Bob Crane

Bob Crane Biography.com

Actor, Television Actor(1928–1978)
Bob Crane was the star of the TV sitcom Hogan's Heroes in the 1960s, a role that won him two Emmy nominations.

Synopsis

Best known for his role as Colonel Robert E. Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane was first a prominent radio personality on both U.S. coasts before choosing to focus on an acting career, which included television, film, and theater. Married twice, he was the father of four children. On June 29, 1978, Crane was murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona. Although the primary suspect—John Henry Carpenter—was arrested and tried, Carpenter was acquitted, and the crime has not been officially solved.

Early Life

Robert Edward Crane was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on July 13, 1928, the second child and son of Alfred Thomas and Rosemary (Senich) Crane. His older brother, Alfred John, was born on May 14, 1926. Of Irish and Russian descent, Crane was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic household. Around 1930, the Cranes relocated to Stamford, Connecticut, and with the exception of residing for two years in Poughkeepsie, New York, during the mid-1930s, they lived in Stamford throughout most of Crane's youth. Crane graduated from Stamford High School in 1946. His first job out of high school was working as a watch repairman and sales clerk at a jewelry/emporium store in Stamford. He joined the United States National Guard in June 1948, and Private Crane was honorably discharged in May 1950.

Bob Crane Photo

READ ARTICLE: “10 Quick Facts About 'Hogan's Heroes' Star Bob Crane” by Carol M. Ford, author of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. (Photo: Bob Crane in his Hogan’s Heroes dressing room, Courtesy Personal Collection of Carol M. Ford)

Drumming and Music

Crane was inspired to play the drums by watching Gene Krupa at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, New York. He excelled at music and drums while in school, where many of his friends and classmates recalled he was never seen without his drumsticks, and that he had a “sunny,” happy, and gregarious personality. During his teen years, Crane took drumming lessons in New York City, notably from renowned Big Band jazz drummer William Randolph “Cozy” Cole. He aspired to play with a big band or with a studio orchestra, but by the time he graduated, the Swing era had already passed. 

Wanting to stay close to music, Crane turned his attention to radio. He was later able to sit in and play drums with many of the name bands that he idolized, including The Stan Kenton Orchestra, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and The Harry James Orchestra, among others. He also engaged in a drum battle on his KNX radio show with Gene Krupa and was close friends with Buddy Rich, often performing together on drums with Rich at Disneyland. Crane recorded one album with a studio orchestra in 1966, Bob Crane, His Drums and Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV, which according to album producer Stu Phillips, he loved doing.

Radio Career

In March 1950, Crane took his first radio job at WLEA in Hornell, New York, where he was also named program director. After nine months, he returned home to Connecticut, where he worked at WBIS in Bristol as both morning personality and program director for three months before moving to WLIZ in Bridgeport in April 1951. In November 1951, WLIZ bought out WICC, also in Bridgeport, and transitioned most of its administrative and on-air staff, including Crane, to WICC. In addition to performing his morning show at WICC, Crane was also WICC’s program director. 

Bob Crane Photo

Bob Crane got his start in radio at WLEA in Hornell, New York (March 1950-December 1950). (Photo Courtesy of WLEA)

While at WICC, Crane beat out CBS’s Boston affiliate WEEI in ratings. To try and solve their Boston station’s ratings problem, CBS offered Crane a job at WEEI, which he turned down. At the same time, CBS was also having trouble in Los Angeles. Long-time KNX-CBS Radio morning man Ralph Story had resigned to become the host of The $64,000 Question. After he refused the job at WEEI, CBS offered Crane the morning drive-time slot at KNX in Hollywood. CBS hoped to kill two birds with one stone: replace Story and boost WEEI’s ratings by getting Crane out of the New England market. Following serious negotiations with CBS, Crane accepted the job at KNX, but only after receiving special dispensation from the Engineers’ Union (IBEW) to play his own records—something that had rarely been done before and never in a major market. He signed a five-year contract with KNX, and in mid-August 1956, Crane and his wife and son relocated to Hollywood. The Bob Crane Show debuted on KNX-CBS Radio on September 3 of that year.

Crane spent more than 15 consecutive years in radio, from March 1950 through August 1965, and he changed radio for generations to follow. He brought a whole new dimension to broadcasting, including the art of “sampling,” where he clustered commercials, songs, commentary, current events, entertainment, and music into one seamless program. Also a gifted voice impersonator, Crane performed most of the voices on his show, and in addition to becoming known as “King of the LA Airwaves,” KNX also christened him radio’s “Man of a Thousand Voices.” In addition, Crane drummed regularly on his radio show, and he was a premiere celebrity interviewer. Described as “arguably the most listenable DJ in LA history” by Variety, Cash Box, and Billboard magazines executive Harvey Geller, Crane interviewed thousands of celebrities and prominent individuals, including Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Jayne Mansfield, Jonathan Winters, Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, and the former President Ronald Reagan (during his acting career), to name only a few. KNX hailed Crane’s show as “the wildest, funniest morning program in radio…[and] the only radio personality who hosts leading film and TV stars for live, unrehearsed interviews daily.”

