Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bob Crane Biography Book Signing / February 6, 2016 / Barnes & Noble, Deptford, NJ

Beginning at 1:00 p.m. on February 6, 2016, I will be available at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Deptford, New Jersey, to sign copies of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography and answer any questions you may have. The winter weather can be a gamble in the Northeast, but I'm hoping that the snowstorm that clobbers us this weekend will satisfy Mother Nature until after my author event. Should there be inclement weather, however, I'll update this post and advise everyone on all of my social media sites. I'm looking forward to yet another fun and successful time meeting people and fans of Bob Crane and Hogan's Heroes! Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Excerpts from 'Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography' (Chapter 1)

Bob Crane was a fascinating, kind, gentle, caring, and generous person. He was not without faults, but then, the same is true for all of us. That his addiction and murder are continually scrutinized, to the exclusion of nearly all else, is wrong and just plain sad to me. There is a lot more to his story—660 pages worth!

More than anything, I want you to discover who Bob Crane was as a person. It's so important to understand that he was so much more than Colonel Hogan, should never be defined by his sexual addiction, and was not just a murder victim. He was a son, a husband, a father, a cousin, a friend, a coworker. He was a human being. And he was a good human being at that.

I want you to read Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography so badly, but not because I want to get rich off of it. 

All author profits are being donated to charity in Bob Crane's memory.

That is how much this book—and Bob's life—mean to me, my two co-authors, Bob's family, his friends, and all who loved him and cared about him. It's not about the money. It's about the truth. Bob deserves better, much better, than what has been dished out about him since his death.

So I will give you some excerpts over the next few weeks, chapter by chapter, from Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. All I ask is that you allow yourself the chance to discover and learn. 


The following excerpt is from "Chapter 1: The Spirit of Stamford"
Alfred John Crane (Al, Jr.) was Bob's older brother. Charlie Zito was Bob's best friend from school. Don (Sappern) was also a close high school friend who played in the jazz band with Bob.

World War II was at its peak when Bob was in high school. There was food rationing. No more than two pounds of meat per family. Butter was unheard of. Sugar from Cuba had been cut off for fear of the trade ships being sunk. Three and a half gallons of gasoline per week were permitted unless it was to be used for something pertaining to one’s job. The war affected every part of life. For many, it meant enlisting in a branch of the service and going “over there” to fight. For those who stayed on the homefront, it meant volunteering and sacrificing—doing any and all that could be done to support the United States Armed Forces and help the Allies win the war.

At night, windows were heavily draped, with no lights showing through. During air raid drills, Charlie Zito’s father, an air raid warden, went around to different neighborhoods ensuring lights were out. With the city of Stamford blacked out, Bob’s father would go to the rooftop of Stamford High School, where he and other volunteers would watch the night sky for enemy aircraft. If an enemy plane was suspected, it was reported.

Kids in school during that time had more of a “superman” approach to the war. Charlie explained, “You never really thought about dying at that age. If somebody was going to die, it wasn’t going to be us.”

Nevertheless, it was a very serious time for high school students. Gym class consisted of commando training, push-ups, and according to Charlie, “other more strenuous forms of torture.”

“We didn’t have gym,” Charlie recalled. “We went outside with gym shorts on—ice, snow, mud, whatever—and did calisthenics and ran around the track. They had somebody teaching us hand-to-hand combat. They really were trying to toughen us up.” 

Families with sons serving overseas on the front lines posted little flags in the shape of a pennant upside down in their windows. If you had one son in the service, you had one pennant or star. Some families had three sons in the service, so there would be three flags. If you lost a son, it was etched in black. Bob’s family displayed such a flag, and it came very close to being etched in black.

In August 1943, when Bob was fifteen years old, Al, Jr. joined the Navy, and on August 11, 1944, he reported for duty on the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) aircraft carrier. The Bunker Hill saw action in the Pacific Theater, and Al saw at least four major engagements while serving on duty. Al was on board on the morning of May 11, 1945, just three days shy of his nineteenth birthday. While supporting the Okinawa invasion, the carrier was attacked by two kamikazes, severely damaging the ship. Her losses included three hundred forty-six men killed, forty-three missing, and two hundred sixty-four wounded.

