Authors: Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer
SEX, CELEBRITY,and MY FATHER’S
AND CHRISTOPHER FRYER
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Copyright © 2015 by Robert David Crane and Christopher Fryer
The University Press of Kentucky
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Crane, Robert David.
Crane : sex, celebrity, and my father’s unsolved murder / Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer.
ISBN 978-0-8131-6074-0 (hardcover : alkaline paper) —
ISBN 978-0-8131-6076-4 (PDF) — ISBN 978-0-8131-6075-7 (ePub)
1. Crane, Bob, 1929-1978. 2. Television actors and actresses—United States—Biography. 3. Murder—Investigation—Arizona—Scottsdale. 4. Cold cases (Criminal investigation)—-Arizona—Scottsdale. 5. Crane, Robert David. 6. Crane, Bob, 1929-1978—Family. 7. Fathers and sons—United States—Biography. 8. Fame—Social aspects—California—Los Angeles. 9. Sex—Social aspects—California—Los Angeles. 10. Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Social life and customs. I. Fryer, Christopher.
This book is printed on acid-free paper meeting the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.
Manufactured in the United States of America.Member of the Association of American University Presses
To Anne, Chuck, Debbie, and Karen
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.
—Christopher Isherwood,The Berlin Stories: Goodbye to BerlinContents
1. Reveille, 1978
2. Oh, Pioneers, 1955–1956
3. No Good-byes, 1978
4. One Happy Little Family, 1956–1964
5. CSI: Crime Scene Ineptitude, 1978
6. Uncle Daddy, 1964–1965
7. Round Up the Usual Suspects, 1978
8. Zero to Ninety, 1965–1966
9. Seeing Orange, 1978
10. Living la Vita Hogan, 1967
11. Happy Father’s Day, 1978
12. Divorce, Tarzana Style, 1968–1969
13. Loose Nukes, 1978
14. Love in a Time of War, 1969–1970
15. Don’t Make Waves, 1970–1971
16. War Is Over, 1971–1972
17. Beacon in the Storm, 1972
18. Heeeere’s Jackie!!! 1972–1975
19. The Family Photo Album, 1975
20. Take the Bunny and Run, 1976–1977
21. Scottsdale Redux, 1978
22. Heeeere’s Bobby!!! 1979
23. There Ain’t No Stinkin’ Closure! 1979–1980
24. For Members Only, 1981–1982
25. Kari, 1982–1985
26. Bobby Ten Hats, 1986
27. Crane in the Hutch, 1986
28. Going to War, 1986–1988
29. Full-Fledged Chongo, 1989
30. Groundhog Day, Scottsdale, 1990
31. Bob’s Candy Shoppe, 1990
32. John, John, Jack, and Johnny, 1990–1991
33. Murder Cases Never Close, 1991
34. Planes, Cars, and Roller Coasters, 1991
35. Just a Speck, 1992
36. Go and Stop, 1992
37. The Beat Goes On, 1992–1993
38. Hostage No More, 1993
39. Adios, Amigo, 1993–1994
40. Judgment at Scottsdale, 1994
41. Ninety to Zero, 1994–1995
42. Yet Another Cold Call, 1996
43. Same Shit, Different Century, 2000–2001
44. Out of Focus, 2001–2002
45. Nature Morte, 2003–2007
46. Taps, 2009
Appendix A. Bob Crane Interviewed by John Carpenter for an X-Rated “Swingers’” Magazine, 1969
Appendix B. Robert Crane and John Carpenter Telephone Call Transcript, 1978
Appendix C. Robert Crane’s Letter to Sony Pictures Classics Legal Department AddressingAuto FocusScript, 2002
Appendix D. Robert Crane’s Piece forAuto FocusWebsite, 2002
Appendix E.HWY 111:Bob Crane’s Ten Stupid Questions, 2003
This book is a work of memory, and as such there may be other people who have different recollections of these events. I have written what I remember to be true and accurate. Some names have been changed for reasons that will be obvious. Some quotes from Greg Kinnear, Paul Schrader, and Willem Dafoe regardingAuto Focuswere taken from a variety of sources, and not necessarily from one specific evening’s conversation. They do, however, convey the essence of what was said.
On Thursday, June 29, 1978, I was twenty-seven years and two days old. I had just interviewed the hottest star in Hollywood for Playboy’s new Euro-hipOuimagazine. I was living in Westwood, California, the epicenter of movies, nightlife, and all things cool in Los Angeles. Life was almost perfect for a young man in my position—almost, because twelve hours earlier, someone had crept into the room where my dad, TV star Bob Crane, was sleeping and bashed in his head with a blunt object. I was about to find that out.
It was 3:00 in the afternoon. I was home alone at the apartment my dad and I shared. Westwood was an eclectic mix of neighborhoods. UCLA student apartments and frat houses mixed genially with the grander estates of L.A.’s elites. In fact, Dad owned a large, handsome house that was less than a mile from the two-bedroom apartment he was sharing with me.
At the time Dad was going through very heated divorce proceedings and needed a safe-house. I guess most divorce proceedings are heated, but his marriage had become Chernobyl on the Pacific. The meltdown had begun six months earlier in December 1977 when he stepped off a United Airlines jet at LAX from Cincinnati, where he’d been directing and performing in his dinner theater workhorseBeginner’s Luckover the previous month. Since the cancellation ofHogan’s Heroesin 1971, live theater had been paying most of my dad’s bills. At the airport, he wasn’t greeted by a driver or a loving family member; a man walked up to him and asked, “Are you Bob Crane?”
“Yes,” he answered, pen ready, thinking the guy wanted an autograph.
“These are for you,” the guy said, and slapped divorce papers against his chest.
Like most boys in distress, he retreated to his mother. A widow, Rose lived in a one-bedroom apartment just down the street from mine. Dadcouldn’t go back to his own house because Patti, his second wife who was now suing him for divorce, was in residence there with her teenage daughter from her first marriage and with Scotty, my six-year-old half brother. The house is a half-timbered Tudor affair, draped on the hillside like a spider’s web, and Patti had taken up her position in its center, guarding her realm.
When my dad and Patti collided, I had been living alone in my own Westwood apartment. Dad asked me to move in with him at his new digs, and I did—going literally half a block up the street. The 1930s building had nice big windows and hardwood floors. We set up the living room as a little theater for projection TV, which was the newest craze, with those primary-color lights that broadcast the entire television spectrum. We each had a bedroom. The kitchen area was very small, which was fine because we didn’t cook. It was all TV dinners and takeout for us. The dining room was the postproduction room. The guests at our dining table were my dad’s equipment: Sony VHS and Beta video recorders, a monstrous three-quarter-inch cassette video deck, an Akai quarter-inch audiotape recorder, a Sony handheld video camera, hundreds of video and audio cassettes and vinyl records, a turntable, microphones, a Nikon F still camera, camera tripods, RCA and Sony television monitors, a metal bar for cutting video and audio tape. All the new and exciting techno-gear of 1977 and ’78 was on that table.
So at 3:00 p.m. on June 29 I was alone at the apartment writing up the interview I had just done with Chevy Chase forOui.Chevy had emerged as the first star of the mold-shattering, late-night television revueSaturday Night Live,and he was about to become a big-time movie star.Oui,owned by Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Enterprises, badly wanted him in the magazine, and I was the lucky guy on the assignment. I was sitting there transcribing tape—which, for the uninitiated, meant turning on a Panasonic portable cassette recorder, listening to a sentence or two, turning it off, typing the words on my Smith-Corona electric typewriter, turning the tape on again, and repeating the process over and over for an endless number of hours. It was important to me to have the interviewee’s words transcribed perfectly so there could be no mistaking the subject’s “voice.” Not exactly a glamorous life, sitting in a room by yourself rolling tape, but Chevy was making me laugh with his candid observations of his former cast mates.
My dad was in Scottsdale, Arizona, doing his playBeginner’s Luckfor the thousandth time. I had talked to him two days earlier, on my twenty-seventhbirthday. I was feeling pretty good when the phone rang. It was John Henry Carpenter, a salesman for Sony and Akai and my dad’s best buddy. Carpenter, fiftyish, stood a stocky five foot eight and had Native American blood in his veins, which gave his face and especially his hooked nose a chiseled look. He looked almost Incan. He kept his longish hair synthetically black, wore Beatle boots, shirts with long pointed collars, and tight flared pants. Carpenter was married, but minimally. He had relationships with teenaged girls. He had relationships with guys, too, I would find out later. He did it all—threesomes, orgies, you name it. He would meet up with my dad on the road, ostensibly on a business trip. His salesman position with Sony and Akai was more than his job description implied—it gave him entrée to the stars, supplying Hollywood’s boldfaced names with the latest cutting-edge gadgetry.
This was a new business at the time, all predigital, very primitive compared to today’s toys. Carpenter hooked my dad up with all his newest and most advanced gear. Others in Carpenter’s Rolodex included Tommy Smothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Dawson (who was also onHogan’s Heroes), and other film industry people who were interested in the next wave of whizbang gizmos. Everybody had a stereo, everybody had speakers set up, and home video was the next big thing. It was no longer eight-millimeter and Super 8 film. It was now videotape, with cameras that resembled space junk from Russia that fell to earth from Cosmo-7. It took no small effort to move them around. You could hand-hold them, but you were still tethered by cables to the tape deck, so there was virtually no mobility. The best way to use the video camera was to put it on a tripod so you could at least swivel it. We’re so spoiled now by having cameras in our phones, iPods, iPads. It’s Dick Tracy stuff now, but that’s where we were in ’78.
So there I am in front of the typewriter, headphones on, cassette recorder clicking on and off, on and off, transcribing my interview when the phone rings. Carpenter would often call me before hitting the road on a business trip when he could maneuver a detour in his itinerary to visit my dad. He’d say, “Your dad wants me to bring that new multiheaded cable he’s got that hooks up to the back of the Akai tape deck,” or “I’ve gotta stop by and pick up some extra Beta cartridges to take with me.” It was always before his trip he phoned, never after. Calling me when he got back never happened until June 29.
“Hey, John, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Nothing much. I just wanted you to know I was back in L.A.”
“Yeah. Okay. How was the trip?”
“Good, Bobby, good. Listen, if there’s anything you need, call me.” The whole conversation lasted less than a minute. After Carpenter hung up it was like a scene from a movie: I just stared at the phone, replaying what had just happened. There was something off, something out of sync.
My dad and Carpenter had a weird symbiotic friendship. Carpenter would help my dad solve videotape or camera problems by bringing him new parts from L.A. to those dinner theater capitals like Warren, Ohio, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, or Lake Charles, Louisiana. In return, my dad offered Carpenter the opportunity to hang out with a celebrity and experience the nightlife, such as it was, of Paramus, New Jersey, El Paso, Texas, or Traverse City, Michigan. They would go clubbing, meet women, and, odds were, get lucky.
After that uncomfortable phone call I went back to Chevy’s wild riffs on life at the top of the Hollywood heap. Half an hour went by. For some reason, I don’t know why, I just had the urge to call my dad, to check in with him, say “Hi,” see how he was doing, hear his voice. I called his apartment in Scottsdale, which was loaned along with a big American sedan to the “star” of each production that played the Windmill Dinner Theatre there.
A woman answered. That was not uncommon.
“Hi. Is Bob Crane there?”
“No. He’s not here right now.”
Victoria was Victoria Berry, who was costarring inBeginner’s Luckat the time. She played the bimbo role, the squeaky-voiced blonde whose main character traits filled out the front of her dress. Her character was onstage for maybe ten minutes. My dad’s character, a low-level IBM executive, attempts to have his first extramarital affair with her but fails, and all hell breaks loose with his marriage in the two-act comedy.
“Can you tell him his son Bobby called? Nothing important. Just ask him to call me when he gets back.”
I hung up and blithely went back to transcribing my tape.
2Oh, Pioneers, 1955–1956
In 1955 Bridgeport, Connecticut, was a working-class town. My mom and dad had a two-story apartment in a drab brick complex that looked like some kind of institutional housing project.
My dad was on the radio—WICC in Bridgeport. He had started as a staff announcer but evolved into the morning personality because of his catching sense of wildness and fun. Listeners preparing for another hum-drum day wanted a laugh, a smile to help kick things off. My dad provided giddiness, humor, and perhaps even the motivation to get out of bed. I was too young at four years old to figure out that he was different from other dads, but I knew he enjoyed what he did and he earned enough money to support us. He would spend hours in a small, soundproofed room talking fast and loud into a big microphone, and people would hear his voice in their cars or at home. I found that fascinating and became obsessed by the notion that on the radio no one could see you, but they could hear your voice. My dad had already done announcing work at a couple of smaller stations—WLEA in Hornell, New York, a town so small and rural in the early ’50s that cows were often seen being herded across the main street. Then he worked at WBIS in Bristol, Connecticut. Bridgeport was closer to Stamford, where my parents had grown up and where their families lived. Being away in those small towns, separated from his Annie and Bobby back in Bridgeport, had made my dad lonely and sad. There were also temptations for him living alone, but I wouldn’t find out about those until much later.
My dad had a quarter-inch reel-to-reel tape machine at home. I had been given a little brown microphone of my own, and I would imitate him—talking fast and loud, laughing, trying to make people happy, and showing my audience that I was having a good time. It was theBobby Crane Show.I would tell silly jokes, relate stories and news from the apartment complex, and sing songs from shows likeThe Mickey Mouse Club.Irecorded my shows and played them back, listening to them with earphones. No one could see me. I thought that was exciting.
