Elgin teacher hoping to follow her Murray relatives into show business
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org December 23, 2013 6:18PM
The four writer/producers behind the proposed Amazon-streamed TV series “What Every Man Should Know” are, left to right, Devin McCrate of West Dundee; Hollywood actor Joel Murray; Murray’s niece, Elgin High School teacher Allison Crane; and Bartlett native Tom McGuire. | Submitted
Updated: January 25, 2014 6:08AM
ELGIN — Since she took to the stage at age 11 alongside Chris Farley, Allison Crane has had one foot in education and one foot in show business.
Today it’s almost all education, as she teaches daily living skills to a class of young-adult special-ed students at Elgin High School. But if things go right, Crane hopes also to become the co-writer and co-producer of a TV comedy series that would Web-stream on Amazon Prime.
After all, it would be going into the family business. Her mother, Peggy Murray Crane, is the sister of well-known actors Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray and Joel Murray. And Joel Murray stars in Crane’s proposed TV series, “What Every Man Should Know,” a sample nine minutes of which can be seen at http://studios.amazon.com/projects/29550.
Amazon is hoping to compete with Netflix by streaming original TV series over the Web. That began earlier this year with the political comedy “Alpha House,” starring John Goodman. To help Amazon Prime officials pick their next 30-minute Web series, the company has put nine-minute “sizzle reels” — basically, short pilot episodes of possible new series — online and invites Web viewers to vote for them.
As of this week, Crane said, “What Every Man Should Know” has the most votes of any show in the competition. It features the ghost of a he-man from the 1980s (played by her uncle Joel Murray) who offers advice about manly subjects such as appliance repair and tire-changing to his grandson, who’s played by Chicago actor/bartender/Improv Olympics vet Jon Crowley. The 2013 grandson knows more about cooking and fashion than cellphones but finds these lessons give him useful ways to impress women.
Crane said she grew up with family visits from the three famous actor uncles, as well as their six siblings, who include her mother and a Dominican nun named Sister Nancy Marie Murray.
In fact, Crane said, her mother appears — sort of — in the 1980 comedy film “Caddy Shack,” which starred Allison’s “Uncle Billy” and was co-written by her “Uncle Brian.” When “Caddy Shack” was being filmed, Crane’s mother had just married her father. So in one scene, Doyle-Murray slipped in an incident in which Bill Murray’s character ogles a sexy woman named “Mrs. Crane.”
“I can’t watch that part of ‘Caddy Shack’ without feeling uncomfortable,” Crane says now. “It feels like my uncle is leering at my mom.”
Crane said her own first dalliance with show biz happened at age 11 after her grandmother, the mother of the nine Murrays, died.
“At the time, Uncle Joel was on the main stage at Second City in Chicago,” she recalls. Eighty-nine family members who were in town for the funeral decided to go over and see that improv-comedy show.
“Joel is not only my uncle but also my godfather, so he asked if I wanted to go on stage and be in the last scene of the show,” she said. But once she got up in front of scores of people, terror took over.
“I don’t remember much about it. This big, friendly Second City actor named Chris, who turned out to be Chris Farley, played my babysitter and ordered us pizza. I was SO nervous, I believe I became temporarily deaf.
“It was at that point, only pleading with God to get me off that stage, when I realized I would never need to use family connections to become an actress. But I was fascinated with the excitement behind the scenes.”
After graduating from St. Edward Central Catholic High School in Elgin in 1995, Crane moved to Hollywood to try to develop a career in behind-the-scenes show business. She worked as a production assistant on movies starring Kathy Bates, Dan Aykroyd and Johnny Depp. But soon she married a man who took her back to his home town in Wyoming, and she decided to become a lawyer.
But then the husband got into a car crash that left him in a coma, she said. While he was recovering, she took a substitute teaching job to support him and their two children. She liked that work so much that she decided to become a special-ed teacher and made that her career after she divorced the husband and moved back to Elgin.
Crane said the idea for a TV show based on eroding manly skills came from her friend Tom McGuire, a former St. Ed’s classmate who one night said he had an idea for a show and asked if she could get one of her famous brothers to help make it work. So she persuaded Joel to play the he-man grandfather ghost. Forming a production company together with friend Devin McCrate from West Dundee, they recruited Chicago actors to play the other roles for free and taped a nine-minute episode over a two-day period, using Joel Murray’s apartment for most of the sets.
Then they pitched the idea to production companies and TV networks. “We’d always get lots of good feedback,” Crane said. “People would say it was funny. But then there would be no offer. We did get offered one deal that was really good. But we didn’t realize at first, so we turned our back on it. We were pretty green at all this,” she said.
Finally, they heard about the Amazon Prime contest and had their show put online, with good results so far from the voters. Crane said viewers can continue to vote on amazon.com through Dec. 31.
If it does become an Amazon series, would that spell the end for Crane’s teaching career?
“In my dream world, Amazon will pick up the show and I would be able to write it at night after I write out that day’s Individual Educational Programs for my students,” Crane said.
“Producing a TV show is just solving one problem after another all day. And so is teaching special-ed students.”