Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Our Interview with Victoria Berry Wells [Book Excerpt]

During our journey to discover Bob Crane's life story, we interviewed, talked to, and corresponded with well over 200 prominent individuals from Bob's life. And over the course of that time, we came to understand Bob as a whole, complete person. Not just Colonel Hogan. Not just a sex addict. Not just a murder victim. But a human being.

As nearly everyone told us, and as quoted by KMPC engineer Bob Maryon, who worked with Bob at KMPC in the early 1970s: "There's been a lot of negative stuff, and I think it would be nice if there were a positive thing about him. You know people say, 'You're only as good as your last record,' and it's sad because you have a whole life here. So why should your legacy be based on what happened at the end?"

Nobody argues that Bob struggled with addiction. And it was an addiction, one that he recognized shortly before his death and, as we've said again and again, sought to overcome. But let's keep a proper perspective: his addiction was sex with adult, consensual women only, whom he often photographed and/or videotaped with their knowledge and consent. If you want to slap a label on it, the only "abnormality" is the amount of sex he was having. And the key words here are adult and consensual.

It is also important to keep in mind that Bob was chronicling his entire life. Not just his sexual encounters, but everything. From the early years of his life to the very end, he had in some way audiotaped or videotaped or photographed or journaled or recorded/wrote down every single event that happened in his life. Everything. Chronicling his sexual encounters was just a fragment of it. 

Bob Crane with Victoria Berry Wells
Beginner's Luck, June 1978
We got to know so many people from Bob's life, and they are/were some of the most amazing, wonderful, beautiful people on earth. This includes Victoria Berry Wells, or Vicky, as she preferred to be called, who costarred with Bob in the final Scottsdale run of Beginner's Luck in June 1978, and who is notoriously—and sadly—best known for discovering Bob's body on June 29, 1978—several hours after he was murdered.

As you might imagine, such an experience would leave anyone scarred. Vicky had her fair share of nightmares following what she witnessed upon entering Bob's apartment that day. Bob was not just the director and star of Beginner's Luck. He was her friend, and someone she looked up to and respected. And when we talked with her, at times, she was unable to hold back her emotions.

Bob's murder changed her life, as it did for everyone who loved and cared about him. Get to know Bob a little better through Vicky's recollections in the following excerpts from Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. And while you're at it, get to know Vicky a little better, too. 

     [Vicky] found Bob to be pleasant and fun. As an actress, she respected him as an actor, so when Bob offered her the role of Monica in Beginner’s Luck, she was eager to accept. She traveled with Bob and the cast to Ohio in November 1977, where she performed Beginner’s Luck for the first time.
     “I did the show, and I had very good reviews,” Vicky said. “Bob was very proud. I was very sick when I was there, and Bob was absolutely marvelous to me. I had a hysterectomy, that’s how sick I was, and I still worked. Bob took me to the pharmacy. My doctor bought all my medication for me and checked on me every day to see if I was well. But thankfully, I got better. Bob was so marvelous. I will never forget how marvelous and caring he was with my health. But he was very pleased about my reviews, and I traveled with him on the road a few times after that. There was one special thing I remember—one review I got, Bob came running into the dressing room in Dallas, and he came in very excited. He was very professional. He knew I was very serious about my career. He read the reviews all the time, and he had circled the review. It said, ‘Victoria Ann Berry—Her scenes with Crane were the smoothest of the evening.’ And Bob thought that was so unbelievable because it’s a little part, and to have ‘her scenes with Crane were the smoothest of the evening.’ He was so impressed with that. He was so excited. There’s a lot about Bob that I absolutely loved.”
     But there was one thing about Bob that she didn’t absolutely love. Early on in her tour with Beginner’s Luck, Bob wanted to film Vicky in a provocative setting. She only ever allowed him to film her once—by the pool. But it made her extremely uncomfortable, and she told him about it. Like a light switch, he turned off any further desires he may have had to film her, and he never approached her again.
     “He knew I wasn’t into it at all,” Vicky said. “He was very protective of me.”
     Vicky explained that as a director, Bob allowed others to shine and to have their moment. “Bob gave me a chance,” she said. “He let the light shine on me. He never stole the scene. I’ve worked with actors who have stolen the scene from me. People tried to steal scenes from Bob. Bob never tried to steal a scene from me. I used to watch the show every single night, after my part, and then I’d come back for my bows. Bob was a real pro. He was the star. It was about him. But he gave everyone else their chance except with people who would try to take it off him. It was very hurtful. I don’t think Bob had an ego at all. I think he wanted the show to work, and to make a show work, a fine director knows that everybody counts. He was the star of the show. He had the name. The other people were small-time actors. We were blitzed to even get the job.”
     Not everyone was as respectful or professional as Bob would have liked, however.
    “He had problems with egotistical actors, though,” Vicky continued. “But I always knew Bob was right. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind. Not just right, but he was 110% right. He had to deal with a lot of ego. One girl started talking to the audience, making jokes with the audience behind his back. Oh, that was a cardinal sin. Bob was upset about that—he nearly had a heart attack over it. And there was another guy who thought he was a top actor, and he kept trying to do things—like wrong direction and wrong turns and wrong ambiance—against Bob. He tried to make it like Bob was stupid. It was a comedy, not a show to make Bob look stupid. Bob was the star. And they had problems over that. But he dealt with it as it came, and he was on top of everything. No matter what else what he was doing, he was always on top of it. He cared very much about his work. I didn’t think he was an egotistical man. I’d treat him as an equal. Some other people were very egotistical, and he had to sort of stand his ground. And he was always right. I mean, it stood out like a sore thumb how right he was. I have to tell you the truth. I would say if Bob was wrong or out of line. Bob handled it very professionally. He did not lose his cool. He was right. And he had to put up with a lot. I respected him immensely. If he said something, I knew it was right. I never questioned it. I put my trust in him, whereas some people didn’t, obviously. And they were wrong and stupid.”
     When Bob wasn’t performing on stage, Vicky found him to be very “down to earth.” He was older than Vicky, and she respected his experience and enjoyed the fatherly attention he gave to her. 
   “He gave me his all,” Vicky said. “Professionalism. I was so comfortable with him. I was never nervous, and ‘Oh, gee, is he going to yell at me?’ and ‘Did I do something wrong?’ I was free to experiment and improve. I would try different things. He would come in and say, ‘That’s fantastic!’ He would always be positive with me. Only once he corrected me. Only once ever. And I learned to this day how right he was. Bob was right there. Bob was right there 110%.”
     “He seemed very upbeat,” she said. “The only down side that I can remember is he wanted more in his work. That’s a definite. I felt that he wanted to get out and do another series. Badly, I’d say. I think he lost a lot when he was on dinner theatre. I think his soul got a little sad. But he had this pilot coming up that he really wanted me in. But with dinner theatre, he felt, ‘This is what I have to do for now.’ And he made it as professional and as good, and he cared about us, as he could. What was important to him was his family and his work. I think he wanted harmony in all areas. And his family—he was worried about little [Scotty] and getting a divorce made him distraught and stressful. He talked about Scotty. That stands out in my mind. He talked about him so much. That was bothering him—his family. I know he wanted more. He wanted another series. But he kept an upper lip. He was fun to be around. I never saw him distressed except about getting the divorce. His family life was tearing him apart. He wasn’t in a great place. But he was aware of it. He held it together.”
     But Vicky also commented that the need for “more” in his acting career was not a problem that Bob had encountered exclusively. She said, “I think most people that are on Bob Crane’s level as an actor need to have more. Tom Cruise, I’ve worked with him. He needs it. Don Knotts needed it. I mean, everyone I’ve worked with. So I don’t see why Bob would stand out any more than anyone else. Of course he needed it. It was his life. He gave his life to it. And to lose it and just do dinner theatre, I think that’s a very hard thing to do. He wanted to come up. He was not quitting. It was very humbling, to have to step down. But I’ve heard that from Don Knotts and other actors. Not just Bob. So that’s nothing unusual there. That’s just my opinion.”
     Victoria Berry Wells loved working with Bob Crane, and she embraced every moment she spent with him performing Beginner’s Luck. “In a way, I was a little bit like his confidante,” she said. “He was very professional. He loved my work, and he was honest. He became very protective and caring with me. I had to earn that. But I won it. And I got it. And I loved it. And I cherished it.”
     “Bob was a professional actor. A lovable, lovable man. Loved his family. A professional in his work. You couldn’t get any more professional to knowing his lines and knowing his work. He’d been on a successful hit sitcom which gave him that. And plus all his background in radio and all that. But Hogan’s Heroes gave him a lot of confidence, and he evolved out of that. That showed him that he had a successful show and that was part of him. He was tremendously lovable and very professional. And a beautiful man. But he was like two different people. And the other side to me is sad. He needed help. He didn’t see that until much later. But he did see it.

