A drummer starting at 11 years of age, Crane began his career as a radio personality, first in New York City and then Connecticut before moving to Los Angeles, where he hosted the number-one rated morning show. In the early 1960s, he moved into acting, eventually landing the lead role of Colonel Robert E. Hogan in Hogan's Heroes. The series aired from 1965 to 1971, and Crane received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for his work on the series. After Hogan's Heroes ended, Crane's career declined. He became frustrated with the few roles he was being offered and began doing dinner theater. In 1975, he returned to television in the NBC series The Bob Crane Show. The series received poor ratings and was cancelled after 13 weeks. Afterwards, Crane returned to performing in dinner theaters and also appeared in occasional guest spots on television.
While on tour for his play Beginner's Luck in June 1978, Crane was found bludgeoned to death in his Scottsdale apartment, a murder that remains officially unsolved. This suspicious nature of his death and later revelations about his personal life gradually changed Crane's posthumous image from a cultural icon to a controversial figure.
Crane was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and spent his childhood and teenaged years in Stamford. He began playing drums, and by junior high was organizing local drum and bugle parades with his neighborhood friends. He later joined his high school's marching and jazz bands and the orchestra. He played for the Connecticut and Norwalk Symphony Orchestras as part of their youth orchestra program. He graduated from Stamford High School in 1946. In 1948, Crane enlisted for two years in the Connecticut Army National Guard and was honorably discharged in 1950.
In 1949, Crane married his high-school sweetheart Anne Terzian. They had three children - Robert David, Deborah Anne, and Karen Leslie.
In 1950, Crane began his broadcasting career at WLEA in Hornell, New York. He soon moved to WBIS in Bristol, Connecticut, and then WICC in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a 1,000-watt operation with a signal covering the northeastern portion of the New York metropolitan area. In 1956, he was hired by CBS Radio to host the morning show at its West Coast flagship KNX in Los Angeles, partly to re-energize that station's ratings and partly to halt his erosion of suburban ratings at WCBS in New York City. In California, he filled the broadcast with sly wit, drumming, and such guests as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope. His show quickly topped the morning ratings with adult listeners in the Los Angeles area, and Crane became "king of the Los Angeles airwaves".
Crane's acting ambitions led to guest-hosting for Johnny Carson on the daytime game show Who Do You Trust? and appearances on The Twilight Zone (uncredited), Channing, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and General Electric Theater. After Carl Reiner appeared on his radio show, Crane persuaded him to book a guest appearance on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
After seeing Crane's performance on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Donna Reed offered him a guest shot on her program. After the success of that episode his character, Dr. David Kelsey, was incorporated into the story line and Crane became a regular cast member, beginning with the "Friends and Neighbors" episode. Crane continued to work full-time at KNX during his stint on The Donna Reed Show, running back and forth from the KNX studio at Columbia Square to Columbia Studios. He left the show in December 1964.
In 1965, Crane was offered the starring role in a television situation comedy about a German POW camp. Hogan's Heroes became a hit and finished in the top 10 in its first year on the air. The distinctive military-style snare drum rhythm that introduces the show's theme song was played by Crane himself. The series lasted for six seasons, and Crane was nominated for an Emmy Award twice, in 1966 and 1967. In 1968, he became romantically involved with cast member Patricia Olson, who played Hilda under the stage name Sigrid Valdis. He divorced Anne in 1970, just prior to their 21st anniversary, and married Olson on the set of the show later that year. Their son, Scotty, was born June 4, 1971, and they later adopted a daughter, Ana Marie. The couple separated in 1977, but according to several family members, reconciled shortly before Crane's death.
In 1968, Crane and series costars Werner Klemperer, Leon Askin, and John Banner appeared with Elke Sommer in a feature film, The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz, set in the divided city of Berlin during the Cold War. In 1969, Crane starred with Abby Dalton in a dinner theater production of Cactus Flower.
Crane frequently videotaped and photographed his own sexual escapades. During the run of Hogan's Heroes, Richard Dawson introduced Crane to John Henry Carpenter, a regional sales manager for Sony Electronics, who often helped famous clients with their video equipment. The two men struck up a friendship and began going to bars together. Crane attracted women due to his celebrity status and introduced Carpenter as his manager. Later, they would videotape their sexual encounters. While Crane's son Robert later insisted that all of the women were aware of the videotaping and consented to it, some, according to one source, had no idea that they had been filmed until informed by Scottsdale police after Crane's murder. Carpenter later became national sales manager at Akai, and arranged his business trips to coincide with Crane's dinner-theater touring schedule so that the two could continue seducing and videotaping women after Hogan's Heroes had run its course.
