Along with being a veteran actor and comedian, Billy Crystal is most known for his affable hosting abilities, a groundbreaking role on television, and his impressions. One of the few to make a successful career from standup comedy to the movies, the sincere Crystal has hosted the Academy Awards six times and the Comic Relief festivals (which he also co-directed) since 1986. He has been nominated 12 times for an Emmy and has won three of them.
In 1976, Crystal was cast in the recurring role as Rob Reiner's Meathead's best friend on All in the Family. He made history when he was cast as the first gay character to appear on television on Soap, Jodie Dallas. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force drew Crystal's name into controversy for promoting stereotypes and right-wing conservatives and religious groups damned the network for airing the show at all. Once the sensationalism died down and he refined his characterization, Jodie became a favorite among viewers.
In the early '80s, Crystal went back to New York, touring the comedy circuit and doing specials. Although he established himself on Soap, it was the 1985 season of Saturday Night Live that made him famous. Once he debuted his "You Look Mahvelous!" impression of Fernando Lamas, Crystal's name became a household word. He later put out a recording, simply entitled Mahvelous!
Hit movies that Crystal has starred in include When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, and Forget Paris. He has produced nearly half of the movies he has starred in. He has also directed a number of projects, including the made-for-movie TV 2001 and 61* as well as the first Comic Relief. Crystal also co-wrote and directed America's Sweethearts.
Billy Crystal was born into show business; his uncle was the famous record producer Milt Gabler, who founded the famous Commodore Records and later, Decca, while his father ran the Commodore Music Shop in New York.
It's a well-known fact that Crystal is a huge New York Yankees fan. He aspired to become a professional baseball player before pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. After his college baseball scholarship at Marshall University (the team became defunct), where he also hosted an on-air call-in program, Crystal eventually transferred to N.Y.U. where he studied film and television under Martin Scorcese. After graduating in 1970 with a B.F.A., he substitute taught in New York while honing his nightclub act and impressions. In the mid-'70s, he made the move to California and was spotted by director Norman Lear in the the Comedy Store. Crystal filled in at a celebrity roast one night, doing his impression of Muhammad Ali (much to Ali's delight) being interviewed by Howard Cosell. All in attendance — including some influential entertainment execs — were impressed. The rest is history. Crystal has two daughters: Lindsay, an aspiring filmmaker, and Jennifer, an actress. He published an autobiography, Absolutely Mahvelous, in 1986, which may be overdue for an addendum. He aspires to someday mount a solo show on Broadway. ~ Sandy Lawson