Les Crane (born Lesley Stein; December 3, 1933 – July 13, 2008) was
a radio announcer and television talk show host, a pioneer in
interactive broadcasting who also scored a spoken word hit with his
1971 recording of the poem Desiderata, winning a "Best Spoken Word"
Grammy. He was the first network television personality to compete
Johnny Carson after Carson became a fixture of late-night
1.1 Early life
1.4 Later career
5 External links
Born in New York, Crane graduated from Tulane University, where he was
an English major. He spent four years in the United States Air Force,
as a jet pilot and helicopter flight instructor.
He began his radio career in 1958 at KONO in
San Antonio and later
worked at WPEN (now WKDN) in Philadelphia. In 1961, he became a
popular and controversial host for the radio powerhouse KGO in San
Francisco. With KGO's strong nighttime 50,000
Watt signal reaching as
far north as Seattle, Washington, and as far south as Los Angeles, he
attracted a regional audience in the West. Variety
described him as "the popular, confrontational and sometimes
controversial host of San Francisco's KGO. Helping to pioneer talk
radio, he was outspoken and outraged some callers by hanging up on
A late-night program airing weekdays from 11pm to 2am, Crane at the
hungry i (1962–63) found Crane interacting with owner and impresario
Enrico Banducci and interviewing such talents as
Barbra Streisand and
Professor Irwin Corey.
Crane, along with KRLA general manager John Barrett, were the original
people "responsible for creating the
Top 40 (list of the most
requested pop songs)," said
Casey Kasem in a 1990 interview.
Scenes from Crane's television talk show in 1964.
In 1963, Crane moved to
New York City
New York City to host Night Line, a
1:00 a.m. talk show on WABC-TV, the American Broadcasting
Company's flagship station. The first American TV appearance of The
Rolling Stones was on Crane's program in June 1964 when only New
Yorkers could see it. The program debuted nationwide with a trial run
(telecast nightly for two weeks) in August 1964 starting at
11:15 p.m. on the ABC schedule and titled The
Les Crane Show. It
was the first network program to compete with The Tonight Show
Starring Johnny Carson.
ABC network officials used kinescopes of two episodes from the August
1964 trial run to pitch the show to affiliates that had not yet signed
up to carry the program. One episode featured the mother of Lee Harvey
Oswald debating Oswald's guilt with noted attorney Melvin Belli, Crane
and audience members. The other featured
Norman Mailer and Richard
Burton. Burton encouraged Crane to recite the "gravedigger speech"
from Hamlet, and Crane did.
More affiliates signed up for a November relaunch of The Les Crane
Look (American magazine)
Look (American magazine) ran a prominent feature story with
captioned still photographs from the August episodes. One image
Shelley Winters debating a controversial issue with Jackie
May Craig (journalist)
May Craig (journalist) and William F. Buckley.
While some critics found Crane's late-night series innovative (indeed,
two-and-a-half years later
The Phil Donahue Show would follow a
similar format to much greater success on a local station in Dayton,
Ohio during its daytime schedule), it never gained much of an
In late June 1965, following Crane's three-month absence from
Les Crane Show was retitled ABC's Nightlife, sometimes
advertised in newspapers as Nightlife, and it returned to the
late-night schedule of the ABC network. Network executives removed
most of the controversy and emphasized light entertainment. Producer
Nick Vanoff started forbidding guests from broaching controversial
topics. After the summer 1965 run ended, network executives
relocated the show from New York to Los Angeles, and the fall season
The Paley Center for Media
The Paley Center for Media has available for viewing the
first 15 minutes of one of the last episodes before executives finally
cancelled ABC's Nightlife in early November 1965. Crane can be seen
and heard delivering his monologue, joking about words that could be
censored and bantering with his sidekick Nipsey Russell.
The two kinescopes that ABC used to pitch The
Les Crane Show to its
affiliates in 1964 constitute most of the surviving video and audio of
Crane's show. The
UCLA Film and Television Archive has a digitized
collection of clips from the
Les Crane Show early episodes in August
1964. It was assembled using 16 millimeter editing equipment, probably
so network executives could use the collection of clips, in addition
to the two entire episodes, to pitch the show to affiliates around the
United States who had not yet signed up to carry the show.
An archive of source material on
Malcolm X has only the audio of the
civil rights leader's December 1964 appearance with Crane. Audio of
Bob Dylan's February 17, 1965 appearance has circulated online, and
been transcribed but the picture is gone, and still photographs do
National Archives has a transcript of the August 1964 Oswald/Belli
episode in its documents related to the
JFK assassination that were
declassified and released publicly in 1993 and 1994. Crane's daughter
Caprice Crane has said she believes her father saved until he died a
kinescope of this entire episode.
