Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and Do Unto Others...

By Carol Ford

Bob Crane as Colonel Robert Hogan
in Hogan's Heroes.
I have been extremely busy lately, diligently writing Bob Crane's biography. So deeply involved am I in telling his life story that every so often, I have to go put on the TV or drop onto Facebook to bring myself out of the past and into the present. The telling of Bob's life story, as well as overseeing the cause for his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame and Hollywood Walk of Fame, is fascinating and rewarding. It is also challenging. 

Thanks to Paul Schrader's "biopic" film AutoFocus, a lot of people who watched the film pride themselves on believing they know Bob Crane. They make grand, sweeping statements about him that they believe to be true. For every positive comment and supportive email I receive, I also get some rather heated notes from people who did not know Bob Crane but who have seen the film and/or read the book, and thus, felt compelled to write. "Haven't you seen AutoFocus?" they ask, wondering why I'm wasting my time and devoting such energy on a story that has already been told, and according to them, about a man who is not worth talking about except to ridicule.

I don't blame anyone for voicing his or her opinion. After all, if it's in the film and the earlier published book, it must be all-inclusive and accurate. Right?

Wrong. From the nearly 200 people Linda Groundwater and I interviewed, from close family to dear friends as far back as grade school to colleagues in radio, television, theatre, and film to the man who was helping Bob Crane overcome his addiction, the overflowing of sentiment and positive remarks was phenomenal. Most people used the phrase "balance the scales" as they shared their recollections of the man who they say was much different than the one depicted in AutoFocus.

As I write Bob Crane's biography, I will be accurate. I will be thorough. I will share his entire life without forgetting that yes, he was human, and no, he was not perfect. Not one person on this earth is. The book will be vetted as well as reviewed by original sources for accuracy prior to publication. Those who have been interviewed are not just contributors, they are active participants in the accurate telling of Bob Crane's life.

I will cover the parts of Bob's life that have been grossly overlooked. How, while working in radio, he became one of the most important figures in radio history, developing a technique that opened up radio like never before and interviewing close to 3,000 people - most of them Hollywood's most glamorous and important celebrities of the day. How, as a husband and a father, he was devoted and loving. How, as someone battling an addiction, was courageous enough to admit it as such and sought professional help. How, as an actor, he took his acting seriously and turned down offers to host television talk shows in favor of acting jobs so he could hone his craft. How, as a philanthropist, he gave back to the community and to charity, and usually for either nothing or for a nominal fee to cover transportation costs (if traveling out of town). How, as a victim of a brutal murder, his memory has received little or no respect in the decades that followed.

Recently, I discovered a similar situation regarding legendary actor and comedian John Belushi. Published two years after Belushi's death, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi was authored by acclaimed journalist Bob Woodward. With Woodward's impressive resume and credentials, one would think Wired would be the Holy Grail about John Belushi. 

However, Wired missed its mark. Although interviewed at length by Woodward, Belushi's family and friends were terribly disappointed with the book after its publication, and they denounced it, claiming it did not do any justice to the man they knew. In 2004, John Belushi's widow, Judy, hired writer Tanner Colby to co-author a new book with her, this one entitled Belushi: A Biography, which was published in November 2005.

* * *

You be the judge. Here is an excerpt from Colby's article, "The Troubling Things I Learned When I Re-Reported Bob Woodward's Book on John Belushi," published on March 12, 2013. (Click here to read the entire article.)

One of the things that was so spectacular to watch during the filming was the incredible connection that [Belushi] and Landis had. During the scene on the cafeteria line, Landis was talking to Belushi all the way through it, and Belushi was just taking it one step further. What started out as Landis saying, “Okay, now grab the sandwich,” became, in John’s hands, taking the sandwich, squeezing and bending it until it popped out of the cellophane, sucking it into his mouth, and then putting half the sandwich back. He would just go a little further each time.

Co-star Tim Matheson remembered that John "did the entire cafeteria line scene in one take. I just stood by the camera, mesmerized." Other witnesses agree. Every person who recounted that incident to me [Colby] used it as an example of Belushi's virtuoso talent and his great relationship with his director. Landis could whisper suggestions to Belushi on the fly, and he'd spin it into comedy gold. 