Following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes, Crane appeared in two Disney films: Superdad (1973), in the title role, and Gus (1976). In 1973, he purchased the rights to a comedy play called Beginner's Luck and began touring it, as its star and director, at the Showboat Dinner Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida, the La Mirada Civic Theatre in California, the Windmill Dinner Theatre in Scottsdale, Arizona, and other dinner theaters around the country.
Between theater engagements, he guest-starred in a number of TV shows, including Police Woman, Gibbsville, Quincy, M.E., and The Love Boat. In 1975, Crane returned to TV with his own series, The Bob Crane Show on NBC, which was cancelled after 13 episodes.
In early 1978, Crane taped a travel documentary in Hawaii, and recorded an appearance on the Canadian cooking show Celebrity Cooks. Neither aired in the U.S. following his death. His appearance on Celebrity Cooks did air in Canada in late 1978, and was recreated in the biopic film Auto Focus.
In June 1978, Crane was living in the Winfield Place Apartments in Scottsdale, Arizona, during a run of Beginner's Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theatre. On the afternoon of June 29, Crane's co-star Victoria Ann Berry entered his apartment after he failed to show up for a lunch meeting and discovered his body. Crane had been bludgeoned to death with a weapon that was never identified, though investigators believed it to be a camera tripod. An electrical cord had been tied around his neck.
Crane's funeral, on July 5, 1978, was held at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westwood. An estimated 200 family members and friends attended, including Patty Duke, John Astin, and Carroll O'Connor. Pallbearers included Hogan's Heroes producer Edward Feldman, co-stars Larry Hovis, Robert Clary, and Crane's son Robert. He was interred in Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California. Olson later had his remains relocated to Westwood Village Memorial Park in Westwood, and was buried beside him (under her stage name, Sigrid Valdis) after her death from lung cancer in 2007.
The Scottsdale Police Department, like most its size, had no homicide division, and was ill-equipped to handle a high-profile murder investigation. The crime scene yielded few clues; no evidence of forced entry was found, and nothing of financial value was missing. Detectives examined Crane's extensive videotape collection, which led them to John Henry Carpenter, who had flown to Phoenix on June 25 to spend a few days with Crane. Carpenter's rental car was impounded and searched. Several blood smears were found that matched Crane's blood type; no one else known to have been in the car, including Carpenter, tested for that type. (DNA testing was not yet available.) With no other significant material evidence, the Maricopa County Attorney declined to file charges.
In 1990, Scottsdale Detective Jim Raines, a former Phoenix homicide investigator, re-examined the evidence from 1978 and persuaded the county attorney to reopen the case. Although DNA testing of the blood found in Carpenter's rental car was inconclusive, Raines discovered an evidence photograph of the car's interior that appeared to show a piece of brain tissue. The actual tissue samples recovered from the car had been lost, but an Arizona judge ruled that the new evidence was admissible. In June 1992, Carpenter was arrested and charged with Crane's murder.
At the 1994 trial, Crane's son Robert testified that in the weeks before his father's death, Crane had repeatedly expressed a desire to sever his friendship with Carpenter. He said Carpenter had become "a hanger-on" and "a nuisance to the point of being obnoxious". "My dad expressed that he just didn't need Carpenter kind of hanging around him anymore," he said. He testified that Crane had called Carpenter the night before the murder and ended their friendship.
Carpenter's attorneys attacked the prosecution's case as circumstantial and inconclusive. They presented evidence, including witnesses from the restaurant where the two men had dined the evening prior to the murder, that Carpenter and Crane were still the best of friends. They noted that the murder weapon had never been identified or found; the prosecution's camera tripod theory was sheer speculation, they said, based solely on Carpenter's occupation. They disputed the claim that the newly discovered evidence photo showed brain tissue, and presented many examples of "sloppy work" by police, such as the mishandling and misplacing of evidence—including the crucial tissue sample itself. They pointed out that Crane had been videotaped and photographed in compromising sexual positions with numerous women, implying that any one of them, fearing blackmail, might have been the killer. Other potential suspects proposed by defense attorneys included angry husbands and boyfriends of the seduced women, and an actor who had sworn vengeance after a violent argument with Crane in Texas several months earlier.
Carpenter was acquitted. He continued to maintain his innocence until his death four years later, in 1998. After the trial, Robert Crane speculated publicly that Crane's widow, Patricia Olson, might have had a role in instigating the crime. "Nobody got a dime out of [the murder]," he said, "except for one person," alluding to Crane's will, which excluded him, his siblings, and his mother, and left the entire estate to Olson. Robert Crane repeated his suspicions in a 2015 book. Maricopa County District Attorney Rick Romley, who prosecuted the case, responded, "We never characterized Patty as a suspect." He added, "I am convinced John Carpenter murdered Bob Crane." Officially, Crane's murder remains unsolved.