© 2015 Carol M. Ford
Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

'Superfun' Demo Reel (1967) | Starring Mel Blanc, with Bob Crane

After spending many years as a radio personality, Bob Crane became known for his ability to impersonate voices, and KNX christened him their "Man of a Thousand Voices." Whether it was a race car driver, his radio engineer (who sounded a lot like Disney's Ludwig Von Drake), a sentimental and romantic Russian, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, all of the voices heard on the radio in The Twilight Zone episode "Static," or any number of characters, Bob proved he could impersonate anyone.

One interesting bit of trivia discovered while researching Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography concerned his German accent on Hogan's Heroes. To put it bluntly, it's horrible! I had often wondered, as did my coauthors, if Bob had been such a talented voice impersonator during his radio days, why did he seem to have such difficulty with a German accent on Hogan's Heroes

According to Hogan's Heroes directors, Bob didn't have difficulty with it at all. In fact, he was directed to do the accent poorly because the show's producers thought it would make the episode funnier. Just as an accomplished musician might be instructed to play the instrument badly (fans will recall that musician Werner Klemperer performed the violin terribly in a few episodes of Hogan's Heroes), Bob was told to do it wrong. So he did.

There's no question that master voice impersonator—and the official Man of a Thousand Voices—Mel Blanc respected Bob's work in radio and as a voice artist. Mel was a guest on Bob's KNX radio program, and in one instance, he—as Porky Pig—introduced Bob. And as short as this clip is, I have to say, I just love it.

But he didn't stop there. Mel Blanc hired Bob to help him with a new project—Superfun.

Superfun was an "audio cartoon service" for radio stations. Starring and produced by Mel Blanc, its goal was to provide humor to listeners in the same way that comic strips provided humor to newspaper readers. This demo reel, recorded in 1967, also stars Bob Crane as the salesman who promotes Superfun to the fictitious radio station WIMP.

Superfun was well-received by radio stations and listeners across the country when it started airing during the late 1960s. Billboard Magazine published an article on February 11, 1967, which details Superfun, its creator, and some of the stations that played it. (Double click on the image for easier reading.)

As a kid, I loved Mel Blanc's Warner Brothers' cartoons because they always made me laugh. Later, as an adult and an artist, I grew to appreciate the artwork and the voice talent that accompanied the drawings. And Bob Crane's connection to Mel Blanc, as well as Bob's own voice talents,  are discoveries about Bob that will always bring me great joy.