Now here it is as Woodward presents it:

Landis quickly discovered that John could be lazy and undisciplined. They were rehearsing a cafeteria scene, a perfect vehicle to set up Bluto's insatiable cravings. Landis wanted John to walk down the cafeteria line and load his tray until it was a physical burden. As the camera started, Landis stood to one side shouting: "Take that! Put that in your pocket! Pile that on the tray! Eat that now, right there!"

John followed each order, loading his pockets and tray, stuffing his mouth with a plate of Jello in one motion. 

* * *

It should make one pause and reconsider. This is why, from the outset, that the research on Bob Crane's life and times for his new biography is an open book to all who participated. This telling will be accurate and not gloss over his life or minimize anything in it.

To apply this same exercise with Bob Crane's biography (as done with Belushi above), here is what Robert Graysmith says about Bob's school days in The Murder of Bob Crane (later retitled AutoFocus). It is the entire extent to which he covers Bob's school days:

Bob attended high school in Stamford, another manufacturing town. He was a good Catholic boy, but his grades were mediocre. The New York State line is only eleven miles from Stamford, and it was in New York City that the boy felt his future lay.

When Bob was fifteen he determined to become a musician; it was the swing era, and percussion was his passion. His favorite drummer was Gene Krupa. Bob loved his ear, his control, his sensitivity and intensity. Krupa, it was said, "did everything but skate on the ceiling," and Crane, as part of his rocking, foot-stomping audience, heard him whenever he could.

A favorite and recurrent dream of Crane's was instant success. "I wanted to be a drummer," he said, "like Gene Krupa..." His eyes would grow wistful as he continued, "I would have this fantasy. I would be at the Paramount Theatre in New York in Times Square, and Louis Prima's drummer would fall sick.

"The theater managers asked, 'Is there a drummer in the house?' I would run up on the stage and play--instant fame!" He sighed. "I never made it, though I never stopped practicing on the skins."

Bob dropped out of high school; he would feel insecure about it for the rest of his life.

Now, here's what Bob's school friends and classmates have told me about Bob for his new biography (and this is just a handful):

Bob had a way about him that could brighten the darkest day. He made others feel good about themselves with a generosity of spirit rare in a teenager or anyone. And we, the remainder of the Class of ’46, have remembered our Drummer Boy fondly throughout the years. We could use some of his sunshine now!

Bob was always in the limelight. Everyone knew who he was, even though we didn’t know him personally. He always had a smile. He most always had drumsticks in his hands. He would tap on lockers, bannisters, or whatever was around as he passed from class to class. Most students knew his name. We were proud to say he made it.

I remember Bob Crane sitting in back of me in school with his "sticks" (fifth grade). He became the "leader of the band" throughout our Stamford High School years. The best are never forgotten.

The school newspaper featured Bob in the April 1946 issue, stating, “His twinkling brown eyes and boyish smile have won him many friends among his classmates. His 5-foot, 11-inch frame is a familiar sight around SHS.” 

Notes: Bob Crane graduated from Stamford High School in 1946. Click here for program listing Bob's name.

Bob also sat in and drummed with many of the classic Big Bands later in life, including the Stan Kenton Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, and Rob Morris and the Band, among others. He also interviewed Gene Krupa over KNX, at which time, the two drummers challenged each other in one of Krupa's infamous drum battles.

* * *

As I have sat and talked at length with Bob Crane's family, his dearest friends, and his most trusted colleagues, and they so vehemently denounce AutoFocus, to the point of tears in some cases, how can that be ignored? They say to me, "I watched AutoFocus through parted fingers, as if watching a train wreck," or they just shake their heads and say, "No, no, no! This was not Bob Crane!" Instead, they say repeatedly he was kind, driven, compassionate, and talented beyond measure, and use words like "genius," "sunny personality," "joy," "funny," "smart," and "ray of sunshine" when describing him. This cannot be ignored.

Today is Easter Sunday, and Passover is drawing to a close. It is, for many, the most religious and spiritual time of year. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, however, I ask you to look at others with a bit more kindness. It's a pretty safe bet that you do not know their whole story.

