the late 1950s for the French ambulance corps, during France’s war in Indochina.
“This was long before America entered the conflict in Vietnam. They turned me down. Said they were not hiring foreigners at that time,” said Crawford, who still has the letter from a French military attaché.
In 1956, he stood in for Don Murray during the filming of “Bus Stop” starring Marilyn Monroe, having lunch alone with the actress at the North Fork Store north of Ketchum.
“She was very kind,” he said. “It turned out we were both Geminis.”
During the early 1960s, Crawford learned to ski, working as a Sun Valley ski instructor for 30 years, traveling with skier Leif Odmark to New Zealand and also teaching in Austria. Robert Kennedy and his children were clients, as were actress Candice Bergen and director Louis Malle.
“Louis Malle knew more about American culture than anyone. He studied it,” said Crawford.
Crawford also worked for many years as tennis pro and director of the Sun Valley tennis program, putting the resort’s tennis program on the map with a Tennis magazine interview in 1992.
After two knee-replacement surgeries several years ago, he still plays regularly. He spends several months each year in the warmer climate of Southeast Asia.
As his sports career wound down, he went to work for the Allen and Co. media mogul conference, which meets each year in Sun Valley. He is discreet about the many trips he has taken with Allen and Co. organizers, but they include at least three African safaris.
“I am privileged to have worked for them. I have been able to live the life of my dreams,” he said.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org