Early Acting Career

With his tremendous success in radio, acting was a natural career progression for Crane. He got his start in television while in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when WICC launched a fledgling UHF television station—Channel 43. Once he had proven himself in Hollywood as a formidable radio personality, producers began offering Crane opportunities to move his radio show to television (for example, by replacing Jack Paar on The Tonight Show and Johnny Carson on Who Do You Trust?). He turned down all such offers so he could concentrate on acting.

But CBS and KNX anticipated this move, and for his first five-years at KNX, Crane was contractually forbidden to act professionally. In 1961, Crane renegotiated his contract, and the no-acting clause was lifted, granting him the freedom to pursue his acting career. Following brief appearances on The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, among others, he landed a guest-starring role on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired on December 26, 1962. This led to a guest appearance on The Donna Reed Show as Dr. Dave Blevins on March 14, 1963, which quickly turned into the regular supporting role of Dr. Dave Kelsey, who made his debut as friend and neighbor to Donna and Alex Stone on April 4, 1963.

Crane worked simultaneously on The Donna Reed Show and at KNX for almost two years, from early 1963 to late 1964. He took his new career seriously, working hard to hone his acting skills and perfect his characters. At Donna Reed’s suggestion, he took acting lessons in June 1964 from acclaimed acting instructor Stella Adler.

On December 1, 1964, Crane left The Donna Reed Show, stating he became bored with his character and wanted to pursue a role he found more challenging, and thus, more rewarding. He remained on friendly terms with Donna Reed and her husband Tony Owen following his departure from the series, and Donna continued to offer Crane acting advice over the next several years. In 1969, when asked about his professional relationship with Donna Reed, Crane said, "She was marvelous. I learned everything I know in the business from her."

Hogan’s Heroes

As soon as Crane left The Donna Reed Show, he was inundated with offers to star in a new comedy series, including My Mother the Car and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. Nearly all of the programs he was offered focused on a family setting—husband, wife, and kids. However, he was not interested in those types of roles, and he turned down everything in this genre. 

In early December 1964, Hollywood producer Jerry Thorpe steered Crane toward a new series about a prisoner of war camp set in World War II Nazi Germany. Initially, Crane balked at it. First, he wanted a comedy, not a heavy drama about war; second, he did not want to make fun of the war itself or of the hardships prisoners of war endured. Sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of veterans, he insisted that they be shown a trailer of the proposed series to get their feedback. Veterans who screened the trailer liked it and thought it was funny. They approved of the concept, claiming that humor was vital to helping them make it through the war. With acceptance from veterans, and because he understood the show as a satirical comedy, Crane was sold, and he embraced the premise of Hogan’s Heroes (then still with the working titles The Heroes and Hogan’s Raiders). He performed a screen test as Colonel Robert Hogan with Werner Klemperer as Colonel Wilhelm Klink on December 22, 1964. Their chemistry clicked immediately, and Crane was hired. According to series co-creator Albert S. Ruddy, Crane was exactly what they wanted in Hogan.

Hogan's Heroes Photo

The original cast of Hogan’s Heroes (1965). (From left) Werner Klemperer, John Banner, Bob Crane, Ivan Dixon, Robert Clary, Larry Hovis, and Richard Dawson. (Photo: Personal Collection of Carol M. Ford)

The pilot was filmed the week of January 7, 1965, and CBS picked up Hogan’s Heroes shortly thereafter for its Fall 1965 lineup. For several months, Crane worked at KNX and Hogan’s Heroes simultaneously as he had done previously with The Donna Reed Show. However, he quickly learned that he could not manage two demanding jobs and not burn out. He left KNX to concentrate solely on Hogan’s Heroes, with his last KNX broadcast on August 16, 1965.

Hogan’s Heroes premiered on CBS on September 17, 1965, and it received strong reviews. Some critics and audiences, however, were unsure of the premise, with some not liking what they considered an unconscionable comedy that made fun of war, and far worse, others believing its setting was a concentration camp. CBS placed Crane at the helm to quell any harsh response. Crane reinforced his, the cast and crew’s, and the network’s firm stance that there is no ethical way anyone can make fun of concentration camps or Nazi atrocities. Crane openly criticized comedian and radio personality Stan Freberg’s off-the-cuff tagline, “If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hogan’s Heroes,” claiming it was in very poor taste. Crane further described the series as a parody with a “mock of authority” punch line, rather than a series that was either too campy to be believed or insistent that this far-fetched prison camp could actually exist. He argued that Hogan’s Heroes did not make fun of the war itself or Germans in general, with its aim instead being, “Look how clever the Allies are;” in addition, the series did not attempt to diminish the real threat and atrocities Hitler and the Nazis imposed upon Europe and the world during the Great Depression and World War II. Crane urged people to watch the series first before judging it, and soon, public opinion changed. Hogan’s Heroes became an overnight hit, and it was the only new series to place in the top ten in the Nielsen Ratings in the Fall 1965 season. It ranked high in the Nielsen Ratings consistently during its entire six-season run.