"The best are never forgotten."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bob Crane on 'The Donna Reed Show' - 1963-1965

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Bob Crane's acting debut on The Donna Reed Show. After seven tremendous years on the air over KNX-CBS Radio in Los Angeles, a hilarious guest appearance on The Dick Van Dyke Show on December 26, 1962, and several other small acting roles, Bob was eager for more. Donna Reed had been a guest on Bob's KNX radio show, and she was enamored with the bright radio star and his on-screen potential. She offered him a guest role in the episode "The Two Doctors Stone," which originally aired over ABC on March 14, 1963. Having successfully won over Donna Reed, her husband and series producer Tony Owen, and audiences, Bob Crane was offered a permanent role on The Donna Reed Show, as next-door neighbor and friend of the Stones, Dr. Dave Kelsey.

Donna Reed, Carl Betz, and Bob Crane (as Dr. Dave Blevins)
in the episode, "The Two Doctors Stone."

It is often misreported that Bob Crane portrayed Dr. Kelsey right from the beginning of his work on The Donna Reed Show; however, he did not. In his first episode, "The Two Doctors Stone," he is credited as Dr. Dave Blevins, a friend and medical colleague of Alex Stone. In this episode, the pair of doctors spend most of the time convincing Donna that she cannot possibly be able to predict Trisha's (Patty Petersen, younger sister of Paul Petersen) cold by the inordinate amount of bananas she is consuming and trying to convince her to take a vacation with Alex. "I could always tell when Jeff was getting sick. He'd eat lots of bananas," she insists as Trisha gobbles up banana after banana. Donna is insulted when Alex pokes fun at her theory, and he tries to make amends. The episode concludes with neither Donna nor Alex being correct; Trisha does not get sick, but Jeff does, canceling any hope for their vacation.

Bob's work on this episode was impressive, and it led to Donna Reed and Tony Owen offering him the regular role of Dr. Dave Kelsey opposite Ann McCrea as his wife Midge. His first episode as Dr. Kelsey, "Friends and Neighbors," originally aired on April 4, 1963. The plot introduces the young Kelseys as they move in next door to the Stones. 

For the next two years, Bob Crane would add an unprecedented amount of spice to the usually sweet family television show. While working on The Donna Reed Show, Bob also held down his regular morning radio show aired over KNX Monday through Friday. He had also been performing a Saturday radio program over KNX, which he stopped doing in 1964. In addition to working on The Donna Reed Show and at KNX, Bob also continued to make public appearances and host celebrity events. It was a grueling schedule, to say the least.

Bob Crane and Ann McCrea as Dave and Midge Kelsey
on "The Donna Reed Show"

"I did The Donna Reed Show for two years," said Bob in a 1976 interview. "I did radio at the same time, and at 10:00 in the morning, I used to finish the radio show, run across the street, and do The Donna Reed Show...I used to get my make-up on during the 9:00 CBS News at Columbia Studios, across the street from CBS Radio. Then I'd run across the street and do the last hour of my radio show, which I had guests on."

In December 1964, a new situation comedy set in an Allied prisoner of war camp in World War II Germany was under development. Bob was cast as the lead in the pilot episode of Hogan's Heroes, and after CBS picked up the series for its Fall 1965 lineup, Bob was offered the role. 

Of course, Bob Crane accepted the part of Colonel Hogan, and the rest is history. Wanting to devote his full attention to Hogan's Heroes, and because of his already-intense schedule juggling both radio and television, he decided to leave his long-time job in radio at KNX. His final appearance as Dr. Kelsey on The Donna Reed Show was on April 8, 1965, in the episode, "Indoor Outing." 

The Donna Reed Show was one of the most successful television programs ever produced, and it continues to entertain audiences 50 to 60 years after its debut. Bob Crane had been seeking such an opportunity ever since coming to Los Angeles from the East Coast in August 1956. His work on The Donna Reed Show as Dr. Dave Kelsey made it possible for him to transition completely from radio into acting, and from there, he would go on to excel in the role many believe he was born to play, that of Colonel Robert Hogan on Hogan's Heroes.