Bobby at WICC microphone, Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1956 (author’s collection).
My dad played one of my tapes for my mom and grandparents and they laughed at the inane things I said, the observations I made with my semi-English accent. “Bird” was “bahrd.” It was not an affectation; it was just the way I talked. God knows where I picked it up. I was cute, unpredictable, and funny.
My dad thought it was time to put me on the real radio. Little Bobby being coached by dad to make the residents of Bridgeport laugh. I didcommercials. At four I was ready for prime time. In February 1956, I sang the theme for Borden’s Milk. I still have the 78-rpm disc containing the spot. The vinyl looks like it’s a quarter inch thick and the grooves were produced with a nail. I was just being a kid—raw thoughts originating in the underdeveloped mass of wiring in my brain streamed out through my mouth onto the airwaves. No editing. No inhibition. No denial. No restrictions. And, most attractive of all, anonymity. Nobody could see me. But they could hear me. I thought it was the world’s best job.
My dad supported my mom and me by being funny, playing music, and reading commercial copy. Pretty neat. My occasional appearances on his show as cute little Bobby were as close as I ever got to doing what my dad did.
I still love radio very much. The big-time radio personalities, the Rush Limbaughs of the world who are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, now broadcast out of home studios. Rush can spew his venom in his underwear. Behold the dangers of TV simulcasts.
Family life was almost perfect in small-town Connecticut, not far from the mother ships, my parents’ parents. But my dad saw a road that led out of Bridgeport. Being a DJ at WICC was not going to be the endgame for him. He refused to settle in his career. He had seen his father, Al, settle for his weekly paycheck at the furniture store. Food on the table, church on Sunday, to live and die in small-time suburbia. My dad had bigger ideas.
He kept mailing his demo reel out to radio station managers in New York City, the number one media center of the country, if not the world. That’s where Arthur Godfrey was. Where Jack Paar was. In that mecca were radio, television, stage, and movies. The station managers kept turning my dad down. There was no interest in a twenty-seven-year-old, fast-talking, quick-on-his-feet personality. The stations in New York had radio icons that had been on the air for decades.
However, CBS’s flagship radio station on the West Coast, KNX, was searching for a strong candidate for the morning show in the nation’s number two market. Ralph Story was leaving to host a revitalized edition of the famously crooked game showThe $64,000 Question,which was being morphed intoThe $64,000 Challenge.CBS in New York was aware of my dad’s demo tape and the buzz in Connecticut about this morning guy, Bob Crane. Though there weren’t any slots available at WCBS in New York, the company wanted to get him into the CBS family and stopthe loss of listeners in the tristate area to this little broadcaster out of Bridgeport. So CBS sent the reel to Bob Sutton, the general manager of KNX in Los Angeles. Sutton loved what he heard—fun, light, upbeat, music—a good way to kick off the day. KNX/CBS hired my dad to be its 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. morning drive guy, six days a week, Monday through Saturday, the host who accompanies you on your drive from the Valley to downtown Los Angeles.
Bob Crane, KNX publicity shot, Hollywood, 1956 (author’s collection).
My parents became the pioneers of our family, traveling across the country not in a Conestoga but in an Oldsmobile complete with radiator bag on the front grille. They’d never been out of the Connecticut/New York/New Jersey area except for their honeymoon on Cape Cod in 1949.I remember seeing photographs of Mom in her short shorts, wavy blonde hair almost reddish, sporting sunglasses, posing next to the Olds off the main highway in Oklahoma.
I stayed with Nan (pronounced “Non”), my mom’s mom, at her modest home in the Belltown section of Stamford. Nan was born Ellen Elvira Nikander in Helsingborg, Sweden, and met her future husband at the Feldman Estate in Tuxedo Park, New York. My grandfather, Alexander Terzian, was an Armenian Turk who lost his family in the genocide of 1915. Tuxedo Park was carved out of the Ramapo Mountains north of New York City in the 1880s to serve as a resort for blue-blooded members of New York society. Some of the early notables who lived behind the great stone gates of Tuxedo Park were J. P. Morgan, William Waldorf Astor, Adele Colgate, and Augustus Juilliard.
Nan was a domestic and my grandfather a chauffeur. Nan was a handsome woman with a short hairdo that required little maintenance. She had small blue eyes behind a pair of plain eyeglasses. She wore dentures. Her clothing was functional. She had a stolid personality reflecting a perpetual insecurity. She was an immigrant who was never quite able to accept herself as equal to “real” U.S. citizens. Nan sometimes behaved as though she was a fugitive whom someone in authority might ask for papers. Occasionally she would laugh over a good joke or something silly on television until she cried. That always led to a sneezing fit. She and my grandfather married, settled in Connecticut, and had two daughters, Ellen (nicknamed Bunny to avoid confusion with her mom and also because she loved the many rabbits that populated the family backyard) and my mom, Anne. My grandfather traded in his chauffeur’s uniform for chalk and tape to work in a tailor shop. In 1950 he went into the hospital for a routine operation and never came out—a victim of negligence; he contracted an infection that stampeded out of control. Today a member of the legal profession would be on that faster than you can say, “Weitz & Luxenberg.” But in those days, the wife with the thick Swedish accent just accepted her fate, buried her husband, and asked no questions. I never met my grandfather.
In the summer of 1956 my parents reached California and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. They stayed at the Malibu Surf Motel, on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. It’s still there today. My folks liked what they saw in Los Angeles. They liked the weather. No chains needed to keep the Olds on the road in the winter. Everyoneseemed to have a swimming pool or know someone who did. They met with Bob Sutton, a pleasant man with a Gorbachev-like birthmark on his face, who would become a father figure for my dad. My dad was excited by the unending possibilities that L.A. offered to his career. What’s more, my parents sensed in Los Angeles a new freedom, a shaking loose from the conservative customs and button-down rules of the East Coast. They decided to make the move. The downside was that they had no family on the West Coast and only one acquaintance from the East, my mom’s longtime friend Rose Curcio. But they decided it was time to leave the smallness of Bridgeport, Beardsley Park, Morokses Hamburger Stand, and WICC, time to explore the relative newness and social lawlessness of the wild, wild West.
My dad signed the KNX deal for $50,000 a year, pretty big money in 1956. My parents rented a three-bedroom home with a small yard on Fulton Avenue in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley. They drove back to Connecticut, and, like returning astronauts who have walked on the moon, they tried to explain to the tethered family what this new terrain looked like, what life might be like without snow and humidity, that houses could be constructed not to look like minimum security prisons, that orange trees were not only real but ubiquitous, that the alien fromThe Day the Earth Stood Stillhadn’t destroyed city hall after all.
My parents got out of their apartment lease, and my mom and I temporarily lived at Nan’s house, while my dad packed up the Olds and drove across the country a second time to start his new job. My mom said sad good-byes to family and friends, and I said good-bye to my five-year-old girlfriend. We took a train out of Grand Central Station in New York City bound for Union Station, just blocks from the not disintegrated Los Angeles City Hall. I was excited because I had never taken a trip beyond New Haven. The mother and son journey gave us the opportunity to see new things together even though our transcontinental track took us through some of the worst parts of the country, the hairy backsides of every major and minor city and town. Mom was leaving the daughter and sister roles to star in the mother and wife roles while she prepared for her newly created celebrity wife role.
A few days later our train pulled into Union Station. I was in Los Angeles for the first time. There was excitement abounding, but there was no Dad to meet us. My mom and I walked through the crowded depot along with the other settlers. We made our way out to the curbside. Stillno Dad. Mom had two phone numbers for him—KNX and the house on Fulton Avenue. He couldn’t be reached at either. My mom, alternately disappointed, angry, and sad, hired a cab, and she and “the little man” lit out for the Valley, where a much different life awaited us.
3No Good-byes, 1978
Transcribing tape requires lots of breaks. A little past 3:30 p.m. on June 29 I had to leave the apartment to pick up my grandmother, my dad’s mom, and take her out to Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley to visit my mom, Anne, and stepdad, Chuck Sloan. Chuck and my mom had been married for five years. Chuck was an only child and had no children of his own, though he had previously been married for twenty years. He grew up in Boyle Heights, East L.A., when it was a white neighborhood. High school graduate. Air force, stationed in Tampa with stays in both Kansas and Greenland. His father had died at sixty-nine; his mother was deaf and in a care facility. His cousins, the Worthingtons, were his main family. When he married my mom, he took on a new lot of relatives—three children, me and my two younger sisters Debbie and Karen; an ex-husband, my dad; my mom’s ex-mother-in-law, Rose; and my other grandmother, Nan, his mother-in-law. His dance card was full, but Chuck was ever buoyant. A salesman with a contagious smile, he first sold television sets, then stocks, then single-family houses, which is what he was doing when he met my mom. Our family’s house in Tarzana had become too big and carried the taint of my parents’ divorce, so my mom had visited the Braemar development in the hills of Tarzana with an eye to downsizing the family abode.
Chuck ran the sales office, and though my mom didn’t buy a new house from him, she did find a caring, patient man. A physically diminutive figure at five six, Chuck is nevertheless always a dominant presence at any gathering through his wise advice or his commanding silence. He seems ageless, with his hair thinning and turning gray just now in his eighties. He looks like he could be Bob Newhart’s younger brother.
So I was taking my dad’s mother out to visit her ex-daughter-in-law and present husband. Relations between Rose and my mom had cooled after my parents’ divorce (Rose took her son’s side, of course), but, now,years later, everyone had become friendly again. We pulled up in front of my mom and Chuck’s house, a comfortable one-story, three-bedroom with a million-dollar view of the Valley that Chuck designed and built three years earlier.
“Bobby, get in here,” Chuck yelled in an uncharacteristically harsh tone.
I hustled in, leaving my grandmother to be greeted by my mom, Nan, and my sister Karen. I usually had genuine laughs with Chuck, but clearly this was not going to be one of those times. Creases formed between his eyebrows as he said abruptly, “Call Lloyd Vaughn.”
Vaughn was my dad and stepmother’s business manager and was currently involved (with attorney Bill Goldstein) in negotiating their divorce settlement. I dialed his number.
“Bobby, there’s a rumor your dad has been shot,” Vaughn said unemotionally. “Bill and I are going to Phoenix. Do you want to come?”
Hearing the perfunctory announcement in Vaughn’s businesslike voice made me feel staggered and hollow at once. The shock of Vaughn’s words was otherworldly. I had no experience to draw from to deal with them. Mechanically and unthinkingly I said, “Yes, I’ll go.”
I hung up and told everyone in the room. Rose shrieked. Instantly, other voices cried out. “Oh, my God.” “I can’t believe this.” Chuck and I looked at each other. He’d stay home while I went to Phoenix.
I drove to Burbank Airport and met Vaughn and Goldstein, who had booked the flight to Phoenix. They were concerned personally as well as professionally—they considered themselves friends of my dad. They sat next to each other on the flight talking, even laughing. Their hour flight went quickly. Mine, not so much. I felt isolated.
I played out a thousand scenarios in my head. How could my dad have been shot? By whom and why? He was an actor, for God’s sake. What did it feel like to be shot? How many times? What part of his body was hit? Where did it happen? When? In the middle of the day? Sleepy Scottsdale was a bedroom community, for chrissakes.
The pilot informed us that it was 110 degrees in Phoenix. We were met at Sky Harbor Airport by Barry Vassall, a Scottsdale Police Department liaison. As we drove into town, Vassall turned to the three of us and announced, “Gentlemen, I’ve got to inform you that Mr. Crane is deceased.”
Vaughn, Goldstein, and I looked at each other. Their expressions mirroredmy own reactions, alternately vacant, angry, and incredulous. I reviewed my dad’s life in milliseconds—his upbringing, family, friends, coworkers, one-night pickups, first wife, divorce, second wife, second divorce in progress, career. My self-centered life tipped from thinking about my next date and which movie I was going to see to my dad’s abrupt and permanent exit. Handshakes, hugs, smiles, laughter—they were all just memories now. In the blackness, the door had shut behind my dad. There was no possibility of a good-bye. I would never speak with him again.
How the hell could this have happened?
4One Happy Little Family, 1956–1964
I was five when we moved to California, so I started school in the City of Angels. The highlight of my six-month tenure in kindergarten at Dixie Canyon Elementary was seeing a kid come to school one day in his pajamas. “Wow. We’re not in Connecticut anymore.”
It was the three of us as the little family unit. My dad was doing his morning show as well as 250 luncheons a year all over his Southland listening area where he would speak and do his comedy routine using his tape recorder. Those appearances were all done gratis as an opportunity to promote both his radio show and himself. For instance, when the Culver City Chamber of Commerce had its annual luncheon at the Elks Lodge, my dad would be there as the emcee. He’d do ten minutes of stand-up or just appear as a special guest. “Let’s give a warm Culver City welcome to KNX’s new morning man, Bob Crane!”
His routine consisted mainly of stories he told on the air, like the time he asked everyone in the San Fernando Valley to mail in ten dead flies to help clear up the Valley fly problem—the postmaster in Hollywood was not amused. Sometimes he would follow his own material with a punch line lifted from one of the many comedy albums of the day featuring Jonathan Winters, Stan Freberg, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Shelley Berman, or Bob Newhart. At the beginning, he used a great deal of Jonathan Winters because he thought Winters was hysterically funny, though bordering on clinically insane. My dad would set up a story or joke, press the “play” button on the tape machine at the luncheon or drop the needle on a vinyl record in the studio, and the recorded voice would deliver the punch line—“I love you” or “Chicken fat and booze.” Or he would use a sound effect of a building collapsingor an automobile accident. My dad called these voices and sounds “gimmicks.”