The collection culled from various episodes (preserved digitally at
UCLA Film and Television Archive) includes a short clip from the
episode with Shelley Winters, Jackie Robinson, May Craig and William
F. Buckley. Several people seem to be ridiculing Winters, and the
studio audience cheers efforts to keep her quiet, but not enough of
the kinescope was saved for viewers to understand exactly why. A
transcript of the rest of this episode does not exist, and what the
participants said during the remainder is unknown. The collection
excludes Malcolm X, evidently because the collection has only clips
from August 1964, and he appeared in December 1964.
Les Crane's confrontational interview technique, along with a "shotgun
microphone" he aimed at audiences, earned him the name "the bad boy of
late-night television." The profile in the Look magazine edition of
November 3, 1964 called him "television's new bad boy," but critical
opinion was divided. The New York Times' media critic Paul Gardner
considered him an incisive interviewer who asked tough questions
without being insulting. One critic who did not like his show found
Crane's trademark shotgun microphone distracting. "Each time he points
this mike into the audience, it looks as though he's about to shoot a
spectator." (Laurent, 1964) Nearly every critic described Crane as
photogenic. One described him as "a tall, handsome and personable
lad..." (Smith, 1964)
Crane was unable to dent Carson's ratings, and his show lasted 14
weeks before ABC executives transformed it into the more
show-business-oriented ABC's Nightlife.
In addition to Dylan, who rarely appeared on American television,
Malcolm X and Richard Burton, Crane's guests on The
Les Crane Show
included Martin Luther King, Ayn Rand, Judy Collins, George Wallace,
Robert F. Kennedy, and the voice of radio's The Shadow, Bret Morrison.
Immediately after the November 1965 cancellation of ABC's Nightlife,
Crane tried acting, but his career was brief. He appeared in the
unsuccessful film An American Dream (1966), which was based on the
Norman Mailer novel, and made a few guest-star appearances on network
television shows, including a 1966 appearance on the western series
Phil Ochs mentioned Crane in the lyrics of his satirical
1966 song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal".
Some sources say that Crane gave the rock group The Mamas & the
Papas their name, but this is disputed in other sources, including
John Phillips' 1986 memoir, which says he and
Cass Elliot (both
founding members of the group) came up with the name while they were
watching a television news segment about the Hells Angels. (see
Les Crane was known as an advocate for civil rights, and was praised
by black journalists for his respectful interviews with such black
newsmakers as Martin Luther King,
Malcolm X and
Muhammad Ali (Young,
Crane was one of the first interviewers to have an openly gay guest,
Randy Wicker, on his television show. This occurred in January 1964,
when Crane's show that was titled Night Line aired locally on WABC
Channel 7 in New York City. But when Crane tried to invite members
of a lesbian advocacy group, the Daughters of Bilitis, to be guests on
Night Line in June 1964 when it was still a local show, WABC officials
ordered him to cancel the booking, and he did.
After Crane's final television appearance in the early 1970s, he
refused to discuss his television career and did not respond to
queries about any kinescopes he may have owned of his late-night ABC
show from 1964.
Caprice Crane has said he had two August 1964 episodes in
their entirety: the one with
Richard Burton that is represented by a
large still photograph of Burton and Crane in Crane's Look magazine
Norman Mailer supposedly appears in the episode, too), and
the one in which
Melvin Belli debates Lee Oswald's guilt with Lee's
When Caprice was informed about the reel of clips from a handful of
episodes that can be viewed at the UCLA Film and Television Archive,
she replied that she had never seen it and she did not know whether
her father was ever aware of it.
Les Crane was back on the West Coast, hosting a radio talk
KLAC in Los Angeles. Critics noted that in the style of the
1960s, he now dressed in a turtleneck and moccasins, sprinkling his
speech with words like "groovy." ("Communicasters," 1968). However, he
was still doing interviews with major newsmakers and discussing topics
like civil disobedience, hippies and the rising popularity of
meditation. (Sweeney, 1968) He also did some local TV talk. Crane left
KLAC when the station switched to a country music format.
In late 1971, the 45rpm recording of Crane's reading of Desiderata
reached No. 8 on the Billboard charts. It became what one writer
called "a New Age anthem" and won him a Grammy.
Though Crane thought the poem was in the public domain when it was
recorded, the rights belonged to the family of author Max Ehrmann, and
royalties were distributed accordingly. When asked
about the recording during an interview by the
Los Angeles Times in
1987, Crane replied, "I can't listen to it now without gagging."
In the 1980s, Crane transitioned to the software industry and became
chairman of The Software Toolworks, creators of the three-dimensional
color chess series,
Chessmaster and the educational series Mavis
Beacon Teaches Typing. Toolworks was also responsible for such games
as The Original Adventure and the PC version of Pong. The company was
sold and renamed Mindscape in the early 1990s.
