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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,610

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This is the grave of Bob Crane.

Born in 1928 in Waterbury, Connecticut, Crane grew up in Stamford as a kid mostly interested in jazz. He was a drummer in local bands. He graduated from high school in 1945, joined the state’s National Guard in 1948, and was discharged in 1950. Soon after, he went into the radio. He had a good voice for it. He started working at a little New York station, but moved to bigger stations in Connecticut and soon was regionally known as a host. That got the attention of CBS, who hired him in 1956 to go to Los Angeles and work at KNX. He was really very good here. He interviewed big name celebrities all the time–Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra. He played his drums in between skits and interviews. He was a funny guy. Ratings rose.

The King of the Los Angeles Airwaves, as he became known, started having a hankering to go into acting himself. He got some TV gigs, including guest-hosting for the Johnny Carson-hosted game show Who Do You Trust? He basically badgered Carl Reiner into giving him a guest slot on The Dick Van Dyke Show. But he was good on TV. Donna Reed saw that guest appearance and invited him for a guest appearance on her show, The Donna Reed Show. He did so well as a doctor that he became a recurring character. He did this in 1963 and 1964, while still working at KNX. Busy dude.

In 1965, CBS offered Crane his own show. This was Hogan’s Heroes. Comedies about stupid Nazis seem like a weird step for a network to take, but it was the mid-60s and everything in the culture was changing rapidly anyway. The show, as you all know, focused on a Nazi prison camp and Crane played the lead American prisoner dedicated to sabotaging the camp. Of course they could never quite succeed. Otherwise, you have no show and a comedy about desperately trying to reach Allied lines while being gunned down by the Nazis doesn’t quite have a great ring to it.

Hogan’s Heroes was a big hit for CBS. Running between 1965 and 1971, which was not exactly a golden age of television, it had 168 episodes, which is a lot of episodes for a premise like this. Crane was nominated for an Emmy in 1966 and 1967. He also helped produce it with a production company he had started. I am sure some of you respect this show more than I do. In any case, it made Crane’s career.

Now, Crane was married at the time, but let’s just say that his vision of martial fidelity was not very strong. He routinely slept with other actors and that very much included on Hogan’s Heroes. He almost immediately started an affair with Cynthia Lynn, one of his co-stars as Fraulein Helga on the show. She left the show after the 1966 season. Crane then started an affair with Sigrid Valdis, who replaced her in the cast as Hilda. I guess Crane had a type.

Valdis was an exotic stage name for Patricia Olson. She was born in 1935, had been married and widowed and was raising a kid when she got the part of Hilda. She had been a pretty marginal TV actor before this, appearing on a show every now and again, but this really was her big break. They married in 1970 (Crane’s wife finally left shortly before that) and had a son in 1971, at which point she retired from acting. Oh wait, except that the son was not his. She was about as relationship faithful as he was. He definitely knew the kid was not his–he had a vasectomy in 1968. So they separated, but never quite got around to finalizing the divorce.

Hogan’s Heroes ended in 1971 and Crane’s career stalled out. He was the star of the completely forgotten 1973 Disney production Superdad, which if it is known for anything, it’s as the first film with Bruno Kirby. He had a few other small roles too. But he was desperate enough for work that he bought the rights to a comedy play and started touring it around in such centers of American entertainment life as Scottsdale, Arizona and St. Petersburg, Florida. He did have a lot of guest star appearances on TV shows and even had his own show, The Bob Crane Show, on NBC in 1975, but it lasted all of 13 episodes.

Crane was a sexual deviant. I already alluded to his constant cheating, but that’s not really it. It’s that he liked to secretly record his sex and had hidden cameras set up around his bedroom and other rooms in his house. He became friends with a guy named John Henry Carpenter, a Sony recording specialist. In fact, it was Crane’s buddy Richard Dawson who introduced them. Carpenter installed the cameras and sound equipment and they hung out a lot. They started bringing home multiple women, picking them up at bars thanks to Crane’s celebrity. So Carpenter joined in on the fun. The level of consent from the women is questionable at best–Crane’s son said they all knew they were being filmed, but the women themselves said they did not when they later found out and I’m going to go ahead and believe the women on this one.

In June 1978, Crane was found beaten to death in his house in Scottsdale. He was 49 years old. It was almost certainly Carpenter. Evidence was tough to really pin on him and it wasn’t until 1992 that he was charged with the murder. The defense rested on the relative lack of evidence and that there was so much evidence of Crane videotaping women having sex with him that how do we know it wasn’t one of them or their boyfriends or something. In any case, he was acquitted in 1994. Paul Schrader directly the largely forgotten but reasonably well-reviewed film at the time Auto Focus in 1992, starring Greg Kinnear as Crane and Willem DaFoe as Carpenter. Rita Wilson and Michael McKean show up too.

In 2001, Crane’s son started a website where he sold subscriptions to watch his dad’s sex films and photographs. Pretty gross.

Interesting, as Olson aged, she forgave her husband and embraced her history with him, as brief as it actually was. She decided to be buried next to him as Sigrid Valdis. I guess when your peak was Hogan’s Heroes, that probably has something to do with it and who knows how they really felt about each other. She died of lung cancer in 2007, at the age of 72.

Now, I confess my picture is horrible, but the reason is that at the time, the grave was completely covered with dust and mud and other particulate matter than made it hard to read period. When cleaned, the grave looks much more readable. Here it is from someone else.

Bob Crane is buried in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California.

If you would like this series to visit more people associated with Hogan’s Heroes, again the peak of the American artistic experience, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Robert Clary is in Culver City, California and Jon Cedar is in Mission Hills, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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