Bob, Anne, and Bobby Crane, KNX publicity layout, Sherman Oaks, California, 1956 (photo by Walt Davis; author’s collection).
When my dad had guests like Jerry Lewis or Nichols and May in the studio, they would tape original lines and songs that he could use later in person or on the radio. For live events, my dad would lift the vocal track or sound effect off a vinyl record, transfer the bit to quarter-inch reel-to-reeltape, physically cut the tape using a razorblade on a metal edit bar, and then use white stick ’em tape to butt the two heads of tape together. He knew exactly where each voice or effect was on the tape and what he would have to say to lead up to the payoff. Most audience members at those Chamber of Commerce and Elks Lodge events had a couple of drinks in them at lunch and were looking to have a good time, some laughs. This is how Southern California and Bob Crane met in person.
The downside of all those luncheons for my dad was that he gained a fair amount of weight that year because of all the rubber-chicken/rich-dessert affairs. After a year or so, he cut back on the personal appearances and shed the extra pounds. My dad also became a walking Thomas Guide/GPS for Southern California—Eastside, Westside, Valley, South-bay, Orange County. It starts to sound like a Randy Newman tune.
The dog and pony show, as he called it, helped to establish his name. Anybody who listened to Los Angeles radio in 1956 soon became aware of Bob Crane. He was the morning man on one of the leading radio stations in the second-largest media market in the United States. He was now part of the Tiffany Network—CBS. When his show ended at 9:55, after national and local news, Arthur Godfrey, another hero of my dad’s, was on the air from New York. Pat Buttram, who would go on toGreen Acresfame, had a show on later in the day. My dad’s chief competition on morning radio was a longtime Los Angeles staple, KMPC’s Dick Whittinghill, who presented a less manic drive-time show, a no-gimmicks, less hip, more traditional production in terms of the music he played and his sense of humor.
My dad defied the popular description of a disc jockey because he did more than just spin Top 10 records. He did comedy, interviewed celebrities, played mainstream music, and applied his gimmicks to the lifeblood of the show—commercials. Most company men enjoyed his playful jabs at their products, though some did not. The sales executives at Hertz got a kick out of their “We’ll put you in the driver’s seat” ad followed by the sound effect of a loud car crash, whereas the hierarchy at 20th Century Fox did not appreciate its sixty-second spot promoting “a new kind of thrill sensation,” the critically reviled western/horror featureThe Fiend Who Walked the Weststarring Robert Evans, ending with a hail of machine-gun fire.
My dad was in a studio by himself except when he had guests in the 9:00–10:00 hour. On his left he had one turntable for vinyl, a cabinetcontaining the gimmicks, his records, and a partial drum set (snare, hihat, cymbal), and on his right two more turntables. He wore a horse collar with a microphone on it so he could swivel in his chair, stand up and reach for a record, sit down, turn around, drum, and not be stuck with talking into a stationary microphone. Straight ahead of him in another room behind glass was his engineer, Jack Chapman, who was a bit older than my dad. He played the music and the commercials, which were on both vinyl and cartridge tapes. That was the setup. There was a lot of pointing—“Go!” “Cut!”—there were intercoms, station employees, ad men, and visitors peering into the studio through porthole windows. Chapman and my dad had great communication with only sporadic minor disagreements. My dad was twenty-eight years old in 1956, and he and Chapman were an odd couple, my dad loud, freewheelin’, and improvisational, Jack buttoned-down and monosyllabic, but they worked really well together. Chapman was a great engineer because he anticipated my dad but never second-guessed him.
With my dad’s radio salary providing comfort, my parents searched for a permanent base they could own—the American Dream, pride of ownership, their first house. They found an unpretentious three-bedroom on Donna Avenue in Tarzana, in the west San Fernando Valley. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator ofTarzan,used to have a large estate in the area on what is now Reseda Boulevard. Back in the ’20s and ’30s, the Valley consisted of immense orange groves and looked very much like scenes fromChinatown.
The Ventura Freeway (the 101) didn’t exist; there were only surface streets. To get into Hollywood, one traveled Ventura Boulevard past the hamburger stands, car washes, and liquor stores. During school breaks, I would ride shotgun with my dad through the early-morning darkness into the big city to be in that radio environment that I loved from Connecticut—but the stakes were larger now.
My dad had only a tenuous relationship with punctuality, and most mornings found him racing the clock to the studio. His usual routine was to wake up at 5:00, take a shower, jump in his car, and at 5:45, though sometimes later, roar down the surface streets to Hollywood, his Cadillac hitting speeds of seventy-five miles per hour, to be on the air at 6:05. I never saw my dad drink coffee in the morning. He ran on pure adrenaline. He was writing that day’s show in his head from the moment he opened his eyes.
Jack Chapman would fill the early minutes of the show by playing music. Some mornings listeners might not actually hear my dad’s voice until 6:15. It got a little better when the Ventura Freeway was extended to the West Valley in 1957 and ’58.
My dad did a promotion for his radio show on the Ventura Freeway in the Tarzana area before the freeway was officially opened. He staged an elephant race with jockeys “racing” four elephants eastbound on the new stretch of tarmac between Tarzana and Encino. The press ate it up. Once the freeway finally opened, my dad could get on at Vanalden Avenue, head east at eighty or ninety miles per hour (depending on how late he was) into Hollywood, exit at Gower, and turn right for Sunset Boulevard.
Columbia Square at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street was an art deco structure that housed historic studios where Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, George Burns, and Edgar Bergen had broadcast their radio shows. KNX Radio and CBS’s TV station, KNXT Channel 2, were the main tenants. Columbia Records had a recording studio in the basement of the building. I knew this was the big time, if only because the lobby of the building had a hot-chocolate machine that provided me with a much-loved treat every morning I went there.
I liked that it was dark outside when we entered the building and light when we left. I felt like I had lived a full day and it was still not even noon. The mornings I went to work with my dad felt like our little secret. It might have been our secret, but since my dad had the number one morning show on Los Angeles radio, it was a secret we shared with half a million other Angelenos.
My dad had the opportunity to meet many of the most popular, influential, and important celebrities of the day as they accepted the invitation to be his special guest during the last hour of his show. Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gormé all trouped through his studio.
A thrill for my dad was having Jonathan Winters perform live in his studio. Over the years, Winters appeared on the show twenty-five times. The comedy album was king at the time, and veteran comics like Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl, and Alan King as well as up-and-comers like Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, and George Carlin would book the show to promote a record, a TV show, a movie, or an appearance at the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel.
Word got around to publicists, managers, and agents that theCraneShowwas an easy, quick, and fun venue with an ever-growing audience for their clients. Generally, the last segment would feature two quite disparate guests like Dick Van Dyke and John Carradine, two very different actors though stars in their own right. My dad enjoyed mining information from each individual and setting up a dynamic between two opposite personalities.
My dad’s television hero was Jack Paar. He loved the often weird combinations of guests from the arts and beyond, and how Paar extracted morsels of knowledge and oddball facts from people you might admire but know nothing about. The guests were at ease because Paar was a conversationalist, not an interviewer, emotional rather than intellectual. My dad identified with Paar, who was an open book on the air, sometimes crying, sometimes sharing with the audience what he did at home and on vacation with his wife and daughter. Paar behaved like a close friend. My dad emulated that behavior, and over the years on his radio show he would tell listeners stories of his home life with my mom. She would get upset, small-town Connecticut kicking in, and say, “Bob, it’s nobody’s business.” But he, like Paar, became an open book on the air. He signed off his show everyday by saying, “Bye, hon.” I always thought (and hoped) that he was talking to my mom, but as the years progressed, I realized he might have been talking to a few other “hons” in the audience as well.
As a kid in Los Angeles hanging around adult professionals, I became aware of my dad’s appreciation of women, particularly actresses. This appreciation was expressed as a hug, a touch on the arm—nothing creepy. The fun-time mood of the radio show carried over to impromptu photo sessions with the guests and my dad. If the guest was Marilyn Monroe or an attractive newcomer like Stefanie Powers, all the better. One time my dad rolled up his pants for an interview he did with a bikini-clad Jayne Mansfield in her pool. After each interview was over, Jack Chapman would produce his Rolleiflex and strobe light and document the event. That’s where I first noticed the touch, the kiss. This was important to me because the woman sharing that touch or kiss with my dad was not my mom. In Connecticut, I was aware of my dad kissing only my mom, his mom, and other female members of our extended family. The women he was kissing in Hollywood he had known only for an hour.
Film and television producers like Jerry Wald listened to my dad’s show on their way in to the studio. They knew Bob Crane’s morningradio show was a popular place to promote new movies and TV shows. Crane interviewed their stars in a light, easy manner, and besides, they thought he was funny, even wacky at times. Why not throw him a low-risk acting crumb here and there and have their projects talked about on the radio for weeks? So for example, onThe Twilight Zone,my dad would be cast as the voice of a disc jockey; inReturn to Peyton Place,he played an Ed McMahon–like talk show sidekick; inThe New Interns(filmed across the street at Columbia), he played a drunken prankster; and on theGE Theatre,he appeared when future president Ronald Reagan was the host of the show.
My dad would walk around studio lots, hoping to run into an agent or producer or, if there was a god, Jack Lemmon or Gig Young. Sometimes I’d accompany him on his studio lot saunters, a cute little kid walking around with his dad. He didn’t see this association as a liability at that time. Being a young, handsome actor with a youngster in tow demonstrated his virility, his being the head of a tribe. But as I got older my presence would reflect the aging process of a struggling actor.
Our happy-go-lucky show business family theme worked for a while. My family appeared in the ubiquitous fan magazines, the goal being to promote the product, Bob Crane. One time my dad, mom, and I performed a well-rehearsed short routine during intermission at the Ice Capades show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. We also rode in a convertible during the Hollywood Christmas Parade along Hollywood Boulevard with my dad throwing 45-rpm records to the crowd. Mickey Hargitay, who was Mr. Universe as well as Jayne Mansfield’s husband, once taped a week’s worth of his exercise/workout television shows at our house, though I have no idea why.
One of the reasons my dad really admired Jonathan Winters’s career was because Winters was a hyphenate—he did comedy albums, television, movies. My dad wanted a hyphen of his own. He loved radio, but he wanted to be an actor. He wanted to be a radio personality–actor.
His first live acting job was a supporting role inWho Was That Lady I Saw You With?at the Valley Playhouse in Woodland Hills across the street from where I would later attend William Howard Taft High School. It was a small theater with only a couple hundred seats. His character made his entrance walking through the tightly packed audience, literally knocking knees with the delighted theatergoers. He loved the instant gratification of live laughter, something he didn’t hear doing radio except whenhe cracked up Jack Chapman or the live guests, who were amazed watching a human octopus in action.
The six-week run ofWho Was That Lady?sold out thanks to my dad’s constant promotion on the air. Most attendees were seeing my dad in the flesh for the first time at that barn in Woodland Hills. Up until that time he was just a zany voice coming from their dashboards. The material was light, my dad was charming, his part was brief. What was not to like? The experience was the equivalent of a delicious but low-calorie dessert.
In those days Dad was often away from home, what with 250 luncheons and dinners a year, a radio show six days a week, a couple of small television and movie roles, a play at night and matinees on the weekend. I was back to being “the little man” Bobby, who spent many hours alone with his mother, the mother who would always serve as the rock of our family. From the house we rented, my mom had walked me back and forth to kindergarten and to local stores along Ventura Boulevard. When we moved to Tarzana, she got a car, a beige Volkswagen bug. She loved that car, and in it we got out a lot more, mother and son, to parks, to movie theaters, to hamburger stands.
I was seven years old, less cute but still full of myself. I was getting cocky, too. I’d done one too many radio appearances. I depended on the same bits, which had become predictable—the bad jokes, the overly self-assured smile that could be cranked up at a moment’s notice for a photo. I knew I was a fraud. I was feeling the early burnout that so many child actors experienced precisely because the one or two or three hooks they depended on were exploited until they were reeled in, bait gone and only an old boot hanging on the barb where an audience should have been. When the kid cast out for more, there was nothing there, just a pedestrian education, a lack of perspective, and a hollowness from the “me, me, me” preening that stage parents and set handlers helped create. While I was not a child star or even a child actor, I had, by virtue of my guest appearances and proximity to my dad’s luminosity, started to take on some of the child star’s foibles. Luckily, I also had the self-awareness to know that my cute days were past their sell-by date, even though it’s tough to realize you’re washed up and still can’t even ride a two-wheeler.
When they made their first home purchase, my parents decided to shake off a bit of East Coast tradition, shed another skin, and move toward becoming full-fledged Angelenos. They decided to build a pool. An honest-to-goodness, precious water–holding, rebar-reinforced, cement-encased,tile-accented ode to the New California. We were gonna have us a real cement pond, not one of those aboveground plastic tanks. A pool in Southern California is an expression. It’s a way of life. It brings humanity to L.A.
Bobby, Anne, and Bob Crane, Tarzana, 1958 (author’s collection).
With the construction of our kidney-shaped pool at the Donna Avenue house complete, all that was needed was a mere ten thousand gallons of precious Southwest water. This was an exciting moment in the life of a newly baptized Southern California family. We were talking serious pride of ownership as the water level approached the top step.