Crane was married five times. The 1964 Look magazine profile
includes a photograph of him with his wife Eve, maiden name King, on
the lawn of their home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The text of the
article says he is helping raise her three children from her previous
marriage that had ended in divorce.
Crane's fourth wife was
Gilligan's Island cast member Tina Louise,
whom he married in 1966 and divorced in 1971. Their only child
together was Caprice (b. 1970), who became an author, screenwriter
and television producer.
Les Crane and
Tina Louise can be seen as actors in a joint appearance
on a 1969 segment of Love American Style.
Crane died on July 13, 2008, in Greenbrae, California, north of San
Francisco, at age 74. He had been living in nearby Belvedere,
California with his wife, Ginger, at the time of his death.
^ a b c Woo, Elaine (July 16, 2008). "Les Crane, 74; former late-night
TV host also founded software company".
Los Angeles Times. Retrieved
March 30, 2009.
^ a b "
Les Crane dies at 74". Variety. 411 (9). Reed Business
Information. July 21, 2008. pp. 35(1). Retrieved March 30, 2009.
NYC native and Tulane U. graduate scored a surprise
Grammy for spoken
word in 1971 with his reading of "Desiderata," which peaked at number
eight on the Billboard charts. His restful voice intoning over a
musical score became a counterculture hit (and also was parodied in
1972 by National Lampoon)
^ "'Desiderata' vocalist
Les Crane dies at 74".
Associated Press via
CNN.com. July 16, 2008. Archived from the original on July 30,
^ a b c Carey, B. "Television's New Bad Boy." Look (American magazine)
November 3, 1964, pp. 111–4.
^ Israel, Lee. Kilgallen. Delacorte Press, 1979, pp. 401–2
^ Dylan, Bob (1999). "Genuine Bootleg Series, Manufacturer: Scorpio,
Catalog No. J81310/J70918/J70826".
^ See for instance, in Dylan, Bob; Miles, Barry; Marchbank, Pearce
Bob Dylan in His Own Words. Music Sales Corp.
ISBN 978-0825639241. and "The
Les Crane Show February 17,
1965". (Dylan/Crane transcript) Bread Crumb Sins (
Bob Dylan fan site;
Giulio Molfese, ed.). Retrieved December 31, 2012.
^ a b Gardner, Paul (August 4, 1964). "Television: Les Crane's New
Program; Setting and Attitudes Change for Debut Telephone Is Replaced
by Additional Guests" (Fee). The New York Times. p. 59. Retrieved
March 30, 2009. Les Crane, the bad boy of late-night television, has
reformed. The man who kept insomniacs off sleeping pills during the
hours after midnight has forsaken his telephone, desk and bedside
^ Leigh, Spencer (July 25, 2008). "Les Crane: TV host and 'Desiderata'
narrator". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on May
29, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
^ Loughery, p. 269
^ "Homosexual Women Hear Psychologists". The New York Times. June 21,
1964. p. 54. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
^ "Les Crane, 74, One-Hit Wonder". The Daily Telegraph. July 21, 2008.
Retrieved March 30, 2009. Les Crane, who died on July 13 at age 74,
became an unlikely one-hit wonder in the British and American pop
charts with "Desiderata" (1971), his spoken-word version of an obscure
prose poem that became a New Age anthem.... number eight in the
American Billboard chart and number seven in the British Top 10 in
February 1972 as the country was gripped by a coal strike.
Reprinted in New York Sun.
^ a b c d Weber, Bruce (July 15, 2008). "Les Crane, Talk-Show Host,
Dies at 74". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
^ "Tina and Caprice". Oakland Tribune. November 5, 1970.
Bronson, Fred. "The Mamas and the Papas." Billboard Book of Number One
Hits (p. 198) New York: Billboard Books, 2003.
"Communicasters: Les Crane."
Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1968, p.
Gardner, Paul. "Television: Les Crane's New Program." New York Times,
August 4, 1964, p. 59.
Laurent, Lawrence. "Les Crane's Show Lacks Controversy." Washington
Post, November 24, 1964, p. C6.
Lowry, Cynthia. "Insomnia Cure: Les Crane?" Chicago Tribune, November
8, 1964, p. S7.
Smith, Cecil. "Crane Flying High Nightly."
Los Angeles Times, August
5, 1964, p. C14.
Sweeney, Louise. "Television's Talk, Talk, Talkathons on the Late Late
Shows." Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1968, p. 4.
Young, A.S. "Muhammad on TV." Chicago Defender, July 23, 1968,
Loughery, John (1998). The Other Side of Silence – Men's Lives and
Gay Identities: A Twentieth-Century History. New York, Henry Holt and
Company. ISBN 0-8050-3896-5.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Les Crane.
Les Crane on IMDb
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