The Hogan’s Heroes cast and crew alike found the set enjoyable and like one big family—happy, pleasant, and fun. Crane was easy to work with, worked hard at perfecting Hogan, took direction well, allowed others their time in the spotlight, and helped establish the friendly tenor of the set. A rare camaraderie existed among the cast that kept everyone’s egos in check, allowing the series to flourish. Crane was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series twice for his work on Hogan’s Heroes, once in 1966 and again in 1967. He lost out both times: to Dick Van Dyke in 1966 and to Don Adams in 1967.

In early 1971, Crane sought to bring Hogan’s Heroes to the stage, having written a variety show based on the series—Hogan’s Heroes Revue. A contract was in place for it to be performed in Las Vegas in the spring of 1971, with Werner Klemperer and Robert Clary both officially on board, and others from the cast still working out contractual details. But Hogan’s Heroes Revue was never produced. The series itself was officially cancelled in March 1971, despite having one more contractual season remaining (what would have been season seven). Hogan’s Heroes fell victim to the network’s “Rural Purge,” a sweep by all networks during this time to cancel shows that focused on a rural (or limited) demographic.

Other Television and Film Work (1965 to 1971)

Throughout his entire life and career, Crane was a workaholic. While starring on Hogan’s Heroes, he also made numerous guest-starring appearances on other television series, including The Lucy Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Red Skelton Hour, The Leslie Uggams Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and many others. While on hiatus, he also starred in the 1968 feature film The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (with Hogan’s Heroes co-stars Werner Klemperer, John Banner, and Leon Askin) and ABC’s 1969 remake of Arsenic and Old Lace (with screen legends Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes). 

Life after Hogan

Following the cancellation of Hogan’s Heroes, Crane discovered he was typecast as Colonel Hogan. He struggled to secure another lead in a series until he was offered and accepted the starring role in NBC’s The Bob Crane Show, originally titled Second Start. The series was supposed to debut in the fall of 1974, but it was delayed until spring of the following year, when it premiered as a mid-season replacement on March 6, 1975. Critics never liked The Bob Crane Show, and it was cancelled abruptly after the second episode aired.

Meanwhile, Crane remained busy, guest starring on various television series, such as Quincy, M.D., Ellery Queen, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, and The Love Boat. In addition, he starred in the 1973 Walt Disney film Super Dad, and in 1976, appeared in Disney’s Gus. He also returned to radio briefly in 1972 and 1973, filling in for his former radio competition Dick Whittinghill at KMPC in Los Angeles, as well as producing a series of radio specials for KMPC. He never worked in radio after his KMPC stint, although he did remain close to broadcasting, often agreeing to be interviewed or guest hosting at various stations across the country. In January 1976, he returned to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to help WICC celebrate its 50th anniversary.

In January 1978, Crane filmed an episode of the Canadian television cooking show, Celebrity Cooks. The series was scheduled to begin airing in syndication in the United States beginning in July 1978. However, following Crane’s death in June of that year, one American network representative decided to pull the episode from the U.S. lineup. After viewing the episode, he told a Hollywood reporter he thought Crane behaved in an eerie and inappropriate manner throughout the episode, indicating it proved to him that Crane was troubled. However, according to those who were present on the day of Crane’s episode taping (the series producer/owner, the talent agent, and the stage manager), the network representative’s account of Crane’s episode is inaccurate. They rebut his claim, stating that Crane was one of their best guests. They said that had Crane said or done anything inappropriate or odd, they would have stopped tape and/or cancelled the shoot. Crane’s episode of Celebrity Cooks aired in Canada several times without complaint throughout the spring of 1978.

In February 1978, Crane filmed a pilot for a new television series, The Hawaii Experience, where he took viewers behind the scenes at Hawaii’s major resorts. He was looking forward to this new genre of television—the reality show. The Hawaii Experience was cancelled and never produced because of his death later that year.