The ten-year-old son of our pool contractor was standing on the still-dry step, proud of his father’s work. I was jealous that this kid, this stranger, this son-of-a-contractor was stealing my spotlight. How dare he stand on the top step of our new pool during the inauguration ceremony! I should have been standing there, not that alien. The contractor father stood on the deck at the deep end of the pool. He glanced over in our direction as I stealthily advanced toward his son from behind. When he looked away I gave the unknowing victim a full, two-handed push. Fullyclothed, the boy disappeared into the green, unfiltered water. I looked at the splash zone, then at the father, and lit out for the territories. I headed for my bedroom and went to ground under the bed. My dad, who was in the front yard, heard the splash and the outrage and ran to the backyard. There was gasping and crying and yelling and angry pointing in the direction of my exit stage left.
“Bobby!” yelled my dad.
How could Anne Frank have remained hidden so long? I was disinterred in less than three minutes.
My parents asked me, “Why did you do that?” To this day, I still don’t have a legitimate answer, just fragments of feeling about how that kid was stealing my thunder, replacing me somehow in my own kingdom. I think I can understand a little how Prince Charles must have felt about the public adoration of Princess Diana, albeit on a Tarzana-sized scale.
I was made to apologize to my victim, who was drenched and a little slimy. Ironically, his father’s company was called Celebrity Pools.
My façade had cracked. My cuteness, cockiness, and self-absorption were coming to an end. I had to straighten up and be just an ordinary schoolkid, studying to someday receive a high school diploma, as my parents had, and maybe go off to college. At seven years old, the only thing I knew about college was that USC football games were on KNX radio.
After the splash heard ’round Tarzana, I made fewer and fewer appearances on my dad’s radio show. The shine was off my apple. The cute phase was over. My dad recognized my transition from cuteness to pain in the ass and pulled the plug. Short career, but I was too young to know whatbittermeant. More important, small-town radio was a few years ago. This was Hollywood, baby, and so it was from that point onward my dad’s show would serve a higher purpose for me—an intimate venue where I could meet my heroes, stars of stage and screen like George Maharis ofRoute 66and Vic Morrow ofCombat!I continued to visit the show during summer and school holidays. I didn’t want to miss school because of the increasingly important social aspect of it—that is to say, girls. We were not an academic family, so my parents were pleased that I enjoyed going to school, even if I liked it just so I could see my friends.
I felt I was king of the roost for the first eight years of my life, but in 1959 my mom became pregnant with my sister Debbie. This tolled the end of my monarchy. Decades later I found out that I could have had a sibling closer in age to me, back when we lived in Bridgeport. One daywhen I was four, I sensed there was something physically wrong with my mom. She sent me to get the neighbor, a nice but extremely loud Italian woman who rushed over to our apartment and helped my mom, who had just suffered a miscarriage. My dad didn’t find out until later that day.
With our family about to expand, my parents found a Richard Neutraesque three-bedroom with a pool, a big yard, and lots of driveway on Vanalden Avenue just a block over from our Donna Avenue house. Nan, who was still living in Stamford, sold her home for $18,000, packed up, and moved west to be with her younger daughter. My aunt Bunny remained with her husband and two kids in Noroton Heights, Connecticut.
My parents paid $50,000 for the modern home, complete with multiple levels, high ceilings, and severe exterior angles. When I heard the amount they paid, it seemed like a million bucks to me. Our small-town Connecticut family was morphing in many ways: my dad’s salary was more than his father could ever have imagined earning; the small, two-story apartment in Bridgeport was a distant memory; the Oldsmobile and Volkswagen were gone, replaced by an ultra-finned Cadillac and a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. I got a go-cart for Christmas and raced it for hours along the lengthy driveway, which was really the site of the Tarzana Grand Prix, complete with hairpin around the palm trees, much to the neighbors’ consternation.
Although my parents always remained devoutly un-Hollywood, meaning no maids, no chauffeurs, no assistants, and, mostly, no pretenses, the family was blossoming. The obvious material advancement of a new home and new cars brought an uneasiness that was almost an embarrassment to me. I didn’t want my dad’s ballooning bank balance and the things that could be acquired with it to make me conspicuous among my friends. On the other hand, my dad’s increasing financial success brought a level of comfort to my parents’ lives that they had worked hard for and, at least in my considered opinion, really deserved.
In the ’50s and ’60s it seemed the average American family had three kids. In 1960 we joined that standard with the addition of Karen, my youngest sister, born eighteen months after Debbie. My dad related a blow-by-blow description of the birth on his radio show, much to my mom’s chagrin.
More important, at least to me, 1960 spawned the Pool League, created by my dad and me. I was nine. The way it worked was I would stand in the shallow end of our pool when I was at bat, and my dad stood mid-pool as the pitcher. We used a rubber ball and a short wooden bat. My teams were the Dodgers, Pirates, Braves, and Cubs. My dad represented the Giants, Reds, Cardinals, and Phillies. Those eight teams constituted the entire National League in 1960. My dad, as the Reds, won the pennant that year and played the Yankees, who were always designated as the American League champs. As the Yanks in that first Tarzana Pool League World Series, I was able to win four games to two. We kept a blue binder for box scores and standings, and my dad wrote a column reporting on and analyzing the ball clubs in his interesting combination of printing and handwriting. Innumerable summer weekends were spent playing the Pool League. At one point during the season, the bottoms of my toes bled because my skin was rubbed raw on the gunite bottom of the pool, but there was no going on the disabled list. My dad and I were the boys of summer. Those hundreds of hours of yelling, cheering, and laughing were among the best times of my life.
Bob and Bobby Crane at home pool, Tarzana, 1960 (author’s collection).
I was also in the Tarzana Little League, but I rarely played because I wasn’t very good, though I still got to wear the Tigers uniform and pretend I was a baseball player. All the fathers took turns being the PA announcer for an audience of fifty bored parents, siblings, and friends. My dad took his turn at one of our games, comfortable behind the microphone doing funny ad-libs but completely lacking when it came to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. I shriveled in the dugout, but I consoled myself with the fact that at least he was there. He tried, and all I wanted was to belong. I wanted to be a member of the team. I wanted to be like everyone else.
There were plenty of actor dads and actress moms sitting in the stands rooting on their sons, but I didn’t want to be part of that. I didn’t feel comfortable being a show business kid. When my dad botched the Pledge of Allegiance, it got a laugh, of course, and that instant response made him feel good. I think I was the only one in the audience who felt discomfort, though at the same moment pride mingled with my uneasiness. I wanted my family to be perfect, and I was worried my teammates would think my dad was an idiot, and therefore, so was I. But on the flip side, how did my dad feel watching his kid whiff on three forty-mile-per-hour fastballs? I’ll never know. My dad never said, “Good game, Bobby, nice effort. You’ll get ’em next time,” or any of the other verbal back-pats that dads are supposed to dispense to sons who can’t hit worth a damn.
In 1962 a TV series about a military school calledMcKeever and the Colonelwas on NBC on Sunday nights. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they were looking for kids to be on the show, and my dad, who had met the producer or one of the writers, arranged an interview for me. But he neglected to tell me why we were going to Four Star Productions in Studio City. I was supposed to be energetic and bombastic, funny andcute—and I just sat there like a lump because I thought my dad was meeting with these people for something to do with him.
Two pages from the Pool League binder, 1960 (author’s collection).
When Dad told me why we had been there after we left the studio, I was really upset. I have the feeling now, on reflection, that my dad acted as he did because he was thinking, “Well, Bobby, I got you in the door. The rest is up to you.” His parents knew nothing about show businessand had never helped him in his career—he made his own breaks and created his own opportunities. So getting me into that interview was more help than he had ever had, but still, he could’ve given me a clue about what was going on. I could have displayed my vast arsenal of charm, talent, and wit instead of sitting there like a ventriloquist’s dummy. It also strikes me now as almost cruel, a passive-aggressive behavior that was settingme up for failure. Maybe I should’ve asked what we were doing there in the first place. Maybe I should just forget about it.
Before there was home video, there were eight-millimeter, Super 8, and sixteen-millimeter films. In one of our other homegrown activities at Camp Crane, my dad wrote, directed, photographed, and edited eight-millimeter movies with added post-production soundtracks. One summer we shot a film calledI Was a Teenager for the FBI.I, aged eleven, played a very tough FBI agent. I wore a suit, and I had my own office. My secretary was played by my cousin Sandra. The villain was Dangerous Dan, played by my dad, and another cousin, Jack, played his hostage. I managed to save the hostage, but my secretary ran off with Dangerous Dan.
We shot at my dad’s KNX office at night, and we used the streets of Hollywood for our exterior scenes. When we finished filming, which we did over a few weekends, we added all the sound, the dialogue, the music, and special effects like a credit roll even though the viewer could see the actual roller drum rotating. We were able to shoot the credits over existing footage because we could wind back the camera and create double images. It was pretty wild and imaginative stuff considering early ’60s technology. The experience was great fun, and my dad had some memorably telling lines as Dangerous Dan, foreshadowing his yet-to-come lifestyle.*
At the end of the nine-minute film, there were coming attractions for a war film and a comedy starring the rest of our family members. Viewing the coming attractions now, the title that resonates most isGet Me out of This House,starring Anne Crane. There was a kind of subliminal message in that, a communication that the rest of us didn’t see or understand at the time.
The hub of our productions was a ten-by-twelve room at the northeast corner of our Vanalden house that was known as the back room. It was the original man cave. Standing in the doorway and panning left to right, you would see one large speaker, a Ludwig drum set, two turntables, cassette and reel-to-reel audio tape machines, a vinyl mastering machine, three-quarter-inch and half-inch videotape machines, and then another large speaker in the far corner. There was a cobweb of wiring connecting the units in that room to speakers in the den and patio. Thesouthern wall consisted of shelving that contained thousands of record albums. On the walls above all the gear were eight-by-ten glossies of my dad and some of his radio show guests: Rock Hudson, Ed Begley, and Johnny Mathis. There was also a large photograph and showcard from his first appearance on film inReturn to Peyton Place.
The back room was used initially as an editing suite for my dad when he cut quarter-inch reel-to-reel audiotape containing celebrity interviews for his “Best of” radio show, which aired on Saturdays. I used to perch on a stool next to him and silently watch as he physically cut miles of tape, fascinated by how he could take a forty-minute conversation with Angie Dickinson, shorten it, and capture the essence of her in the limited amount of time he had to replay it. He took the week’s interviews and boiled them down to eight- or ten-minute segments. So Tuesday’s fifty-minute interview with Lawrence Welk and Bob Barker became an eight-minute piece for Saturday’s show. The editing choices were all important. The inclusion of one funny or revealing answer and the exclusion of another depended on diverse factors such as length and flow. My dad could take a line from early in the interview and edit it next to an answer to a question thirty-five minutes later and make it sound like a continuously flowing conversation between the host and his guest.
The process made the editor godlike. It was about control. A successful wrinkle-free joining of separate sentences or thoughts was exciting. My dad removed breaths, dead air, and verbal stumbles to create a coherent and concise package. I would watch and ask, “Why are you cutting from there to there?” He would say, “The second line is funnier and faster than the first line” or “You need a beat there, a pause, because it makes the answer funnier.” The results he achieved sounded seamless. Except for spotting the white edit tape rolling past the sound head, I wouldn’t have been able to identify where the edits were. Later my dad would cut half-inch reel-to-reel videotape on his Sony player to create “Best of Carson” reels—the funniest and most touching moments from Johnny Carson’sTonightshow. He created these for the pleasure of his dad and mom, who were always asleep by 11:30. My dad loved everything about the editing process: physically cutting the tape, splicing it, seeing the jokes come together. The times my dad was editing tape and film and making music were when I saw him at his happiest, most joyful, and most contented.
My dad received thousands of complimentary albums and singles from record companies promoting their latest band or artist. He wouldbring home a new batch every week. Each album jacket had a little hole punched in the corner designating it as a demonstration copy that could not be sold. I would watch for him to pull into the driveway at night and help him unload boxes of new records: vocal, big band, jazz, comedy, and rock. When I first heard The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” single I played it a dozen times one morning before school. The back room was the best record store in the world.
My dad’s popularity on the radio brought other perks. I was a Beatlemaniac and on Sunday evening, February 9, 1964, had watched their U.S. debut onThe Ed Sullivan Showalong with 73 million other people. My dad took black-and-white Polaroids of their performance off the television screen, which I cherished for decades. I saw all three of theirSullivanappearances, and their albumMeet the Beatleswas played nonstop at my schoolmate Pete Walker’s make-out parties. I watched from the periphery as those progressive Encino girls gave long, soulful kisses to their steadies. I bought John Lennon’s bookIn His Own Write,which I found hysterically funny, and my cousin Sandra and I went to seeA Hard Day’s Nightat the Pix Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard three times in one day because the audience kept screaming through the movie and we couldn’t make out all the dialogue.
In August 1964 the Beatles were going to play the Hollywood Bowl. I felt I had to see them live and in person. My dad mentioned on his radio show that his son longed to see the Beatles at the Bowl and if any listener had extra tickets for the soldout show he’d buy them. A woman called KNX and said she had four tickets that she couldn’t use. The tickets were $5.50 each, and my dad, my mom, my aunt Bunny, and I were witnesses to the wild abandon of eighteen thousand young people and adults. It was a wonderful madness. To me, selfishly relishing the electrifying atmosphere of the Bowl full of Beatles, I realized there was definitely a plus side to my dad’s celebrity. I temporarily forgot the discomfort I usually felt about my dad’s fame.
