Saturday, June 29, 2013

Remembering Bob Crane: July 13, 1928-June 29, 1978

by Carol Ford

Bob Crane, circa 1965
Click on the photo to enlarge.

"He brightened everybody's life. Really, he was so witty. So original." -George Cukor, August 3, 1968, talking about Bob Crane and his radio work at KNX.

On the evening of June 28, 1978, Bob Crane had finished a showing of his play, Beginner's Luck, in Scottsdale, Arizona. The crowds adored the star of Hogan's Heroes, and they flocked to see him in his live theatre performances in dinner theatres across the country. Following the evening's performance, Bob did his usual stand-up routine for the audience, and after which, he remained in the lobby for awhile signing autographs. Bob loved his fans, and he thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and signing autographs any chance he had. In addition, his daughter, Karen, had just graduated from high school, and he had attended her graduation ceremony in Los Angeles the week prior. His wife, Patty, and their son, Scott, had also just spent time with him in Scottsdale over Father's Day, and he was choked with emotion at the gift he had received - a framed picture of Scott.

But later that night, things took a tragic turn for Bob. After the play, he and his friend, John Henry Carpenter (different from the film director) went to Bobby McGee's, a local restaurant, where, according to a waitress in her 1994 court testimony, the pair had engaged in an intense but otherwise normal conversation. Bob returned to his apartment with Carpenter. He spoke with his wife, Patty, as well as with his mother, by phone. Then, at some point during the early morning hours of June 29, 1978, Bob Crane was murdered as he slept. From the outset, John Carpenter was the primary suspect, and he eventually stood trial in 1994. He was acquitted due to lack of sufficient evidence that could prove he committed the crime beyond reasonable doubt. The case now cold, Bob's murder remains officially unsolved to this day.

Who killed Bob Crane and why will perhaps always remain a mystery. When his body was discovered in the afternoon of June 29, it sparked a media frenzy, not only about his gruesome murder, but also about his lifestyle. Without any attempt to understand why or to go deeper into Bob Crane as a person, the focus shifted to his proclivities to sex. The jokes began at the crime scene over his lifeless body, and they continue to this day.

However, for years, Bob had been struggling with a destructive force in his life. What he had convinced himself as being just the lifestyle of "a normal, red-blooded guy" had taken over, and he no longer could control it. In the months leading up to his death, Bob had been talking a great deal with Rev. Edward Beck, whom he knew as the manager of the Windmill Dinner Theatre circuit, where his play Beginner's Luck had shown in Scottsdale and other cities in the United States. Rev. Beck was a counselor, and during their conversations, Bob confessed that he had tried for several years to stop his addictive sexual behaviors on his own. When he realized that he could not, it shook him. He was in trouble. He knew it, recognized it as an addiction, and wanted out of it. He was seeking serious professional help. He planned to destroy the pornographic tapes he had made with consenting adult women when he returned home to Los Angeles after his play wrapped in just a few days. He intended to start his life over. With several new television projects in the works and a commitment to turn his life around, he was well on his way to making a comeback. 

But Bob never made it home.

People claim they know Bob Crane because they viewed the film Auto Focus. To me and to those who knew Bob intimately (nearly 200 of whom have talked with Dee Young, Linda Groundwater, and me for Bob's new biography), Auto Focus is a disgrace. Bob was much more than this film or the media have made him out to be since his death.

Addiction is not pretty. The struggle to overcome addiction is difficult and painful, and it is an ongoing process. One does not simply "recover" from an addiction. It is always there, waiting for a weak moment, to resurface. One who suffers from any form of addiction must battle it daily, constantly struggling to keep it from regaining control. Overcoming addiction is courageously accepting and dealing with the pain that caused the addiction in the first place. This is what Bob Crane had committed to doing, and for this, he should be commended, not ridiculed.

Bob Crane was neither a devil nor a saint. He was human. He had faults. He had weaknesses. He had strengths. He had virtues. He was not perfect, but he sought warmth and understanding and love and compassion. He was a man who loved to laugh. He loved life. He loved his work as a radio personality and an actor. He loved his music, and especially, his drums. He loved his family and his friends. He loved both his first and second wives dearly. And he loved and adored his children more than anything. He squeezed every second he could out of his short life of 49 years, and he left us much too soon.

On this day we mourn the 35th anniversary of his passing, but we also must remember his true legacy - to laugh, to smile, to work hard, to be kind, and to be a ray of sunshine in this often tired and weary world. This is what Bob Crane would have wanted, and this is how Bob Crane should be remembered.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Looking Ahead to 2014 for the National Radio Hall of Fame for Bob Crane

By Carol Ford
Here we go again!

The National Radio Hall of Fame has announced the inductees for the Class of 2013, and for the third year in a row, Bob Crane has been overlooked. We are left to wonder why.

