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.