Personality Profile: Dianne White Crawford

Dianne Crawford stands in the guest suite she designed in her home. (Photo by Dan Watson)
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As a young girl, Dianne White Crawford discovered her love of movies in the Wilshire Movie Theater in Fullerton. As her mother worked in the nearby beauty salon, Crawford and her sister, Sandee, would spend the day watching cartoons, newsreels and features in the darkened theater.

“I’ve always been this huge, huge fan of movies,” said Crawford.

 

Moving to California

Crawford was born in Washington D.C. to Kenneth and Millie Durham White. During WWII her father was a diver for the Navy.

“He went to Pearl Harbor and retrieved bodies from the sunken ships,” she said.

Nearly 20 ships were sunk or damaged and 2,403 died when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack on Dec, 7, 1941.

After the war the family moved to California.

“One day my father got on an airplane at Fullerton airport and crashed into the San Bernardino Mountains and was killed,” she said. “After everything he had been through in the war and to come home and then get killed in a private plane crash…”

Crawford was only 14 months old.  

“We moved in with my grandparents after my father died,” she said.

Her mother soon reconnected with an old friend from high school and they married.

“I had a fabulous stepfather,” she said. “They had a baby together, my half-sister, Sandee.”

It was during these years that Crawford’s love affair with movies began.

“On Saturdays it was my job to babysit my sister. I would take her to the movie theater and we would watch two features, newsreels, cartoons and my mother would work,” she said. “On Sunday evenings my father always had a poker game at our house so my mother and sister and I would go to the movies again. Movies became my life.”

 

Finding her match

Dianne and Wayne Crawford both attended Fullerton High School in Orange County, but they didn’t run in the same circles.

“I met Wayne in high school, but at the time, I didn’t like him; I didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” she said. “He was the big man on campus and he was a track star.”

Wayne Crawford was indeed a track and field star, he held the record in the pole vault at Fullerton High School for 30 years.  

Dianne Crawford had been accepted at Washington State University, but declined to attend because she wanted to be near her high school boyfriend who was staying in Southern California to attend college.

“I just couldn’t leave him. He broke up with me a week after college started,” she said. “I was attending Woodbury College in Los Angeles.”

Dianne Crawford had moved to Los Angeles to attend college, but often came “home” to Fullerton during the weekends.

“I was home one weekend, and a friend called and asked if I wanted to go over to Wayne Crawford’s house. He was home for the weekend from (University of California, Berkeley),” said Crawford.

Crawford said she was “moping around the house after her breakup” and her friend was trying to cheer her up.

Crawford finally relented.

“We went to my favorite hamburger place in Anaheim called Armstrong’s. Then, we drove down to the beach,” Dianne Crawford recalled. “At the end of the day I thought, ‘Wayne’s not so bad.’”

Things really heated up when the end of the weekend came and Crawford expected her parents, or a friend, to drive her back to Los Angeles.

As she was getting her things together to return to school the doorbell rang.

She was surprised to find Wayne Crawford at her front door.

“I asked him what he was doing at my house,” she said. “Wayne said, ‘Your dad said I could take you back to school.’”

Crawford said the couple have been together ever since.

On Aug. 22, the couple celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary.

“I always knew Wayne was the best man I would ever meet,” said Crawford. “His word was gospel. He would do anything for anybody. He was so generous.”

 

A shaky start in their new home

Crawford earned her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, with an emphasis in Fashion Design.

“I designed childrens’ clothing after graduation,” she said.

Her budding fashion career came to an end when the head designer told her she needed to scale back the number of button and rickrack in her designs because of the expense.

“I didn’t realize at that time that everything is about money,” she said. “I thought they were crushing my creativity, so I quit. I thought, ‘I’ll just stay at home and have children.’”

The Crawfords moved to Sun Valley after Wayne was hired at Lockheed.

Their daughter Jacque was born, and the couple decided they needed a bigger house.

“We moved to Valencia in 1969, when I was pregnant with Keith and we moved to the tract of homes across from the hospital (Henry Mayo),” she said.

At the time, Orchard Village Road didn’t connect to Lyons Avenue and the I-5 freeway wasn’t complete.

“There wasn’t much out here then. We shopped at the Thriftimart on Lyons Avenue (the current location of the 99 Cents store) and had to go the long way around to get there,” she said.

Their son, Keith, was a premature baby. He was in and out of hospitals often the first few years of his young life. The couple’s third child, Kyle, was born in 1972.  

 

Working for The Signal

One of the jobs that Crawford remembers fondly is her work at The Signal newspaper in the late 1970s. The Signal, at that time, was owned by Scott and Ruth Newhall.

Crawford said she worked in downtown Newhall as the newspaper’s “gofer” on Sundays and Mondays.