Bob Crane in his KNX studio booth, Hollywood, CA
May 1964

The number of individuals inducted each year varies. I first nominated Bob Crane in 2011 after discussions with the National Radio Hall of Fame, who agreed he should be included. At that time, there was a public voting process, which is why this and all of our awareness campaign exists. However, in 2011, the National Radio Hall of Fame Steering Committee decided to forego public voting to honor a select few from the Golden Age of Radio. They assured me that Bob's nomination would remain on file for consideration in future classes. To keep his nomination active, I respectfully resubmitted the nomination in 2012 with the understanding that public voting would go forward as planned. But at the last minute, the Steering Committee changed the rules and suspended public voting indefinitely, claiming that they are the ones "in the know" - not the public - and therefore, should be the only voice as to who should be inducted. I again respectfully resubmitted Bob's nomination in early 2013 as I had in 2012. That he is not included again this year as a pioneer in radio is greatly disappointing. Bob Crane can be credited with so much in the radio and broadcasting industry, and to not recognize him properly is a travesty. So many who have already been inducted looked to Bob as a role model in the industry. It is a huge disappointment that he continues to be ignored.

Bob Crane in his WICC studio booth, Bridgeport, CT
Circa 1952

The question persists: Is he being ignored because of his proclivities to sex? Perhaps. But let's consider this. If everyone's private life were taken into account as criteria for any prestigious award, I think it would be a safe bet that there would be quite a few people missing from those lists of honor. Many individuals who have been honored for their work boast similar, if not more outlandish, proclivities than what Bob had done. And it is important to keep in mind two things - 1) Bob was only having sex with and photographing adult women with their consent, and thus, breaking no laws outside his wedding vows, and 2) he recognized this as a very serious and destructive force in his life, calling it an addiction, and sought professional help. None of this in his private life should have been hauled before the media and to the public in the manner in which it was, without any explanation or understanding, all for the sake of profit. If we're going to judge Bob Crane solely by his addiction, then every other person who has ever been inducted into any Hall of Fame or bestowed any kind of honor should be held to the same rigorous judgment as they are doing with Bob.

This does not mean we should do this. However, my point is that Bob should not be treated differently or viewed so harshly because of his addiction.

We look to 2014 with optimism. A new year. A new chance. A new book that tells the real story about Bob Crane. And in the meantime, I encourage you to spread the word. We will see him honored. We - Bob's family, friends, colleagues, and fans - our spirits are high, and we will not give up!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Will 2013 Be Lucky 13 for Bob Crane?

Beginning in 2011, we have been raising awareness about Bob Crane's extensive work in radio and broadcasting. Much of what he did in radio from 1950 to 1965 was unprecedented for its day, and Bob can, without a doubt, be credited with paving the way for radio personalities for generations to come. Over time, many have officially endorsed Bob's nomination, including WLEA in Hornell, NY; WICC in Bridgeport, CT; the Connecticut Broadcasting History organization; members of the Columbia Square (KNX) Alumni Group; and several of his radio colleagues. These outstanding professionals in radio and broadcasting strongly support Bob Crane's induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame. That he has not yet been recognized, considering his rich career in the industry and his dedication to it, is a travesty.

Simply put, Bob's work in radio included many elements:
  • The ability and allowance to play his own records, a ground-breaking move by the Engineers' Union in the mid-1950s.
  • His talents in music and drumming, which he incorporated into his radio show by playing along with songs.
  • Making fun with sponsors' commercials, and by doing so, including them as part of his show rather than a break from his show.
  • Bob was a gifted voice impersonator, having been labeled the "Man of 1000 Voices."
  • Thousands of sound effects.
  • The capability to locate a record, and then the exact groove in that particular record, within seconds to produce the exact sound effect or voice he wanted for that moment in his show.
  • The interviewing of approximately 3,000 individuals over KNX, most of them being celebrities.
  • For a sponsor to buy air time over KNX during Bob's morning program, the sponsor had to buy air time elsewhere during the day. There was a premium to be aired during Bob's show, and you couldn't just be aired over Bob's show. As a result, Bob Crane made KNX a lot of money from 1956-1965.
  • "Arguably the most listenable DJ in LA history, Crane helped uncover and establish several entertainment icons." (Harvey Geller, former Vice President and Editor, Cash Box Magazine (West Coast); Columnist, Feature Writer, Editor, and Sales Executive, Variety Magazine and Billboard Magazine; friend and neighbor of Bob Crane)

Bob Crane interviewed thousands over KNX-CBS Radio / 1956-1965
Click to enlarge the image.

