Sun Valley icon Jack Bemis Crawford Jr. passed away on Feb. 14, 2020, in Ketchum at 88, leaving behind a legacy of happiness and joy to those who knew him.
A lifelong athlete, he helped put the Sun Valley Resort tennis program on the map and worked as a ski instructor for 30 years. Crawford first came to Sun Valley during the Great Depression in 1937. The 5-year-old son of a Union Pacific telegraph operator, he spent a winter in a railroad car near Warm Springs, cooking meals over a coal-fired stove. The family pushed on to other towns for work, but Crawford was destined to return after high school in Pocatello using his Union Pacific employee rail pass to explore the West Coast on the Streamliner. He visited Hollywood Boulevard and saw the sights. “I got back on the train to Idaho and then lived on a box of raisins because I had spent all of my money,” he told the Idaho Mountain Express.
Crawford became known for his talents on the baseball field, returning to Sun Valley in the 1950s to play in the resort league while working as a busboy at Trail Creek Cabin. His athletic ability eventually drew the attention of a talent scout and he wound up on a sports scholarship at Stanford, studying philosophy and literature. His favorite writers were Jean Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway, a Ketchum resident. “My first experience of existentialism was looking at a dessert cart in the Sun Valley Lodge with 50 choices,” Crawford told the Express. “But Hemingway was a mentor for me. Reading his books, I learned about the world.”
In 1959 Crawford asked Ernest Hemingway to sign his copy of “Death in the Afternoon” before heading to Mexico to study bullfighting. “I wound up in Spain, too,” he told the Express. “But in a town that was a haven for Swedish girls. I soon lost all motivation for bullfighting.” Crawford volunteered for the French Ambulance Corps in the late 1950s, following once again in the great writer’s footsteps. (Hemingway fictionalized his World War I experience in “A Farewell to Arms.”)
Hollywood beckoned in 1956 when Crawford, now a Sun Valley resident, was called to work as a stand-in for Don Murray during the filming of “Bus Stop” with Marilyn Monroe. He spoke of having lunch alone with the actress between takes. “She was very kind,” Crawford said. “’It turned out we were both Geminis.”
In the 1960s Crawford learned to ski and traveled with resort icon Leif Odmark to New Zealand and Austria to give lessons. In Sun Valley he was an instructor to the stars, including Robert Kennedy and Candice Bergen. In the end he was quoted as saying, “I have had a wonderful life. I don’t need to be anywhere else.”