Two summers later, my dad would make a call to the Wallach brothers, who were only slightly more than casual acquaintances. One brother was an executive with Capitol Records and the other ran the most successful record store chain in Los Angeles, Wallach’s Music City. The result of that phone call had Dave Arnoff and me sitting in the first row behind the visitors’ dugout at Dodger Stadium while our pals the Beatles took the stage set up at second base. This concert turned out to be their penultimatelive show. Arnoff and I sat as close to them as one could get in a stadium rock show. Forty-five thousand of us hung on every note, not realizing that the closest we’d ever get to seeing the Beatles perform live together again would be theLet It Befilm of their impromptu jam from the rooftop of Apple Records in London in January 1969. And that was it. Though there were still several brilliant albums to come, the innocent joy that was Beatlemania was unofficially over. I felt a real sense of loss thinking I’d never see those carefree moptops together again.
*Dangerous Dan: “I’m so mad and sadistic, but most of all lovable. When Dangerous Dan comes, the girls always fall for him.”
5CSI: Crime Scene Ineptitude, 1978
Every four weeks, a new stage production opened at the warehouse-like Windmill Dinner Theatre at 10345 North Scottsdale Road in an unattractive commercial section of Scottsdale, which otherwise is an upscale Phoenix suburb. The productions were retooled Broadway dinosaurs or, in the case of Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore’sBeginner’s Luck,something that never got close to Broadway but somehow spoke to its leading man, my dad. He had made it his own vanity project, which he also directed, and he could recite the lines backward and forward. A cast of four, a couple of sets, ninety minutes, and time after the performance for the audience to enjoy a brief stand-up and autograph session with Colonel Hogan himself. These road warrior plays were fronted by former semistars like Forrest Tucker or Hugh O’Brian, who had had their bread-and-butter TV shows cancelled. The job could pay $3,000 to $5,000 a week, but the dinner theater circuit was about as far out as one could orbit show business and still technically be in it. Showbiz-wise, Scottsdale dinner theater was just beyond the rings of Saturn.
Apartment 132A at the Winfield Apartments complex a few miles down the road reflected just how far an actor or actress on the marquis had fallen. Instead of staying at the Arizona Biltmore, Hotel Valley Ho, or the Royal Palms, the star was supplied a nondescript sedan to get him or her from the warehouse to a cramped, dark, two-bedroom rental with a tiny kitchen in a lackluster group of buildings that could be part of any inner city. Parking spaces were not enclosed. There was no security. Many of the residents at the Winfield complex knew the comings and goings of their new neighbor, Bob Crane, aka Colonel Hogan. This was life off, off, way off Broadway.
Windmill Dinner Theater program, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1978 (author’s collection).
I saw waves of heat rising from the blacktop as our car slowly moved down the driveway toward apartment 132A. There were no medical examiners, no crime scene investigators in jumpsuits, no yellow crime scene tape, no barriers for the crowds—and in fact, no crowds. There was no press, no field reporters jockeying for position, no flashbulbs blazing. It could have been the scene of a domestic disturbance on just another hot summer day in Scottsdale. As Officer Vassall led our party into the apartment, I was surprised there was nobody else there.
My dad’s body had been removed in a zippered bag before my arrival. It had been wheeled across nine hundred square feet of cheap carpeting and wafting cigarette smoke through the open front door and onto the sizzling pavement where the medical examiner’s vehicle idled, waiting for the return trip to the morgue.
The apartment had a cheap 1950s feel. There was JC Penney artwork on the walls, flower-print bedspreads, a plaid couch in the living room, a brass lamp on a pressed-wood end table. The cavelike space resembled a mad scientist’s lab or a crash pad for a down-and-out rock group doing one-nighter club gigs. The place was trashed—a whiskey bottle and Booth’s gin on the kitchen counter (I had only ever seen my dad drink two screwdrivers during an evening out at a club, and he never drank at home). There was a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray full of cigarette butts (my dad never smoked), mail, magazines, newspapers strewn about on the couch and coffee table in defiance of a tall, silver kitchen trash can, car and apartment keys, shirts, pants, shoes on tables, couch, and floor throughout as well as pool towels, suntan lotion, swim trunks, and a videotape containing an edited version ofSaturday Night Feversitting stacked in the hallway.
Dominating the small living room was the video equipment. It was mostly RCA and Sony products. There was a television monitor on a moveable stand, a three-quarter-inch video cassette recorder placed on top of the monitor, a metal shipping case standing vertically with “BC fragile” stenciled on one side that supported a VHS video recorder connected to a large, blue video camera with a carrying strap mounted on a metal tripod, a Beta video recording deck, stacks of Zenith videocassettes, AC power boards supporting a spider’s web of wires, cables, attachments, converters, and adapters. I picked up three-quarter-inch videotape boxes. I touched the video camera that was mounted on a tripod. I opened my dad’s travel case for the cumbersome videotape deck.
Vaughn, Goldstein, and I walked through the apartment, examining, touching, handling items in plain view of Vassall. We added our fingerprints, footprints, and hair samples to an already contaminated, lackadaisically investigated, casually considered location of a human being’s last being. This was a murder scene.
Later I found out that when I had called my dad’s apartment earlier that afternoon Victoria Berry was surrounded by Scottsdale Police Department officers and detectives as she played personal secretary. She was smoking as she answered the phone. Crime scene contamination was already well under way.
Berry had had an appointment at 2:00 at my dad’s apartment to rehearse her scene in the play. When she arrived the front door was unlocked. The apartment was dark despite the bright Arizona sun outside. She whispered, “Bob?” There was no answer. She raised the volume. “Bob?” She looked in the bedroom and saw someone in the bed. The face and hair were so matted with blood Berry was unable to say whether it was her costar. She went screaming from the apartment and got a neighbor to call the police.
As I walked through the apartment I peeked in the spare bedroom. It didn’t look as though it had been occupied anytime recently. In one of the bathrooms, a portable darkroom was set up, using the tank lid and toilet seat cover as workspace. There were strips of negatives containing thirty-six exposures hanging from the towel rack.
I walked down the narrow hallway and stopped just outside the doorway of my dad’s bedroom. I didn’t have any idea how to prepare myself for the actual murder scene. I turned ninety degrees to face the reality of it head-on. The lamp, nightstand, dresser, and generic paintings all had the transient feel of a motel that changed its occupants daily. What a lousy place to die, I thought. I had to keep reminding myself that this lifeless place didn’t represent my dad.
A pair of eyeglasses, pocket change, and an open calendar book with “meeting with Victoria Berry at 2 p.m.” marked down for the day sat on the nightstand. The investigators had stripped the bed of its sheets. The bare mattress reminded me of the Japanese flag—a large red circle surrounded by white. On the wall behind the head of the bed was a dervish-like blood splatter that showed, on closer examination, brain tissue. I felt I needed to see this. I had to bury my nose in this sad, sad, anticlimactic set piece. I had to register how the smell of that overflowing ashtray andthose half-empty liquor bottles permeated the drapes, the tacky carpet, even the walls themselves. I felt it was my duty to be my dad’s ambassador to the living, to report back to the troops on the home front accurate descriptions of the battlefield I was witnessing.
After walking those fields, I had to see my dad. I wanted to make sure that he was really dead. I couldn’t rely on the announcement of his demise from a source I didn’t know, didn’t trust. My dad, my best friend, had been taken away, but I needed confirmation. I had to see it with my own eyes.
My only experience with shocking tragedies like this were those played out on the news at night, safely removed from reality. “Poor SOB,” I’d sigh, and reach for a beer. Television created a safe distance between tragic events and the sanctuary of your own living room. I had for many years watched the 11:00 news during the Vietnam War, and Tom Brokaw, who was the local NBC anchor during those dismal days, often started his broadcast with the body count from Hue or Da Nang or some other hellhole. I would think about the guys out there, guys my age dying in a miserable misadventure and of the grief of their families back home, but the pain they must’ve felt was always unimaginable to me. Not anymore.
There had been unanticipated death in my family before, such as my grandfather’s, but nothing so horrificallywrongas cold-blooded murder. I was staggeringly ill prepared for this. I had no background, no experience of any kind to help me deal with it.
To television fans it was the death of Colonel Hogan; to my family—a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a former husband. To my sisters and me, our dad. It felt final and unfinished at the same time.
We left the crime scene. On my way out I took a six-pack of beer out of the refrigerator. That was another item that was out of place for my dad. He never drank beer. But it was going to be a hot night in Scottsdale. I figured it was also going to be a long one. The police officer in the apartment watched me take the beer and said, “Yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead.”
We drove to the morgue. I noticed that life was still being enjoyed by the local residents, running in their yards, spraying each other with hoses, children selling lemonade at the curb, couples riding bicycles. There were butterflies, hummingbirds. The sun was shining. It all seemed impossible. Death was a long way from their front yards.
At the morgue, Vaughn and Goldstein stayed behind as I was led intoa cold, barren, uniquely unfriendly room. The sun never saw this place. My dad was lying on his back on a concrete slab. For the first time in his life, he was silent. No laughter. No nervous energy. No nothing. Just complete and absolute stillness, and it was that stillness that confirmed to me his death was real. My dad was lifeless. Life less.
I wasn’t going to read about this in a newspaper, or watch some Barbie doll anchor work up the solemnity to stare into the camera and announce “Hollywood’s loss.” I wouldn’t get the awkward phone call from a friend or relative who was unsure whether or not to tell me about it. There he was. Laid out on a slab.
I walked up to him. He was nude. I looked him over from head to toe. He was cleaned up. There was no blood on him. I stared at his face. I waited for him to open his eyes, look over at me, and start laughing, but it didn’t happen. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. His skin felt like clay, the gray modeling clay I had played with in elementary school. It was cool to the touch. I panned his body, taking note of his thick head of hair, flat ears, chewed fingernails, hairless chest, uncircumcised penis, thin legs, long toes. He looked normal to me. How could he be dead? I felt numb. I didn’t cry. I didn’t experience an emotional upheaval. I was too occupied with mentally recording everything I saw—my dad, the slab, the room’s décor. All lacked sensation. The scene was as removed from me as a dreary police procedural on television. I looked over my dad’s body again, head to toe, toe to head. This was an animated person in life who was now dull and forever nullified. Somewhere outside the room someone was laughing.
I didn’t know at the time that I was standing on the wrong side of the slab to see his wounds. He had been clobbered twice behind his left ear, and when I saw him I was on his right side. Later the police would show me photos taken at the murder scene that illustrated how copiously he had bled out. The tableau of that scene gave the impression that chocolate sauce had been sprayed all over the place. It wasn’t like movie blood, red and vibrant. It was dark and thick.
The mass that looked like my dad, motionless as though he were having his makeup applied before filming, still didn’t seem real. Was this the musician who played the drums with such passion and abandon? Was this the radio comedian who always had a quick-witted response to any situation? Was this the dad who created an entire baseball league we played in our swimming pool over several summers? Was this Dad? Motionless.Cold. Humorless. Was my dad dead? It was impossible. We had a lot of stuff to do together yet.
After taking one more frame for my mind’s eye, I turned away from that cadaver impersonating my dad. From that moment on, there would only be the long wait for answers.
6Uncle Daddy, 1964–1965
My dad, dubbed the KNXtrovert Bob Crane by the radio station, enjoyed most of his guests, though actor Glenn Ford once asked no one in particular, “What am I doing here?” A relationship developed with some of them leading to multiple appearances every year: composers Henry Mancini and Bronislau Kaper; comedians Bill Dana (aka Jose Jimenez), Phyllis Diller, and Steve Allen; singers John Gary, Carol Lawrence, and Wayne Newton. He looked forward to having one guest in particular—Carl Reiner, the writer, producer, and actor who had just createdThe Dick Van Dyke Show.
My dad, like millions of other television viewers, admired theVan Dyke Show.The series was the classiest of its day, featuring wonderful dialogue for the talented actors and actresses and creating troublesome but clever situations from which the Petries (Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) had to extricate themselves. Reiner always spent an enjoyable hour swapping quips with the whizbang host who asked him saucy questions about Van Dyke and Moore, tickled his commercials with gimmicks, drummed along with one or two records, and generally had fun so god-awful early in the morning. Reiner always liked Bob Crane, whose nuttiness reminded him of Sid Caesar and Howie Morris.
Reiner took a flyer by casting my dad, based on an hour-long audition at KNX, in the guest role of a philandering husband in the upcoming “Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra” episode of theVan Dyke Show.Any actor chalking up a guest role on the Emmy-winningDick Van Dyke Shownoted a quick uptick in his or her career. The guest appearance was exactly what my dad wanted at that point. Working with Van Dyke, Moore, Reiner, producer Sheldon Leonard, and director John Rich—this was the Big Leagues.
My mom and I attended the filming at Desilu Cahuenga. There were three cameras, each loaded with ten-minute magazines, shooting in frontof a live audience. Roles like my dad’s part, of the good-time, life-of-the-party friend and/or neighbor, had always been abundantly in demand in television and film. Tony Randall and Gig Young had based careers on this seemingly simple role. Again, my dad fed off of the immediate laughter of the three hundred spectators in the bleachers. The response that Martin Ragaway’s clever and snappy dialogue elicited suddenly made every hour on the air in Hornell, New York, every appearance at the Chamber of Commerce luncheons, every elephant race on the Ventura Freeway worth it.
