Best known for his role as Colonel Robert E. Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on July 13, 1928. Crane grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, graduating from Stamford High School in 1946, where he excelled at music and drums, and had a “sunny,” gregarious personality.
Before he became a TV star, Crane got his start in radio in 1950 at WLEA in Hornell, New York. From there, he went to WBIS (Bristol) and WLIZ/WICC (Bridgeport) in Connecticut. In 1956, CBS offered Crane the morning time slot at KNX in Hollywood, which he accepted following serious negotiations with the engineers’ union. He interviewed thousands of prominent individuals at KNX 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. Crane remained at KNX until August 1965, when he left to concentrate on Hogan’s Heroes.
In 1959, Crane began acting in theatre and small roles in television and film followed. His first big break was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which led to being hired as a semi-regular on The Donna Reed Show. Soon after leaving Donna Reed, Bob was offered the role of Colonel Hogan on the popular series Hogan’s Heroes, which debuted on September 17, 1965, and ran for six seasons.
Out of the spotlight, Crane married his high school sweetheart Anne Terzian on May 20, 1949. Together, they had three children: Robert David Crane, Deborah Ann Crane, and Karen Leslie Crane. Bob and Anne separated in April 1969, and their divorce became final in early 1970. On October 16, 1970, Bob married Patricia Olson, whose stage name was Sigrid Valdis and who played Colonel Klink’s secretary Hilda during seasons two through six of Hogan’s Heroes. Bob and Patty had one son together: Robert Scott Crane.
But there was a secret side to Crane's personal life fueled by his sexual addiction. For most of his adult life, Crane engaged in consensual sex with countless women, which, according to many sources close to him, 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. As his acting career took a downward turn during the 1970s, his appetite for sex and pornography became more profound. However, in late spring 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 in the summer of 1978 when he was killed.
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, he was bludgeoned to death with a camera tripod as he slept in his apartment. He was 49 years old. The crime remains unsolved, but police believe they arrested and tried the correct person—Crane’s friend John Henry Carpenter (different from the film director)—but were unable to convict due to lack of physical evidence. Crane is buried in Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles alongside his second wife, Patty, who passed away in 2007.
While Crane's death and sexual addiction made sensational headlines, his tragic end shouldn't overshadow his contributions to the entertainment world. To remember Crane, the talented performer, here are some facts about his life and career:
1. An avid drummer for most of his life, Bob Crane was inspired to play drums by watching Gene Krupa at the 1939 World’s Fair.
2. Crane served for two years in the United States National Guard, Stamford, Connecticut.
3. Crane brought a new dimension to radio broadcasting, including the art of “sampling,” where he clustered commercials, commentary, current events, entertainment, drumming, skits, and music into one seamless program.
4. Crane was a gifted voice impersonator. KNX christened him radio’s “Man of a Thousand Voices.”
5. Crane wanted to act, so he turned down all offers to host his own television talk show, including replacing Jack Paar on The Tonight Show and Johnny Carson on Who Do You Trust?
6. Before accepting the role of Colonel Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, Crane insisted that veterans be shown a series trailer. Veterans approved of it, and only then did he embrace the series. Crane was also strong supporter of American troops. He donated many hours to the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network, visited military bases, and hosted an episode of Operation Entertainment.
7. Crane gave to many charitable organizations. In one year, it was reported he made more than 265 public appearances for charity.
8. In 1971, Crane wrote a variety show—Hogan’s Heroes Revue, with Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink) and Robert Clary (Corporal Louis LeBeau) both signed on as performers, but it was never produced.
9. Crane was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series twice for his work on Hogan’s Heroes. He lost out both times: to Dick Van Dyke in 1966 and to Don Adams in 1967.
10. In February 1978, Crane filmed a television pilot—The Hawaii Experience, where he took viewers behind the scenes at Hawaii’s major resorts. It was never produced because he was murdered.
Carol M. Ford is the author of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography, the only comprehensive biography about Bob Crane. More than 600 pages in length, the book was extensively researched for 12 years and is supported by members of Bob’s family, close personal friends, and colleagues. It covers his entire life from birth to death through first-hand accounts told by 200 individuals who knew him personally and/or professionally—many exclusive and for the first time. The book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com and direct from the publisher, AM Ink, and will be available through all major book retailers on September 17, 2015.