In November 2016, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office permitted Phoenix television reporter John Hook to submit the 1978 blood samples from Carpenter's rental car for retesting, using a more advanced DNA technique than the one used in 1990. Two sequences were identified, one from an unknown male, and the other too degraded to reach a conclusion.
Crane's life and murder were the subject of the 2002 film Auto Focus, directed by Paul Schrader and starring Greg Kinnear as Crane. The film, described as "brilliant" by critic Roger Ebert, portrays Crane as a happily married, church-going family man and popular Los Angeles disc jockey who succumbs to Hollywood's celebrity lifestyle after becoming a television star, meets Carpenter, learns the wonders of home video, and descends into a life of strip clubs, BDSM, and sex addiction.
Scotty, Crane's son with Olson, challenged the film's accuracy in an October 2002 review. "During the last 12 years of his life," he wrote, "[Crane] went to church three times: when I was baptized, when his father died, and when he was buried." Crane was a sex addict long before he became a star, he said, and may have begun recording his sexual encounters as early as 1956. There was no evidence, he claimed, that Crane engaged in BDSM; none was portrayed in any of his hundreds of home movies, and Schrader admitted that the film's BDSM scene was based on his own personal experience (while writing Hardcore). Scotty Crane and Olson had shopped a rival script alternately titled F-Stop and Take Off Your Clothes and Smile, but interest ceased after Auto Focus was announced.
In June, 2001, Scotty Crane launched the website bobcrane.com. It included a paid section featuring photographs, outtakes from his father's sex films, and Crane's autopsy report that proved, he said, that his father did not have a penile implant as stated in Auto Focus. The site was renamed "Bob Crane: The Official Web Site", but now appears to be defunct, and his "Official" site is currently maintained by CMG Worldwide.
|1961||Return to Peyton Place||Peter White||Uncredited|
|1964||The New Interns||Drunken Prankster at Baby Shower||Uncredited|
|1968||The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz||Bill Mason|
|1953||General Electric Theater||||Episode: "Ride the River"|
|1959||Picture Window||Jerry McEvoy||Unaired pilot|
|1961||The Twilight Zone||Disc Jockey||Episode: "Static", uncredited|
|1961||General Electric Theater||Harry||Episode: "The $200 Parlay"|
|1962||The Dick Van Dyke Show||Harry Rogers||Episode: "Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra"|
|1963||The Alfred Hitchcock Hour||Charlie Lessing||Segment: "The Thirty-First of February"|
|1963||Channing||Prof. Arlen||Episode: "A Hall Full of Strangers"|
|1963-1965||The Donna Reed Show||Dr. Dave Kelsey||62 episodes|
|1965-1971||Hogan's Heroes||Col. Robert E. Hogan||168 episodes|
|1966||The Lucy Show||Himself||Episode: "Lucy and Bob Crane"|
|1967||The Red Skelton Show||Col. Hogan||Episode: "Freddie's Heroes"|
|1969||Arsenic and Old Lace||Mortimer Brewster||Television film|
|1969||Love, American Style||Howard Melville||Episode: "Love and the Modern Wife"|
|1971||Love, American Style||Mark||Episode: "Love and the Logical Explanation"|
|1971||Love, American Style||||Episode: "Love and the Waitress"|
|1971||The Doris Day Show||Bob Carter||Episode: "And Here's... Doris"|
|1971||Night Gallery||Ellis Travers||Episode: "House - with Ghost"|
|1972||The Delphi Bureau||Charlie Taggett||Television pilot|
|1974||Tenafly||Sid Pierce||Episode: "Man Running"|
|1974||Police Woman||Larry Brooks||Episode: "Requiem for Bored Wives'|
|1975||The Bob Crane Show||Bob Wilcox||13 episodes|
|1976||Joe Forrester||Alban||Episode: "The Invaders"|
|1976||Ellery Queen||Jerry Crabtree||Episode: "The Adventure of the Hardhearted Huckster"|
|1976||Spencer's Pilots||Cozens||Episode: "The Search"|
|1977||Quincy, M.E.||Dr. Jamison||Episode: "Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy?"|
|1977||The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries||Danny Day||Episode: "A Hunting We Will Go"|
|1978||The Love Boat||Edward 'Teddy' Anderson||Episode: "Too Hot to Handle/Family Reunion/Cinderella Story", (Last appearance)|
|Year||Award||Category||Title of work|
|1966||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series||Hogan's Heroes|
|1967||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series||Hogan's Heroes|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bob Crane.|