My dad’s performance caught the attention of Donna Reed’s husband/producer, Tony Owen, who was producingThe Donna Reed Showon ABC (everyone in the industry watched theVan Dyke Show). IfThe Dick Van Dyke Showwas a dry martini with a couple of olives,The Donna Reed Showwas lukewarm milk. It had been running for five years and was starting to curdle. It badly needed either an infusion of fresh, sassy honey or to be left to turn into yogurt. Owen and Reed were looking for a couple of new supporting characters for Reed and came up with Dr. Dave Kelsey (a cohort of Carl Betz’s character) and his wife. Owen made an offer to my dad and Ann McCrea to play the roles in a seven out of thirteen episodes deal. That meant they would appear on the show every other week. If a season consisted of twenty-six episodes, my dad and McCrea would bring their neighborly charms to fourteen of them. Owen and Reed were sly show business veterans, but while they wanted new kids in town, they weren’t prepared for the strong, pure energy that was about to be unleashed on the stale, tired series.
Donna Reed was a big-time Hollywood actress who had won a Supporting Oscar for her role inFrom Here To Eternityand had costarred with Jimmy Stewart inIt’s a Wonderful Life.My dad certainly appreciated her stature, but after filming a couple of episodes he became acutely aware thatThe Donna Reed Showwas notThe Dick Van Dyke Show.The writing was sweet but corny, and certainly not at all hip. It was a one-camera show. There was no live audience, and an irritating laugh track tried to spice up the otherwise unfunny dialogue and situations. It was a comfortable but unexciting program. The veteran crew just went through the motions and cashed their weekly checks. Most of them had probably been around since Harry Cohn ran the Columbia Studios lot. On the plus side, my dad could continue to do the morning KNX show, then walk fewer than a hundred yards diagonally across the street and enter ColumbiaPictures, whereThe Reed Showwas filmed. He was off the air at 9:55 and in makeup by 10:00. He was making more money than he or his relatives back in Connecticut could ever have imagined. He had the number one morning radio show in Southern California and was a regular on a network series working with a motion picture star. The only problem was that my dad couldn’t resign himself to performing pap after hisDick Van Dykeexperience.
After that first season onThe Donna Reed Show,my dad continued his emulation of Jack Paar by telling stories out of school about working on the Reed set. Producer Tony Owen didn’t appreciate his smart-alecky candor. He felt the young upstart was biting the hand that partially fed him. Owen had given him an opportunity most youngish actors would have given their capped teeth for, but my dad wanted to be Dick Van Dyke or Jack Lemmon or Gig Young, and just couldn’t settle for Carl Betz.
It was a snake pit audience at the Crane household. My mom was just happy that my dad was working and making good money. My grandmother Nan was still figuring out how my dad could appear on television while he was home watching it. My five-year-old sister Debbie and I (thirteen) sensed my dad’s frustration with the bland scripts and acting style ofThe Donna Reed Show,and we seized every opportunity to pile on disdain for the entire enterprise like a couple of linebackers jumping on the stack of players after the whistle. Our baby sibling Karen was four and more accepting of the show’s sugarcoating. Debbie and I made loud, obnoxious comments about how corny the show was, with little knowledge of or respect for how difficult an actor’s life was. We were a despicable audience, rude to my dad. He was doing the best he could with what he had to work with. It was not his series, he didn’t write it, and he was just a supporting character. His earnings put our family in a comfortable zone, and we were ungrateful wiseasses. Unable to resist his own instincts, my dad related some of his children’s worst insults about theReed Showon his radio program, and of course, Owen and Reed heard about it. Tony Owen, rightfully, didn’t appreciate the bad-mouthing, but he allowed my dad to play out his two-year contract. Ann McCrea remained a wacky neighbor without a wacky doctor husband after those two seasons.
IfThe Donna Reed Showwas a mediocre cloud, then at least it had a bronze lining. After my dad got the heave-ho, his agent at William Morris called him and said, “Bob, have I got an interesting script for you. Prisonerof war camp during World War II. Nazi commandant, German shepherds, gun towers, the whole strudel.” This was late 1964.
Bobby, Bob, Anne, Karen, and Debbie Crane poolside, 1964 (author’s collection).
My dad said, “Thanks, but I want to do comedy. I want to be Dick Van Dyke. I want to be Jack Lemmon. I want to be Gig Young. I’m not a dramatic actor.”
“Bob, what are you talking about?” the agent said. “Thisisa comedy. These are the funny Nazis.”
“The Heroes,” asHogan’s Heroeswas originally titled, was created by Bernard Fein and Albert Ruddy, who would later produce the Oscar-winning Best PicturesThe GodfatherandMillion Dollar Baby.In its first incarnation the show was set in a contemporary federal prison. Fein and Ruddy took it to ABC, where they did not get a lot of interest from the executives in their funny thieves, rapists, and murderers. The premise just didn’t work, so they rewrote it, borrowing heavily fromStalag 17,a Billy Wilder film starring William Holden. There was a Sergeant Schultz inStalag 17,and there was a Sergeant Schultz in “The Heroes.” But what really made it work was filching a little bit from the James Bond franchise,sinceDr. No, From Russia with Love,andGoldfingerhad all recently been huge hits.
The idea was to have the POWs at Stalag 13 create all kinds of whizbang gadgets, all in the service of getting the better of their nincompoop captors—the Allied prisoners would be running their own base of clandestine and underground operations from a POW camp during WWII. The creators renamed the showHogan’s Heroesafter Colonel Hogan, the American officer who led his crazy quilt of captives—the Frenchman LeBeau, the Cockney Newkirk, the Americans Carter and Kinchloe, and whichever guest stars happened to drop in at the Stalag that week—on various exploits. Originally, they also had a Russian POW who was played by an actor named Leonid Kinsky, but it turned out he was too old for the group, so they let him go after shooting the pilot.
The pilot was shot in black-and-white, the interiors at Paramount Studios and the exteriors at 40 Acres/Desilu in Culver City. It was the last pilot made and the first pilot sold for CBS’s new fall 1965 season. William Paley and the executives at Blackrock, CBS headquarters on Fifty-second Street in Manhattan, were ecstatic. They loved it. They were jumping into the troop movement started two years earlier byThe Great Escape,a huge hit set in a German prisoner of war camp and starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and an all-star international cast, and 1965’sVon Ryan’s Express,which starred Frank Sinatra and was set in an Italian POW camp.
In television and motion pictures, the stories, trends, and stars run in cycles, so it made sense that CBS would hop on the POW bandwagon, albeit employing relative unknowns and a weekly schedule. Blackrock hoped a large viewing audience would root for the Allied prisoners serving their countries by conducting missions behind enemy lines. They would blow up bridges, steal secrets, and generally confound the enemy, all with a laugh track. The stark black-and-white cinematography helped with the look of the pilot episode, but more and more TV series were going to color so, of course,Hogan’shad to be in color as well. I never thoughtHogan’s HeroesandCombat!looked as good in color as they did in black-and-white, but they had to conform for commercial reasons. Viewers were buying color television sets, and damn it, they wanted color programming.
After numerous test audience screenings, CBS felt thatHogan’s Heroeswas going to become one of its most popular new weekly series.The strong buzz emanating from CBS programming executives traveled crosstown to Madison Avenue and the all-important advertisers, who in those days sponsored entire episodes. General Foods bought up commercial time and planned to useHogan’s Heroescast members to sell Jell-O.
Filming began in June 1965. My dad would go live on KNX at 6:05 in the morning, finish at 8:00, drive to Paramount or Culver City, depending on the three-day shooting schedule, and film all day and often into the early evening. Sometimes stunts involving tanks, trucks, and even airplanes would take the filming late into the night. My dad taped the 8:00 to 9:55 segments of his radio show at night after filmingHogan’sor on the weekends for the upcoming week. My mom, sisters, and I saw so little of him during the filming of the first eight episodes he was known as “Uncle Daddy” at our house.
CBS publicity created an onslaught of television, radio, and print ads for the show. Satirist Stan Freberg created a radio campaign:
Freberg: “So, can we say if you loved World War II, you’ll loveHogan’s Heroes?”
Crane: “No, we better not say that.”
Visiting the set became de rigueur for General Foods, Philip Morris, and Madison Avenue executives. There were also visits from American film master John Ford and English pop invader Dave Clark. There was a sense of fun in the air on the set as well as, more important, a scent of success.
For my dad, this was a long way from “Voice of Disc Jockey” onThe Twilight Zoneand a million light years from his small bedroom, consumed by a full drum set, at his parents’ Stamford, Connecticut, house. These could have been heady times for him, but there were no spare minutes to consider the changes afoot as the fame factor invaded our lives over the next few weeks.Hogan’s Heroesand KNX ate up his days.
Reluctantly, my dad met with Bob Sutton, who ran KNX and had hired him nine years earlier, to announce that he physically could not continue performing both jobs. Sutton took it well; like everyone else at KNX, he had heard nothing but great comments about the television series, not to mention the Freberg radio commercial spots for the show, which were running on the air all the time. Besides, CBS owned KNX so my dad wasn’t abandoning that family.
My dad was on his way to being Jack Lemmon, but he wouldn’t have minded being Buddy Rich or Louie Bellson either. He wasn’t in the Richor Bellson category, but he was a pretty damn good drummer. He had started out playing in his high school band at Stamford High, which is where he met my mom. She played the glockenspiel. He went on to play timpani with the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra for a while but was bored by it. His goal when he was a teenager was to be in the big bands, playing with Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, or Stan Kenton.
Buddy Rich, Bob Crane, and Louie Bellson, Redlands, California, 1978 (photo by Karen Crane; author’s collection).
At fifteen I put together a rock band with two friends, Dave Arnoff and Ron Heck. We were a power trio. Ron played lead, Dave was on bass, and I played the drums. I used my dad’s spare Gretsch drum set that he had at home for the band, but I was only a fair to average drummer. I could keep the beat and sing on key, but I couldn’t do any of the pyrotechnicsthat my dad could. Ron Heck always impressed me because he played the same type guitar, a Rickenbacker, that Jim McGuinn of the Byrds played, except Ron was left-handed, and Arnoff was a great character because he had the longest hair and the oddest demeanor, a kind of Dylan meets Hendrix persona.
My garage band days coincided with the beginning of home video for my dad. He would bring out the new Sony camera and video deck, half-inch tape, reel-to-reel, and make videos of our band playing in the living room.
It was the mid-’60s, with all the craziness over the Beatles, the Byrds, the Stones. I loved what was happening. I loved the English invasion—the Kinks, the Animals, the Zombies. I thought I was going to be a rock musician for about five minutes, not knowing anything about what it took to get out of the living room and get a real, paying gig at the Troubadour or the Whisky A Go-Go or Gazzari’s on the Strip.
Toward the tail end of my dad’s KNX show in the summer of 1965, when he was doing double duty performing on the radio and shootingHogan’sat the same time, I was with him one evening at the basement entrance to the radio building at Columbia Square. Suddenly we were surrounded by five longhaired guys as my dad was trying to find his keys. I was slyly looking at each of them in turn as my dad finally got the door open. We let them into the building, and they headed to the Columbia Records studio as we took the elevator up to my dad’s office.
“Dad, do you know who those guys were?” I asked.
“No, Bobby, I don’t.”
“That was the Byrds.”
“Who?” As much as he knew about music, he didn’t follow what was happening in rock ’n’ roll.
The Byrds had just come out with theMr. Tambourinealbum. David Crosby, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, and Chris Hillman. I had been standing there in the presence of greatness.
Two years hence, the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star” would address lazy wannabes like me. It’s one thing to play in the living room with your buddies, and another thing to get out in the trenches. We did have a few gigs—a birthday party at somebody’s house in the hills above Tarzana, the Corbin movie theater before a Saturday matinee, and a bar mitzvah at a restaurant in Encino called the Queen’s Arms—but my rock stardom ended with a ten-minute jam of “Hava Nagila.”
My dad’s farewell KNX morning show aired August 16, 1965, a month beforeHogan’s Heroesdebuted. It was a “Best of,” where he played his favorite interviews and music, drummed to a few tunes, and rattled his sponsors one last time with his witty, bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you gimmicks. He was thirty-seven years old, late for emergence as an actor, but perfect for the role of Colonel Hogan.
Hogan’s Heroesbecame an instant popular hit with its debut at 8:30 on Friday night, September 17, 1965. The series would finish number nine in the Nielsen ratings for that first season. Although many critics liked it, an equal number thought the show was in bad taste. It was, for them, still Nazis with a laugh track. Some critics felt World War II was still too fresh for comic treatment. The war had ended just a scant twenty years earlier. Compounding the issue, whenHogan’s Heroespremiered, some members of the press misunderstood or misconstrued the premise of the show, confusing a prisoner of war camp with a concentration camp, and took great umbrage. The editors ofTV Guideremain offended to this day, calling the show one of the worst series in television history.
ButHogan’s Heroestakes place in a POW camp housing American, French, British, and other Allied soldiers. They are performing heroic deeds behind enemy lines. Some critics and viewers just didn’t see it, or couldn’t see it, or perhaps didn’t want to see it. I concede that maybe the memories of World War II hadn’t receded sufficiently. Interestingly,M*A*S*Happeared twenty years after the Korean War, and both the movie and television series won nominations and awards because, in between golfing, sipping martinis, and smoking marijuana, the medics kept expressing how awful war is. The critics loved it!