When it was learned that the ship had been attacked and badly crippled, the Crane household went into turmoil. “The waiting and the waiting and the waiting,” Charlie recalled. “Wondering did Al survive? It was just terrible.”

Communications in 1945 were not as they are today, and nearly three weeks passed before word arrived about Al’s fate. During those weeks of not knowing, which Charlie said seemed like an eternity, Bob would go to Charlie’s house often.

Bob was devastated by the possibility that his brother might have been killed. He held it together most of the time, but when he was with his closest confidants, he would let his true feelings show.

“I’ll tell you,” Charlie said, “if you really got into it with him, and I didn’t like to do that too much—I didn’t want to see Bob that way—he would be brought to tears. And so consequentially, when it got to that point, I would change the subject. And then he caught on, and then he would change the subject, and we’d forget about it for awhile. It just wasn’t the same. He didn’t want to upset his parents. He didn’t want his parents to think he was still going on with his life and having all the fun he was having at the time. He thought maybe they would get the wrong impression. He used to bring a drum with him, and he’d play, and I’d play piano, and we’d listen to some of my records. But it wasn’t the same.”

Al survived the attack, but not without physical and psychological injury. Seeking an escape out of the burning hull, he climbed up a red-hot chain out of the fire to the ship’s surface, and he was badly wounded. Later, he learned that his shipmate who had relieved him of his radio post shortly before the attack occurred was killed in the attack. While Al had been very proud to serve in the war and on the Bunker Hill, he would carry these scars of guilt with him for the rest of his life.

When word reached Stamford that Al was alive, “it was like Christmas,” Charlie recalled. “It had been sad, especially the not knowing. Every time you’d see it—what we used to do to have fun, it was always in the background. There was a war on. Your neighbors were being killed. Brothers were being killed. And not knowing for a long time that Bob’s brother did survive was horrible.”

The school was preparing to graduate Bob, Charlie, Don, and many of their classmates and friends early so they could enter the war. Their report date was to have been May 20, 1945. With Victory in Europe (VE) Day occurring only a few days prior, on May 8, 1945, they just missed their draft date by a mere fraction. Their parents breathed a sigh of relief, and instead of going off to fight a war, their kids continued on with school.

Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography
© 2015 Carol M. Ford
Do not reproduce without written permission from the author.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Rod Serling Hated 'Hogan's Heroes' — And That's Okay!

My mother hates Hogan's Heroes.

Yes, that's right. The woman who gave birth to the author who would one day write and publish a 660-page tome about the show's star despises the series that gave the world Colonel Hogan and made Bob Crane an international celebrity. Yikes!

My mom and I have a healthy, loving, mother-daughter relationship. She is the backbone of the entire family, and she supports my sister and me in all we do. She also likes Bob Crane as a radio personality and as an actor in general. And through the work of her rather determined and somewhat tenacious daughter, she has come to understand Bob Crane on a truer, more human level.

But Mom just never liked Hogan's Heroes. And for that matter, she never liked M*A*S*H or Doctor Who, but she can binge-watch NCIS and the Hallmark Channel's Christmas movies like it's nobody's business.

And so it goes. We all like and dislike certain things in the world. That's what makes us unique. If we want people to respect us for what we like, then the opposite must hold true. And if we dislike a certain television show or movie, it does not necessarily mean we hate the actors appearing in it. In most instances, we just don't care for the plot.

Recently, a Twitter discussion ensued about Rod Serling, the creative genius behind The Twilight Zone, and his abhorrence of Hogan's Heroes. His disgust of the series was so profound that his daughter, Anne Serling, felt compelled to include it in her highly acclaimed memoir, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.

