Tuesday, October 27, 2015

'Celebrity Cooks'—The Real Story Behind Bob Crane's Appearance

"I'm happy to set right a wrong... [Bob Crane was] a true professional. A well-together, fun gentleman. Full of laughs. The most well-adjusted person you'd ever want to meet. 
I wish you nothing but success [for your book]."
—Derek Smith, owner and producer, 'Celebrity Cooks'

The original, unofficial story goes something like this:

In the late spring of 1978, Bob Crane guest-starred on the Canadian television series Celebrity Cooks. A few days later, on June 29, he was murdered. His episode was supposed to air on July 10, but on July 1, it was pulled from the lineup out of respect. One source—a CBS network spokesman, Jeff Erdel—provided more details to a curious public about his decision not to air the episode. Upon reviewing the tape shortly following Bob's murder, Erdel claimed to have watched a wretched, sleazy, and broken Bob Crane stumble through the show. According to Erdel, Bob made inappropriate jokes about sex, and he talked extensively about death—making "death jokes," which Erdel found to be eerie in the wake of Bob's murder. Erdel also said he saw Bob crying, choking back tears as he discussed his separation and impending divorce from his second wife, Patricia Olson (Sigrid Valdis). This all happened in front of a live studio audience and as the cameras rolled. Erdel made his feelings about the episode known to the press immediately following Bob's murder. A few months later, he gave an exclusive interview with a gossip magazine journalist, who published a lengthy article, claiming that Bob's alleged questionable state of mind—evident to at least Erdel in the Celebrity Cooks episode—may have led to his murder. According to Erdel, Bob's episode never aired. Robert Graysmith later wrote about the event in his book, The Murder of Bob Crane, and it was also depicted in the Bob Crane biopic, Auto Focus.

It certainly makes for an interesting story, and my colleagues Linda Groundwater, Dee Young, and I had no reason to doubt what the media, a journalist, a seasoned author, and a movie producer told the world. Our bigger question was—why? What really happened on that day of the Celebrity Cooks taping? Why had Bob not been able to hold it together? What was going through his mind to cause him such angst, to the point where he could not control his emotions before the cameras and an audience? Others had talked to us at length about Bob's professionalism. His work was extremely important to him, and he was driven toward success. Bob did have a broad sense of humor, but behaving in such a manner was way out of character for him. And for this to have happened so close to his murder must have meant he was in deep despair and on the edge. What a terrible, heartbreaking thought. So we set out to find out.

Linda and I interviewed three people directly affiliated with Celebrity Cooks, and more importantly, who were present on the day of Bob's episode taping: owner and producer Derek Smith, talent agent Anne Kear, and stage manager Roger Packer. We spoke to them separately, with none of them able to influence the others' responses. And what we discovered was both enlightening—and disturbing.

According to Smith, Kear, and Packer, everything that has been told about Bob Crane's appearance on Celebrity Cooks before now is wrong, completely inaccurate, and nothing more than salacious hype. They were furious about how Bob and his Celebrity Cooks episode have been portrayed over the years, and they were more than happy to set things right.

Bob Crane with Celebrity Cooks host Bruno Gerussi share a laugh with
their live studio audience. (January 25, 1978)
In fact, according to all three, Bob was not only a terrific guest, he was one of their best guests. They recalled he was very personable and funny, and received an enthusiastic and warm response from his audience. He and host Bruno Gerussi had a lot of fun making his signature dish, "Chicken a la Hogan's Heroes." The only joke about death that producer Derek Smith recalled was one about cannibals having the mother-in-law for dinner, and the fact that he could not remember anything out of the ordinary meant that the episode had gone well.

At no point did anyone find Bob's temperament or disposition to be off-color, inappropriate, or in the least bit depressed. According to all three, there was no crying or talk of sex or his marital troubles. In fact, if Bob had exhibited any of those traits as reported by Erdel, they would have stopped tape and allowed him to collect himself, or they would have cancelled the episode entirely. Celebrity Cooks aired in the mid-afternoon, a time when young children would be watching. There was no way the producers or anyone connected with the show would have allowed an out-of-control guest ruin their reputation for providing wholesome, light, family entertainment.

Bob's episode was taped on January 25, 1978, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His was the second of three episodes taped that day. The other two episodes were with renowned French chef Julia Child, who taped the first and third episodes. It aired at least five times in Canada, beginning in February 1978 and repeated several times throughout the winter and spring of that year. Bob's episode was so well received, in fact, that it was going to be the first episode to be aired in syndication in the United States, and it was set for July 10, 1978. That is, until one man's uncorroborated opinion following Bob's untimely death changed all that.

This new information certainly made for a less-sensational story than the version that has been circulating and told ad nauseam since his death. In this case, the lack of story is the real story. There simply was no story, and so, one was exaggerated or, at worst, invented—for what? Fifteen minutes of fame? Ratings? Who knows. But it forced yet another unnecessary—and incorrect—footnote to Bob's legacy. And that is most disturbing.

When people ask us, "Why did you write Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography?", I give them examples. There are so many reasons why. And Bob Crane's Celebrity Cooks appearance is just one of many instances where others trying to tell his life story got it very, very wrong, and it must be made right.

Listen to our expanded podcast episode about Bob's appearance on Celebrity Cooks:

Note: Bob Crane's Celebrity Cooks appearance is covered in great detail in Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. For more information, click here.