So how is it that Bob Crane has not yet been recognized in the National Radio Hall of Fame? Keep in mind that his lifestyle was shocking only in that it was not what the public had imagined "Colonel Hogan" to be. Further, it did not define who he was. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, this was part of his private life, not anybody else's business except his own, and it was a side of his life that he was not at all proud of. According to Rev. Edward Beck, Bob had recognized his behavior as a powerful and destructive force in his life (he himself called it an addiction), and he was seeking professional help to overcome it shortly before his murder. In what way should any of this deny him of an honor that is so rightfully his? 

Bob's lucky number has always been 13. We are hopeful that 2013 will prove just as lucky, and we will see his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame this year.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bob Crane: 'The Story of My Life'

By Carol Ford

While listening to some of Bob Crane's KNX airchecks recently, I revisited one from February 24, 1960. This particular recording was from a new evening KNX radio show featuring Bob Crane. It was produced in the same format as his morning program, with Bob interviewing celebrity guests, playing music, drumming along with that music, and incorporating his humor into commercials with wild antics, voices, and sound effects. With the success and popularity of Bob Crane's morning show, KNX had decided to try its luck at an evening program as well. 

In 1960, Bob was performing his daily program over KNX from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon. The evening program added one more piece to his already hectic schedule, which included his breaking into acting. He had already added appearances in movies and on television to his growing resume, and The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Donna Reed Show were on the horizon.

Right at the beginning of this recording. Bob starts off by introducing the new evening version of the program and then explains a bit about relocating to California from the East Coast and settling in Tarzana, California, with his first wife and son Bobby. Then, a few seconds later, he says, "I'm going to tell you the story of my life."

As I have been writing Bob's biography and researching for longer than I can recall, when I first heard those words emanating from my computer speakers, naturally, I was a bit excited. Was Bob going to start talking about some of his life history? Would I have quotes right from the horse's mouth, so to speak, that I could include in his biography to help tell his life story?

The answer was, unfortunately, no. No sooner does he make that comment, and Bob begins to joke around. In traditional Bob Crane style, before you even realize what is happening, he had suddenly moved on to something else.

The other day, as I was writing and digging back into my files, checking and rechecking facts and quotes, trying my very best to make this as completely accurate as humanly possible, I remembered Bob saying how he was going to tell his life story in this aircheck. I thought of how wonderful it could have been to have even just a few hours to talk with Bob one-to-one, giving him a chance to say as much as he could say during the time allotted. It was at that point when I realized, no matter how accurate I am, no matter how perfect my research or how skilled my writing, despite that my colleagues and I will publish this book to the best of our ability, it will never, ever be as good as if Bob himself had written it. It is a subtle realization often overlooked during the course of researching and writing a biographical, and thus, historical work. It is a powerful realization none-the-less.

June 29, 2013, will mark the 35th anniversary of Bob's death. Perhaps this will be the year he receives proper recognition into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Hopefully, the same will soon be true of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And with luck and a lot of hard work, next year at this time, we will be holding Bob's new, published biography in our hands. 

But that Bob is not here to write his own autobiography, to tell us his life story in his own words and as he remembered it, is yet another loss for us. He would have had so much to say.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Refocusing on Bob Crane: A Friend Shares His Opinion of 'Auto Focus'

By Carol Ford

I know I have not posted in quite awhile - I wish there were more hours in the day! However, it has not been without good reason. I have been concentrating all of my writing efforts on Bob Crane's biography, and I'm happy to report that it is moving along well. I absolutely cannot wait for it to be written and published so that Bob's full and complete story can finally, after all these decades, be known. 

One individual whom Linda Groundwater and I interviewed for Bob Crane's biography was Bob's good friend and neighbor, Harvey Geller, who had been Vice President and Editor of Cash Box Magazine (West Coast), as well as a feature writer, columnist, reviewer, and sales executive for Billboard and Variety magazines. Mr. Geller had known Bob in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at WICC, and later, after both men had relocated on the West Coast, they reconnected while Bob was at KNX in Hollywood. He provided Linda and me with an interview rich with anecdotes and insights and fascinating history about Bob, information that has never before been shared and will be included in the book. Sadly, Mr. Geller passed away in March 2009.

In October 2002, Harvey Geller wrote a Letter to the Editor that was published in the Los Angeles Times. He had a very strong opinion about the film Auto Focus, which had just been released in theaters. We agree whole-heartedly with his opinion on the film, and although we have shared the link to the article many times, I am also sharing it again here. Mr. Geller sums up in a succinct letter exactly how damaging Auto Focus is and the reason why a new, serious biography about Bob Crane is so desperately necessary.

Source: Los Angeles Times / October 13, 2002
Refocusing on Crane - Harvey Geller discusses his friend Bob Crane
of Hogan's Heroes and his dissatisfaction with the film Auto Focus.

Now...Back to writing.