Theater Work

Crane’s acting career began on stage in 1959 with his first theater performance, Tunnel of Love, at the Valley Playhouse in Woodland Hills, California. He remained active in theater throughout his entire career, with the exception of the first several years of Hogan’s Heroes. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Crane starred in many stage productions across the country, including Send Me No Flowers, Cactus Flower, 6 Rms Riv Vu, Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?, and Tunnel of Love. But Beginner’s Luck, in which he starred and occasionally produced and directed, became “his” play, and it typically received rave reviews. He performed and directed every performance to the best of his ability, and although a star, he reportedly treated his cast and crew fairly and properly. He also reworked much of the script, streamlining the play and submitting his changes to Beginner’s Luck playwrights Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore for updating in the official published version.

Philanthropy

Since his young adult years in Connecticut, Crane gave back to the community on a regular basis. In addition to serving in the National Guard, he also gave of his time to many different charities. During his tenure at WICC, he served as program advisor for Bridgeport’s Junior Achievement organization and participated in other community events, such as judging talent contests and serving as master of ceremonies for various organizations. After moving to California, Crane continued his public appearances and charity work by participating in Auxiliary Lunches, Kiwanis Club meetings, and telethons, notably for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (for which he returned to Connecticut as a favor to a friend), the Cystic Fibrosis Fund Drive, the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation, and others. He also made appearances to promote local events and acted as master of ceremonies for countless organizations. Further, Crane held the title of Honorary Mayor of Tarzana, California; was a member of the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce; and was the Tarzana Senior Ambassador of Good Will. From 1967 to 1969, he donated many hours of his time with the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network, and in 1968, he hosted an episode of Operation Entertainment, filmed before U.S. Airmen at Eglin Air Force Base, Fort Walton Beach, Florida. In one year, it was reported he made more than 265 personal public appearances.

Bob Crane Photo

A strong supporter of U.S. troops, Bob Crane was the host of the November 1, 1968, episode of Operation Entertainment, which was performed and recorded for troops stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. (Photo: Personal Collection of Carol M. Ford)

Personal Life

Crane married his high school sweetheart Anne Terzian on May 20, 1949, in Stamford, Connecticut. Together, they had three children: Robert David Crane, Deborah Ann Crane, and Karen Leslie Crane. After almost 20 years of marriage, Bob and Anne separated in April 1969, and their divorce became final in early 1970. On October 16, 1970, Crane married Patricia Olson (professionally known by her stage name Sigrid Valdis), who played Colonel Klink’s secretary Hilda during seasons two through six of Hogan’s Heroes. Their wedding took place on the Hogan’s Heroes soundstage, with family, friends, and cast and crew present. Crane and Patty had one son together: Robert Scott Crane. Patty also had a daughter from her previous marriage to George Ateyah—Melissa “Mits” Ateyah, and Crane and Patty adopted their teenage housekeeper of Mexican descent, Ana Marie. Bob and Patty separated in December 1977 and were discussing divorce throughout the spring of 1978. At the time of his death, Bob’s extended family in Connecticut told the press they were aware of a possible reconciliation between Bob and Patty; however, because Bob died, it is impossible to know for certain if they would have reconciled or followed through with their divorce.

Alternative Lifestyle and Struggle with Addiction

For most of his adult life, Crane engaged in consensual sex with countless adult women, which, according to many sources close to Crane, had its roots in the early 1950s in Connecticut. As time went on, his proclivities also included his amateur pornography of women, in which they were willing participants. Crane claimed to enjoy this lifestyle, even though he kept it hidden from many of his extended family members and closest friends. Yet with others, he was candidly open about it. When warned about the dangers such a lifestyle could pose to him, he listened but then shrugged it off, comparing it to the way someone else may need a cup of coffee and declaring he could stop anytime he wanted. 

As his acting career took a downward turn during the 1970s, his appetite for sex and pornography became more profound, and he was less able to keep his behavior hidden. As a result, some network executives began to shun him because of it. In an effort to re-establish himself as a serious actor in Hollywood, and more importantly to him, to reconnect with his family and children, Crane tried several times to break free from this lifestyle. However, he discovered he could not do so on his own, which shook him. In the late spring of 1978, Crane sought private professional counseling for what he was then starting to understand as an addiction to sex. He was reportedly about to begin work with a leading psychologist specializing in sex addiction in Los Angeles after his play Beginner’s Luck closed in Scottsdale, Arizona, on July 1, 1978, but he never got the chance to follow through because he was murdered.

Murder

In June 1978, Crane was in Scottsdale, Arizona, performing in and directing Beginner’s Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theatre. In the early morning hours of June 29, 1978, Crane was bludgeoned to death with a camera tripod as he slept in his apartment. He was 49 years old. Theories as to who may have killed Crane and why abound; however, police believe they arrested and tried the correct person—Crane’s friend John Henry Carpenter (different from the film director)—and were just unable to convict due to lack of physical evidence. At the time of his murder, Crane had a television series in the works and was looking forward to getting a fresh start on his life and career. He is buried in Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles along with his second wife, Patricia Olson (Sigrid Valdis), who passed away in 2007.

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