The war in Vietnam has spawned a lot of drama—Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Drive, He Said,andComing Home—but Hollywood has never found any humor in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Maybe one day we’ll get the wacky and zany hijinks of “Ho’s Heroes.”
The truth is that the producer ofHogan’s Heroes,Edward H. Feldman, and many of the directors, writers, and cast members were Jewish. Robert Clary, who played LeBeau, was in a concentration camp. He had a number tattooed on his forearm. The actors who played the Germans—Klink, Schultz, Burkhalter, and Hochstetter—were all Jewish. They caught the humor and cashed the paycheck. Werner Klemperer, a real liberal, won two Emmys playing the befuddled camp Kommandant, Colonel Klink, even while he spent much of his free time protesting against the Vietnam War.
The San Fernando Valley, where my family lived, and which many of L.A.’s Westside residents already viewed as foreign soil, supported the third-largest population of Jews in the world after Israel and New York City. During the High Holy Days in September or October, my high school was a ghost town. The reason I mention this is to point out that some of my Jewish classmates were heavily influenced by what was obviously being said at home. That sometimes put me on the receiving end of looks of disapproval, disappointment, or anxiety. “Hey, that’s the kid whose father’s in the show making fun of concentration camps. Get him!” I felt like there was a swastika tattooed on my forehead long before Charlie Manson thought of it as a fashion statement.
I had been in love since the third grade with a girl named Karen Nudell, the smartest, cutest girl in my class. In fact, when my parents were searching for a name for my youngest sister, they settled on Karen after I suggested it as a tribute to the girl who owned my nine-year-old heart. But would Karen Nudell ever want any part of a goy whose father was an actor on a show that mined laughs from the Luftwaffe? I think not.
Producer Edward H. Feldman’s premise was that however unreal the series appeared to some critics and viewers, everyone involved in the production was to play it as though the situations were real. If the viewers could weather the laugh track behind a prison camp and care about the characters, the Allied soldiers, and their plight, then they were onboard. And whether you likedHogan’s Heroesor not, it was a landmark idea, with a good cast, funny scripts, and a respectful attitude toward its audience, which is why it’s still playing fifty years later.
My dad had relied on himself—his intuition, his judgment, his sense of the room—throughout his radio career at KNX. When he startedHogan’sit was no longer a case of microsecond processing of ideas and speaking as it had been on the radio. He needed to trust the person at the top of the pyramid, and that person was Feldman. Feldman had extensive experience in television production, responsible for hiring and firing actors, writers, directors, costumers, and editors. Based on his experience on the pilot episode that sold the series, my dad invested his trust in Feldman, who ultimately was the barometer of class and taste for the show. Ed Feldman hired New York stage actors; movie veterans; some old-timers in cinematography, wardrobe, and makeup; some TV war-horses in writing and directing; and a pair of young film editors for pacing. Feldman had my dad’s complete trust, butHogan’swould be the onlyendeavor my dad undertook in which he trusted someone else more than himself. AfterHogan’srun, the creative trust reverted solely to my dad and his own instincts, and that’s where his trouble began.
Bob Crane, Ivan Dixon, and Bobby Crane onHogan’s Heroesset, Hollywood, 1969 (author’s collection).
My dad was almost never home, portraying Hogan five days a week, fifteen-hour days locked up at Stalag 13 in Culver City. My dad enjoyed those thousands of hours on the set with the cast—Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer), Sergeant Schultz (John Banner), Corporals LeBeau (Robert Clary) and Newkirk (Richard Dawson), Sergeants Carter (Larry Hovis) and Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon)—all sharing laughter and good times in character and out. TheHogan’sproduction team was cranking out thirty-two episodes a season in the first few years. Nowadays, a show likeDexterorDamagesproduces ten episodes and calls it a season. The production had limited time and money. An episode was filmed in three days with a $90,000 budget. Hell, today that probably doesn’t even cover Charlie Sheen’s weekly budget for cocaine.
In addition to my dad’s grueling weekday schedule, on the weekends,there were promotional trips to CBS affiliates around the country, “meet and greets” with fans, and visits to New York for appearances on CBS programs likeWhat’s My Line?andThe Arthur Godfrey Show.So while all those fun-loving POWS and their German captors were winning the hearts and minds of America, my mom was left to hold the home front together, still just Annie from Connecticut (as she always will be). My mom bristled sometimes having her mother under the same roof, and there were clashes now and again. My dad didn’t really appreciate having his taciturn, judgmental Swedish mother-in-law always within earshot, but he was home less and less. The upside for all of us was that Nan was there all the time taking care of my younger sisters. She was the built-in babysitter, tsk-tsker, and Dean of Discipline. I became the little man again, the only male in the house for extended periods of time.
7Round Up the Usual Suspects, 1978
When we left the Scottsdale morgue, detectives Ron Dean and Dennis Borkenhagen, who were put in charge of the red-hot case, swapped possible murder scenarios with us. It wasn’t quite a sit-down interview, just a trading of information. I ran through a list of people I thought were possible suspects. My first thought was there was a jealous boyfriend or husband out there, but then again, the women my dad fooled around with were not really the kind of women who had jealous boyfriends or husbands. Maybe my dad just fell into bed with the wrong woman this time. The Scottsdale apartment was what the police described as “a very passionate murder scene,” not some cold-hearted Mafia hit. Someone had wielded a blunt instrument with enough force to kill my dad with two anger-filled strikes. Dean and Borkenhagen’s prime suspect was the roving video equipment salesman John Henry Carpenter. They felt he had means, opportunity, and the physical strength to have inflicted the fatal blows. What they didn’t have was a motive.
Then I thought about my stepmother, Patti. WhenHogan’s Heroesdebuted in 1965, the German Kommandant, Colonel Klink, had a curvaceous secretary called Helga, played by an actress named Cynthia Lynn. She mysteriously left the show after the first raucous season, replaced by another buxom actress wearing blonde pigtails and tight sweaters. It wasn’t until years later I found out that the reason Cynthia Lynn abruptly left the show was because she and my dad were having an affair, and her husband discovered the liaison and gave her an ultimatum: leave the show or divorce. She chose her marriage and cancelled her career. Unfortunately, her marriage got a pink slip a few years later, anyway.
So Helga became Hilda, and Cynthia Lynn dissolved into Sigrid Valdis. Valdis as Hilda would say, “Ja, mein Colonel” from the second season through the 168th and final episode. Valdis as Hilda would appear with Klink and Schultz on my dad’s one and only record album cover. Valdis as Hilda would treat those on-set kisses with Colonel Hogan in Klink’s outer office as a rehearsal, a prelude to an insurance policy on an acting career that was as doomed as the Third Reich. Valdis as Hilda would become my stepmother.
Sigrid Valdis was the nom de guerre of Patricia (Patti) Olson, sprung from the onion fields of Bakersfield to occupy the fertile beds of Hollywood. She landed the role of Hilda shortly after her first husband died from a brain aneurysm. They had been married just under ten years and had a young daughter, Melissa. Patti had worked with James Coburn inOur Man Flintand with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin inMarriage on the Rocks,playing small roles requiring large cleavage. On theHogan’sset her talents attracted the immediate attention of Richard Dawson, but Patti was not going to hitch her ample wagon to the corporal when the colonel might be available for a hookup.
On a TV series, actors begin as coworkers, but if you’re lucky enough to be a regular cast member on a hit show, the series actors can spend what amounts to years together rehearsing, filming, socializing—breaking for lunch and sometimes for dinner, too. The actors become real friends, second family members, and in the case of my dad and Patti, lovers.
Their time spent filming together segued into evening meetings at restaurants, which then morphed into quick, discreet sexual encounters in my dad’s dressing room in the production building, and finally into full-blown carnal knowledge at Patti’s apartment in Westwood on my dad’s way home to a much more chaste Tarzana.
As my mom played both parental roles at home, Patti played the hyphenate roles of friend-lover-wife-mistress at work and on the road. My dad was also playing a multitude of roles: good Catholic son, high school sweetheart, husband, father, Casanova, and most important, Colonel Robert E. Hogan, lead character on a flourishing network television series beloved by millions.
Patti not only seemed to understand my dad’s needs and proclivities; she nurtured them, fed them, and even participated in them. Their relationship began while my mom and dad were still married, and while Ican’t cite it specifically as the cause of my parents’ divorce, Hogan and Hilda were a force that would not be denied.
As far as we knew at that moment in Scottsdale, Patti had neither means nor opportunity, but she alone did have a motive.
8Zero to Ninety, 1965–1966
My dad was on autopilot as his recognition factor went from zero to ninety in a month, which naturally impacted the rest of the family. A dramatic change was in the air for the Crane household. Walking through a crowded Du-Par’s to get a hamburger suddenly became disconcerting as we heard tittering, whispering, or even a rebel yell—“Hogan!” My dad was less concerned.
Soon, too, we had strange people showing up at the Vanalden house. An electric gate was installed. One attractive woman in her thirties somehow got through the gate and rang the front doorbell. The fact that there was someone at the front door signaled something odd. Everyone who knew us, who visited us at the house, came in through a side door that opened into the kitchen. My mom nervously answered as I stood guard nearby. The woman showed us a photo of a young child and said she wanted to see the father—my dad. My mom, in her low-key style, managed to get the woman off the property. If there was any fallout between her and dad over this, I never heard about it, and to my knowledge no one ever heard from the woman again. The members of my family—mom, sisters, grandmothers, grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousins—had no experience in dealing with these kinds of occurrences. There was no guidebook, noCelebrity for Dummies,we could reference.
My dad’s anonymity was forever gone, but he felt he had earned the notice. Good or bad reviews aside, he had taken the next step, a big one, and there was no point in looking back. My dad was securely in the present. Being recognized was a Nielsen-like test of popularity. His face was the product he was selling, and if it didn’t get recognized, hightailing back to radio would have been an ego destroyer for him. He wanted toattain a certain level of performance quality whereby he could, at least in his own mind, see the taillights of Jack Lemmon, Gig Young, and Tony Randall off in the distance. To him, the loss of privacy resulting from being on a hit TV show was a necessary evil, even as the intensity of his celebrity grew exponentially over the next few years.
Besides, his work was creative, he was making more money than his family had ever known, and he felt he was demolishing the small-town thought processes that had held him back. His only real disappointment was having to give up the radio show. Performing live on radio was his purest form of expression because the only script was in his head and there wasn’t a supporting cast, only funny voices or sound effects on vinyl. It was all his creation, with the assistance of his “fine engineer, Jack Chapman.” That was a pure creative process for my dad, and he was sad to give it up. But it was physically impossible to do a daily four-hour radio show and a one-camera filmed television series at the same time. So he took the plunge and put all his chips on making fun of the Third Reich.
Still, he would never completely shake the burg mentality engrained in his DNA. He would drive over to the Hollywood branch of Bank of America and stand in line to make a deposit on his lunch break, still wearing his Hogan uniform. It would never have occurred to him to send someone to do this chore. He picked up his own dry cleaning, went to the DMV, and always drove himself or had me drive him to the airport. There was never a VIP contingent for him.
CBS was riding a ratings-grabbing wave. It was a big-time network with big-time hit shows, and my dad was a part of that.Hogan’s Heroesfinished in the top ten in the ratings in its first season. There were Emmy nominations: for the show itself, for Werner Klemperer’s Colonel Klink as Best Supporting Actor, and for my dad as Best Actor in a Comedy Series (the first of two nominations). Unfortunately, he was up against Don Adams inGet Smartand Dick Van Dyke, who was the eventual winner. Even though my dad didn’t win, he was pleased to have been nominated, to have been recognized. It validated his move from his number one radio show.
At home Mom was keeping everything as low-key as possible, almost pretending all the hoopla wasn’t even happening. Occasionally, however, she would succumb to the Hollywood sirens’ call, getting out the fur coat and attending industry and charity event dinners with my dad. She went to the Emmy Awards. She did participate, but she certainly had no aspirationsto be a Hollywood wife or even to be part of Hollywood. For God’s sake, we lived in Tarzana, whichTV Guidecalled “the unfashionable Tarzana, California,” when it did an article on my dad. My folks enjoyed the perception that it was unfashionable. We were living in a town so named because the guy who created the “Lord of the Jungle,” Edgar Rice Burroughs, happened to be raising sheep on a hill off Reseda Boulevard. People expected TV stars and film people to live large in Bel-Air or Beverly Hills, not out in the foothill recesses of the San Fernando Valley, which in the 1950s and ’60s was more like Mayberry with oranges.
I was attending Gaspar de Portola Junior High School, and more and more kids were making the connection between Colonel Hogan and me, between Bob Crane and this kid named Bobby Crane who was in their English or industrial drafting class. I started to withdraw a bit because giggling kids at school I’d never met were awkwardly approaching me to ask, “Is your dad Colonel Hogan?” I didn’t like being prejudged depending on whether people likedThe Donna Reed ShoworHogan’s Heroesor KNX or disliked wacky neighbors or laughable Germans or radio. My classmates’ prejudgment was an automatic response, sometimes stoked at home by parents. After all, most fourteen-year-olds’ opinions are just reflections of those of their parents.