“I wasn’t doing anything creative, I was just answering phones, running errands and bringing Scott lunch. He didn’t like sprouts on his sandwiches I learned. Then Tony Newhall fired me because they were cutting back. I went into a huge depression because I loved it,” she said. “I knew that working for Scott and Ruth was a once in a lifetime thing. They were just such unique people.”

 

Sand Canyon, teaching and American Airlines

In 1979, the couple moved to Sand Canyon. Crawford began teaching and discovered she loved it. She worked as a substitute teacher and also earned a full-time teaching job at Castaic Middle School. At Castaic, she created a history presentation about clothing worn by First Ladies of the United States using her fashion design training.

FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing) in Los Angeles hired her to visit high schools and present her program.

“I ran into a girl whose mother I had known for years,” she said. “The girl told me her mom gave up teaching and went to work for the airlines. I sent out my resume and American Airlines called, and the rest is history.”

She went to work for the airline in 1997 as a customer service agent, and later became a flight attendant.

“I loved that job because I wanted to see the world,” she said. “First, I wanted to see America. I had never been out of California. I made it a point to travel everywhere I could in America because I loved American history.”

 

Extra, extra

Crawford has also worked as a film “extra” and as a model. She played an extra in the films “Freddy’s Dead,” “Hanging Up,” “Fisher King,” “Bedazzled,” “Ready to Rumble” and others.

“I got into SAG through the back door,” she said. She earned her SAG card by appearing in commercials for American Airlines.

When the Crawford’s son Kyle married Jeanna another opportunity opened up for Dianne Crawford.

“When Jeanna came into the family, she was one of the top plus-size models in California and was represented by LA Models,” said Crawford. “She brought her wedding photos into the agency and when they saw my photo they asked to see me.”

Crawford worked as a print and commercial model. Her most lucrative commercial to date is a commercial for Actonel, an osteoporosis medication.  

“It was a gold mine,” she said. “Any drug commercial is very lucrative.”

 

A love for films

Throughout Crawford’s life movies have been a constant.

She has kept a calendar of every movie she has seen since 1997.

Crawford said she remembers seeing Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies while growing up in Fullerton.

She said it is hard for her to choose a favorite movie, but when pressed she names “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Crawford met Julie Witter, of Sand Canyon, when both were substitute teaching during the 1980’s at Mitchell Elementary School.

“During the recess she started telling me about a movie class she was taking at UCLA,” she said.

The class, called “Sneak Previews” gives attendees a chance to see movies before they are released in theaters.

“We are still attending the class,” she said. “When you hear the producers, directors, writers talk about a movie and see their passion, even if you don’t like the movie, you love the passion. I learned to understand that every movie that is made is a love affair with the people who make these movies.”

One of Crawford’s favorite memories is when she met Clint Eastwood as a high school senior.

“I was dating a stunt double for Clint Eastwood in the TV series ‘Rawhide.’

He took me to the set and introduced me. I was just speechless,” she said.

Fast forward to life in the SCV.

Crawford met Judy Cox of the Betty Ferguson Foundation and became one of the organization’s “Women of Honor.”

Cox is married to Joel Cox, the long-time film editor for Clint Eastwood.

When Cox was honored in 2008 with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Film Editors, Crawford attended the event and was re-introduced to Eastwood.

“Clint took ahold of my hand and I told him I had met him years before on the set of ‘Rawhide.’ I told him about being introduced by his stunt double. Clint said, ‘Oh, I remember him. And you haven’t changed at all.’ I floated away. I don’t even know what happened the rest of the evening.”

 

Giving back

In 1997, Crawford developed breast cancer. She left American Airlines and started Pink Ribbon Gifts.

“I was in at the beginning of the breast cancer pink ribbon-merchandizing movement,” she said. “When I started Pink Ribbon Gifts I knew I would donate all the profits.”

Her nonprofit of choice was the Sheila Veloz Breast Center at Henry Mayo in Valencia.

“Sheila Veloz is extremely important to me because my breast cancer was missed on a mammogram. I am so happy that we now have a wonderful breast cancer center in the Santa Clarita Valley,” she said.

On Oct. 8, Crawford will celebrate 21 years cancer-free.

The Crawfords have always been at the forefront of philanthropy in the SCV.

“Wayne believes if much is given to you, you must give back. He’s always set that example,” she said.

In addition to the profits from Pink Ribbon Gifts, Crawford also donated 50 percent of her earnings from her commercials and entertainment work.

The hospital was one first nonprofits the Crawfords supported in the SCV.

In addition to Henry Mayo, the Crawfords have been generous benefactors to Carousel Ranch and the Boys & Girls Club of SCV.

Crawford closed Pink Ribbon Gifts after the pink ribbon movement went “mainstream.”

“When everyone started carrying pink ribbon merchandise, I knew it was over,” she said.

For Crawford ,the end of Pink ribbon Gifts was not necessarily a bad thing, as she had moved on to other interests.

“I started writing movie reviews, just for three or four friends,” she said. “I did it just during award season, the end of September until the Academy Awards. It just mushroomed. Last year, I think I had 210 people on my email list.”