Serling's daughter doesn't hold back when she talks about her father's hatred of Hogan, Klink, and Schultz, and their World War II German POW camp antics. She writes:

One program, though, that we are never allowed to watch is Hogan's Heroes, about a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. My father has a particular abhorrence of this show and no tolerance for how it perversely twists what happened in Nazi prison camps into something remotely comical. Years later, in a speech at the Library of Congress in Washington, it is clearly still on his mind.
'You take a show like Hogan's Heroes. Now, here you have a weekly, mirth-filled half hour that shows what a swinging ball it must have been in a Nazi POW camp. Now, there's a slight deviation from the norm in that there are good guys on this show; certainly, but there are no bad guys, at least not in the sense that we're used to recognizing our enemies as they appeared in old Warner Brothers films... 
'Now through the good offices of Hogan's Heroes, we meet the new post-war version of the wartime Nazi: a thick, bumbling fathead whose crime, singularly, is stupidity—nothing more. He's kind of a lovable, affable, benign Herman Goering. Now this may appeal to some students of comedy who refuse to let history get in the way of their laughter. But what it does to history is to distort, and what it does to a recollection of horror that is an ugly matter of record is absolutely inexcusable. Satire is one thing, because it bleeds, and it comments as it evokes laughter. But a rank diminishment of what was once an era of appalling human suffering, I don't believe, is proper material for comedy.'
He goes on to suggest that the success of Hogan's Heroes could lead to The Merry Men of Auschwitz, or Milton Berle in a new musical version of the Death March on Bataan, or a singular shot spectacular, The Wit and Wisdom of Adolph Hitler (pp. 133-134).

There is little doubt that Rod Serling loathed Hogan's Heroes. His words are harsh, and they cut to the quick. Any fan of Hogan's Heroes (and I'm one of them!) would leap to the show's defense. Robert Clary, who is Jewish, spent two years in concentration camps and lost many of his family members to the Nazis. Yet he wasn't offended by Hogan's Heroes and enjoyed portraying his character Corporal Louis LeBeau. Other series stars who were Jewish (or of Jewish heritage) include Werner Klemperer, John Banner, Leon Askin, and Howard Caine. Cynthia Lynn and her mother and grandmother survived German-occupied Latvia. John Banner is quoted as saying Schultz is, in fact, not stupid: "Notice that he survives." And Werner Klemperer agreed to play the role of Colonel Klink only if Klink were always made out to be the fool.

Bob Crane's brother almost died serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II (he was badly injured), so before Bob even considered signing the contract to play Colonel Hogan, he insisted that the producers show veterans and former POWs an early trailer to be sure they were not offended by the series. They loved it, saying without humor, they never would have made it through the war. Bob also spent a great deal of time defending the plot of Hogan's Heroes, saying it was not about making the Germans look foolish. Klink and Schultz are the buffoons, but the Nazis that visited the camp from Berlin had to be convincing as bad guys. He also defined it as a show that was a mock of authority, and according to his fan mail, people loved it when he gave it to Klink because they could relate: it was like giving it to the boss.

For Bob Crane: The Definitive BiographyHogan's Heroes director Robert Butler explained to Linda Groundwater and me that the backdrop of war was a crucial element in the success of a show. It just "works." The drama is heightened because any one of the good guys could "get drilled" at any time. He said you do "moments," where the viewer is given a taste of that wartime tension before the comic relief. 

An example of one of those "moments" comes from a fan favorite, "Will the Real Adolph Please Stand Up," where Sergeant Andrew Carter (Larry Hovis) impersonates Hitler for the first time (and really convincingly, I might add!). Carter stumbles onto his uncanny ability to impersonate Hitler rather innocently, and he makes the mistake of doing his Adolph schtick in front of his commanding officer, Colonel Hogan. And Hogan really lets him have it. 

This is what separates silly nonsense from smart comedy. Realism. There is no way Stalag 13 could have existed in real life, but the tension of war did. And Bob Crane and his fellow cast members capture that tension regularly throughout the run of the series. Hogan's Heroes was not allowed to grow, however, in the same way that M*A*S*H eventually did. It always stayed in the same formula week after week, and part of that is the era in which it was produced. 

But I can talk until I'm blue in the face. There will always be those people who just don't like Hogan's Heroes. They, including my Mom and Rod Serling, can't get past the horrors of war and the atrocities caused by the Nazis.

And that's okay.

In fact, it's more than okay. To each his own. What would we talk about if we were all exactly the same and liked all the same things?

All of this aside, what should not be confused is how Rod Serling felt about Bob Crane. Just because Serling hated Hogan's Heroes does not mean he hated Bob. He held absolutely no personal animosity toward Bob despite his utter dislike of Bob's star vehicle.

The truth is—Rod Serling did like Bob Crane. He simply disliked a television series. It could have been anybody in the title role of Colonel Hogan. Serling would have hated the series just the same. While it's a safe bet that Serling would have preferred it if Bob had declined the role of Hogan, his hatred of Hogan's Heroes was not a personal attack on his friend and colleague.

Bob Crane and Rod Serling enjoyed a long professional relationship over the years. Serling was a frequent guest on Bob's KNX radio program. Ironically, in the clip below (which aired live on December 11, 1961), they discuss those people who hate The Twilight Zone (in this case, the episode "The Shelter") and those who write compulsively to Serling to tell him about it. Serling's response is to quote the 1st Amendment, stating that there should be no abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. Regarding his hate mail, Serling says, "I'm delighted. Let them write anything they want. I don't think we're in trouble in this country if we let people say, talk, think, comment. This isn't our problem. It's when we start to abridge that."

In November 1960, Bob got his first major break in television. Rod Serling hired him to play the uncredited radio announcer in The Twilight Zone episode, "Static." Bob was known as radio's Man of 1,000 Voices, and he performs all of the voices heard on the radio in this episode. The episode taped on November 20, 1960, and Bob was paid $155.00 for his voice over work "of more than five lines" in the episode. "Static" aired on March 10, 1961.

During Bob's post-Hogan's Heroes days, Serling hired Bob to perform several times in his Zero Hour radio mystery series. And Bob also guest-starred on Serling's television series Night Gallery in the episode "House with Ghost" (also with co-star and friend Bernard Fox). Further, Bob's daughter, Karen Crane, grew up with Anne Serling, and the two remain friends to this day.

When all is said and done, Rod Serling simply didn't like Hogan's Heroes and wanted to let people know. He expressed himself constructively and without personally attacking any one individual, from Bob Crane to anyone connected with the series. I see Hogan's Heroes differently, as did Bob and many others. But I respect Serling's feelings and those of others who dislike the very program that I describe as brilliant and one of my all-time favorites. 

It's not the the end of the world if we are different from one another and have varying opinions. That's what makes life fun! We're only in trouble if, as Serling states, we start to abridge that diversity.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bob Crane and John Banner Appear on 'The John Gary Show'—June 29, 1966

On Wednesday, June 29, 1966, Bob Crane made a guest appearance on The John Gary Show. Joining him were his Hogan's Heroes co-star John Banner, Vicki Carr, and Roger Williams. Similar to other programs of the era, The John Gary Show was a variety show and featured a lot of singing, dancing, skits, and of course, in this episode, Bob's drumming.

As a radio personality at KNX from 1956 to 1965, Bob interviewed thousands of celebrities, and in the early 1960s, John Gary was a guest on his show. Bob actually had two celebrity guests on the air that day—John Gary and Richard Chamberlain. Those who were present claimed that both were wonderful guests and that John Gary was "very sweet and so nice." Bob and his two guests had a great time on the air, and even encountered an awkward moment when he and Richard Chamberlain called the winner of a hi-fi stereo system, and took the winner completely by surprise! There is little doubt that John's experiences on Bob's KNX radio show led to him asking Bob to appear on his own program a few years later while Bob was on hiatus from Hogan's Heroes.

Bob loved music in general, and in addition to his drums, he loved to sing. During his early school days, he would walk to school with his friends, singing away and teaching his pals the lyrics of the day. But we never got to hear much of his singing on Hogan's Heroes or other works (with the exception of him singing along with songs on his radio shows, or on programs such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Hollywood Palace). But here, on The John Gary Show, Bob sings along with John Banner, "What Would You Do Without Me?"—and the two of them performing the number dressed in their Hogan's outfits is adorable and priceless! This episode is no longer available on YouTube, but scroll down to the bottom of this post for ordering information directly from John Gary's estate.



I'm happy to say that this episode is available for sale through John Gary's estate/website. If you're a Hogan's Heroes and Bob Crane fan, you won't be disappointed! Click the image below to be redirected to their website and order your own copy!
Be sure to check out their other items as well.