 

–30–

 

Sand Canyon

Sand Canyon, teaching and American Airlines

In 1979, the couple moved to Sand Canyon. Crawford began teaching and discovered she loved it. She worked as a substitute teacher and also earned a full-time teaching job at Castaic Middle School. At Castaic she created a history presentation about clothing worn by First Ladies of the United States using her fashion design training.

FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing) in Los Angeles hired her to visit high schools and present her program.

“I ran into a girl whose mother I had known for years,” she said. “The girl told me her mom gave up teaching and went to work for the airlines. I sent out my resume and American Airlines called and the rest is history.”

She went to work for the airline in 1997 as a customer service agent and later became a flight attendant.

“I loved that job because I wanted to see the world,” she said. “First I wanted to see America. I had never been out of California. I made it a point to travel everywhere I could in America because I loved American history.”

 

“He had been in the hospital right before the Sylmar (1971) quake. We brought him home the day before the quake hit,” Crawford said.

The damage was so extensive to the roads in and around the SCV, it was hard to travel in the days after the earthquake.

“There was an FBI agent who lived on our street and he had a friend with a helicopter come and land in a nearby onion field to bring us the special formula we had to have for Keith because he was allergic to everything else,” Crawford said.

The couple’s third child, Kyle, was born in 1972.  

 

Travels

In addition to movies Crawford loves to travel.

“I’ve been nearly everywhere so next year we’re going on a cruise to Cuba and we also want to plan a trip to Antarctica,” she said.

Crawford said travel is now one of the highest priorities for the Crawfords.

“Wayne never liked to travel so I traveled the world and saw everything.

When he turned 60 he started traveling and now he enjoys it so we have to make up for lost time,” she said.

Crawford said it is difficult for her to choose a favorite travel destination.

“I can’t pick a favorite place, just like I can’t pick a favorite movie, because I love so many of them, and for different reasons. Every experience is so incredibly different,” she said. “I love the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. I like Santorini (Greece), with the donkeys and the funicular that goes up the hill. There is so much beauty in the world. In Copenhagen we took a tour where we walked on the rooftops. Vietnam was a huge favorite. We toured the prison where John McCain was ‘treated so well’ according in our very young tour guide.”

A trip to Turkey included a dinner in a private home for Wayne and Dianne.

“It was just the highlight of my life,” she said. “I’ve had so many amazing, amazing trips and I am really excited for Wayne to have this new interest in traveling because for years I’ve wanted to share so many places with him.”

 

From Disneyland to Granny Smith

Among Crawford’s more interesting jobs was a stint at Disneyland where she worked at the end of high school and first year of college.

“I was the character Snow White. It was a job where I was surrounded by all these 4’5” guys who had crushes on me, it was really funny at the time,” she said.

Snow White and the Dwarfs had to go everywhere in the park together. The job also afforded Crawford the opportunity to shake hands with Walt Disney.

However, not every job Crawford held was glamorous.

“I also had a job in a juice cannery where I was sorting rotten oranges off the conveyor belt,” she said. “It made me realize that I needed to get higher education. That summer I grew up a lot because I realized I did need to go to college.”

From a teenage Snow White to the “World’s Greatest Grandma, Granny Smith,” Crawford’s life has taken some interesting turns.

In 1999 Crawford won the Washington State Apple Commission’s “Granny Smith” contest.

“That was the greatest time of my life. It was before 9/11 and I was able to fly all over the country,” she said. “I would leave on Monday morning and come back home on Thursday nights for a year. I did radio, TV, print. It was a great thing, it celebrated grandmothers.”

 

Living through tragedy

In February 2013, the Crawford’s middle child, Keith, committed suicide.

“Losing my son changed my DNA. I truly am not the same person I was five years ago,” she said. “It is amazing what grief does, especially with a suicide. You ask yourself what could I have done differently.”

Crawford said the last conversation she had with Keith, the night before he died, gave no indication of what was to come.

“Wayne and I look back and think, ‘What if we had done this, or done that?’ We had both seen him the day before and he seemed fine, but we also knew he had been struggling,” she said.

Crawford said her last memory of Keith was of him fixing her computer.

“The last thing he said to me was, ‘Mom, if there’s any more problems just remember I’m just a phone call away.’ The next morning the phone rang and it was his wife. So, you just never know…,” she said. “We will never move on and we will never be the same.”

Crawford said she now sees life differently.

“I don’t get upset anymore at hardly anything,” she said. “Because the worst that could have happened has happened.”

As painful as her son’s suicide was to live through, Crawford wants to share her experience with others.

“I think it might be helpful for other people to see how we’ve coped with this, you never get over it, but you can continue to live,” she said. “You never forget, you are never the same, but you can go on.”

Crawford remembers her son with love.

“I feel so enormously grateful to have had him in my life,” she said. “He was an amazing man with a great sense of humor.”

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