Coincidentally, Portola was the same school Dick Van Dyke’s two sons, Chris and Barry, attended. I didn’t really know Chris, but I knew Barry a little bit. Barry always handled being Dick Van Dyke’s son with ease, it seemed to me, and Dick Van Dyke was a major star. Not only did he have a hit TV series, he had just starred inMary Poppins.He was truly a big star, and yet Barry handled it with style. All the kids at Portola knew who he was, but he was completely unflustered by it. I didn’t know how he did that, and I envied him his cool. He was also part of the fast, hip crowd, at least as fast and as hip as thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds in the Valley could be. Barry’s crowd had the best parties at the neatest houses in Encino. Maybe that was part of it. Barry was an Encino kid. I was a Tarzana kid. There was in my mind a big difference. I thought Encino was more of a show business community, more upscale and hipper than Tarzana. I mean, Dick Van Dyke drove a Jaguar XKE. My dad drove a Cadillac. Barry Van Dyke was like the chief ambassador for show biz kids, and I didn’t quite get what my role at school was supposed to be. I didn’t know what my role in life was supposed to be. It was like Barry was the ambassador to London and I was the chargé d’affaires in Ouagadougou.I had once been, long ago, a cute radio kid, but now I was just an eighth-grade student trying to figure out algebra and worrying about how many sit-ups I could do in one minute without farting. I was positive that if Barry Van Dyke farted during a sit-up test in gym class, he’d handle that like a pro, too.
9Seeing Orange, 1978
After seeing my dad at the morgue I knew I had to call home. This was as close as I would ever come to being a war correspondent calling the international desk, reporting on the day’s casualty count. I could only imagine how many tears had already been spilled in anticipation of the worst. Certainly, there had been no phone call from my dad to my mom and Chuck clearing up the police blotter rumor. How did military messengers deliver the bad news? I’d much rather have done it in person. There is a coldness to a voice traveling through copper wire.
Luckily, Chuck answered the phone. I told him that my dad had not been shot; he’d been hit with something. I confirmed he was dead. I said I saw him. I said I saw him dead. I tried to keep my emotion in check like a good foreign correspondent. We weren’t on the phone long. I spoke, too, to my mom. She was sobbing. I could hear my dad’s mom in the background, her low moaning.
My family had been getting calls from friends and acquaintances who had heard something about the crime on the radio. That was long before CNN and the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The only reason the media even found out about the murder was because someone in the Scottsdale Police Department faxed the preliminary report to a reporter at theArizona Republic,and it mushroomed from there. Still, it was nothing like what would happen now in the twenty-first century.
Vaughn, Goldstein, and I checked into a nearby motel for the night. We were going to talk to the police again the next morning. It was still June 29, the evening of a very long day. I went out to the motel pool and collapsed into a chaise longue. I drank a couple of the beers I had liberated earlier from the crime scene and stared at the sky. I had never felt lonelier.
Just one week earlier my dad had attended a high school graduation party for my sister Karen held at my mom and Chuck’s house. Dad hadcanceled his play for that evening just so he could be there, and in the course of the afternoon he had a conversation with Chuck about his upcoming fiftieth birthday. He confided that he was seeing things differently, even mundane things. He told Chuck he was seeing the color orange for the first time, appreciating it—he believed he was on a different path. Today pundits would call it a sea change. He was going to try to reconstruct his life after getting out of his marriage to Patti. He’d already taken the first step by putting a $5,000 deposit on a house in Sherman Oaks, another Valley community. My dad had very few friends, yet despite that, it was my feeling that jettisoning John Carpenter was to be part of his planned rejuvenation. Dad had told me he felt Carpenter had devolved from being a fun-seeking friend to a hanger-on, a parasite. He was seeing a new horizon and was excited about it.
That image is burned in my brainpan: Chuck and my dad sitting in the backyard, looking out over the San Fernando Valley below. I thought at the time how strange that tableau was. It was uncomfortable for me to see my dad and my stepdad talking to each other (they had both made love to my mother, for one thing), but on the other hand how nice it was that they could have that quiet, intimate moment together without any animosity. I think they appreciated each other. They were two very different men, much like the kind of guests my dad liked to book on his radio show—one frenetic and funny, the other quiet and thoughtful—but there they were making the best of it for the family.
Although they were the same age, Chuck had the serene confidence and demeanor of a teacher, whereas my dad seemed always to be on a quest, like a young student. They had both been married twenty years to their first spouses. My dad was the father of four children and stepfather of one, and Chuck the stepfather of three. Chuck was the anticelebrity with no ego. He lived his life according to a strong moral code. He took his time thinking things through before reaching a decision, and his judgments were correct almost all of the time. My dad lacked patience and jumped in feet first, though I never saw him dive headfirst. He always anticipated the best and shrugged off the worst.
I tried to reconcile myself to the fact that my dad was dead, and I wondered about the changes coming into all the lives connected to him. My dad wouldn’t see his children get married. He wouldn’t see any of our achievements. He wouldn’t see us get older, mature. We would miss seeing him get older. He was now going to be locked in forever at forty-nine,two weeks shy of fifty. He wouldn’t see the changes he had talked about with Chuck actually happen. I wanted him to see the color orange. I wanted him to see new things because he could not have continued down the path he had been on much longer. What we’ve come to know as sex addiction wasn’t talked about at that time. We didn’t even talk about alcoholism in public. There was no Betty Ford Clinic, noCelebrity Rehabon television, no Doctors Phil or Drew. Those were all big-sky thoughts, lying there in the warm night staring at the stars through misty eyes.
Robert Crane and Chuck Sloan at home, Tarzana, mid-1980s (author’s collection).
Then I was also confronted by practical questions. Where would I live? I would have to move out of the apartment. I didn’t earn enough money as a freelance writer to afford a two-bedroom in Westwood. What would happen to all my dad’s equipment? He was in the middle of a divorce, but he was still married, technically, and I was guessing Patti still had certain rights. I worried about all this and about getting on a plane the next day, flying back to Burbank, getting in my car and driving back to the apartment I share with my dad. My dad who’s dead.
10Living la Vita Hogan, 1967
After shooting the first two seasons at Paramount Studios, theHogan’s Heroescompany moved west a few blocks to the smaller Desilu Cahuenga lot.The Andy Griffith Show, That Girl,andThe Dick Van Dyke Showall maintained soundstages and offices there. My dad had a small dressing room onstage, filled to bursting with a drum set, turntable, stereo equipment, and hundreds of albums. Between takes or while the crew was lighting the next scene, he would crank up the volume and drum to his heart’s content. It was a stress release for him as well as the other actors and technicians who were within earshot. When the second assistant director would signal to him that they were ready to film the next setup, off went Harry James or Quincy Jones, and the stage would return to its whisper-quiet mode.
My dad was struggling with playing two distinct and conflicting roles. First, he was the sociable host of the amusement park for grown-ups known as theHogan’s Heroesset. It was a land where everyone had a great time. The cast and crew all got along really well, with the glaring exception of Richard Dawson and my dad. The chief reason for their simmering animosity was that Dawson had read for the starring role of Hogan but wound up in the supporting role of the Eastender Newkirk. He did a decent job, considering he was basically a comedian and not an actor, but Dawson always believed he should have been Hogan and my dad was the pretender on his throne. My dad’s other role was that of the Catholic, churchgoing husband and father in charge of house and home, though he had relinquished much of that duty to my mom a long time before.
As the crow flies, theHogan’sset and not-so-posh Tarzana were fewer than twenty miles apart, but they represented two divorced worlds. Mydad’s frenetic days were spent in the wacky POW camp, complete with steak lunches, laughter galore with the actors from both Allied and German forces, and visits to the set from the likes of Lucille Ball, John Wayne, and an unending phalanx of models. These daytime labors were followed by evenings spent with a civilian wife, a critical mother-in-law, three rank-and-file kids, a German shepherd named Penny, and a small, gray poodle of indeterminate heritage named Candy, who had a habit of hacking up some kind of pellet whenever anyone but my mom tried to pet her. For my dad it wasn’t just a different world, it was a different galaxy, and he tried mightily to keep the artificial pyrotechnics of the set from becoming emotional explosions on the home front.
In addition to his on-set digs, my dad also had a larger dressing room offstage in the building that housed producer Edward H. Feldman and his production staff. That petite white bungalow included a small living room and kitchen area, and could have doubled for theHogan’s Heroesediting room, just yards away, where the real work was done. Film editors Jerry London, who later directed ten episodes of the series andShogun,among a hundred other credits, and Michael Kahn, who later became Steven Spielberg’s editor beginning withClose Encounters of the Third Kindand who has, to date, won three Academy Awards, helped shape each episode. They were integral parts of a successful series. At the end of each season, London, Kahn, and my dad would go through all the out-take footage—where actors flubbed their lines or started to laugh in the middle of a scene or when a light stand fell or there were costume malfunctions—and put together the best bits for a gag reel, which they showed at the season’s wrap party. TheHogan’sblooper reel became a highly anticipated yearly staple, and my dad would make copies for everyone in the cast and crew.
While legitimate work was being done in London and Kahn’s room, Colonel Hogan’s dressing room had a very different mission statement. It reflected a growing fanaticism with gadgets and a private, personal obsession that would later threaten to undermine everything this workaholic man had built from nothing. My dad was losing his perspective, developing a dangerous tunnel vision. He was raising a curtain of hypocrisy that had clouded his true self, but his new behavior was becoming counterproductive to achieving his aspirations.
For one thing, my dad’s dressing room was turning into porn central. There were strips of film, negatives, film cans, still and video cameraseverywhere. The red light was always on in my dad’s makeshift film-processing lab in the bathroom. He spent his “off-duty” time developing hundreds of photographs of the actresses and Playboy Playmates who were always stopping by the set—ostensibly to visit Brit bachelor-about-town Richard Dawson, but they soon became enamored with his commanding officer. It seemed word was out that theHogan’sset was the place to market your wares if you were young, shapely, and of the female persuasion.
Dawson’s friend John Henry Carpenter, a Sony video equipment salesperson, aided and abetted my dad, helping to transform his dressing room into a makeshift movie theater where the latest sixteen-millimeter porno films were projected onto a wall and copied to videotape by means of a Sony video camera taping the film, much the way first-run films are pirated today. This crude version of the Deluxe, Fotokem, or CFI labs could be dismantled in minutes if need be.
When I was sixteen and visiting theHogan’sset that summer, I was exposed to an “actress” named Candy Barr’s talents when my dad set up his sixteen-millimeter projector to premiere her latest sextravaganza. Candy Barr had been arrested in Texas for performing oral sex, so she refused to do that on film, but she did just about everything else before my unblinking teenaged eyes. This might have been my dad’s clumsy, Hollywood way of having a “birds and bees” talk with his coming-of-age son, but what strikes me now looking back is that his equipment-laden room was another in a series of tech-heavy habitats that grew progressively darker. What started in the bright innocence of the back room of our house with all its music and editing paraphernalia eventually transferred to the dim Westwood apartment with its snare of wires, monitors, and videotape decks, then ultimately morphed into the grisly crime scene in Scottsdale with its lablike display of oversized video camera, metallic freight luggage, and strips of film negatives hanging spent and passionless in the makeshift darkroom/bathroom.
It was as though the same set designer and set dresser had been hired at all these locations but over the years had grown jaded and weary in his work. I only wish the Scottsdale apartment had been a set and the tawdry drama that played out within its walls a long-forgotten made-for-TV movie.
My dad’s relationship with Carpenter created an intimacy and dependency that each assumed had no consequences. As my dad’s popularitylevel rose, he became less and less certain of what his own life meant, both to himself and to his family. His Carpenter-assistedcinéma du Hogancould take place only in Hollywood, far from the friendly confines of the Vanalden house, where the only titillating artworks were the occasional seminude jazz or soul album cover and a substantial stack ofPlayboymagazines tucked away in the back room closet.
I began spending more and more hours alone in the back room. The siren sound of the thick wooden closet door’s plastic rollers sliding over their metallic track bracketed my visits to the hidden flesh palace within. One day my mom decided to drop in while I was enjoying a layout featuring a healthy, freshly scrubbed maiden from Takemyclothesplease, USA. Mom rapidly deduced I wasn’t drumming, playing records, or watching television since I was sitting cross-legged in front of the closet—and not because my interest in anatomy was going to lead to a career in medicine. I noticed her reddish-blonde hair first as she peeked around the corner of the wall of record album shelving. With no time to bid adieu to the lassie from Lascivious, Ohio, my face turned communist red. I was busted.
Embarrassed, Mom yelled, “Wait till your father gets home!”
Yeah, right, I thought. If she only knew.
As my skin color and body temperature returned to normal, I felt ashamed, and I mentally flogged myself for being such a disappointment to my mom. At that moment it was unfathomable to me that I would one day not only regularly write forPlayboy,but actuallyreadthe magazine as well.
In that faraway nebula of Tarzana, my days were spent at William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills, where I persisted in my B academic world with no career objective on the horizon, although I was occasionally tickled by a creative writing, photography, or art class. I spent an exorbitant amount of effort trying to fly below the radar, trying to fit in, trying to hide the fact that my dad was a television star on a popular series on a major network. This was back in the day when a hit show pulled in 30 million viewers a week.
It was okay if kids disliked me because I was a jerk, but not because they thought my dad’s TV show sucked, or he sucked as an actor, or that World War II sucked, or that Germans are a sweet, fun-loving group of people who just enjoy invading other countries. I always wondered if the son of someone like the heart surgeon Michael DeBakey would ever get knocked for the association. “Man, your dad’s transplants suck!” Butwhen you’re performing in the arts or sports, you’re wide open to the critics, the fans, the crazies, the people who are infatuated with you or resent you simply because they aren’t in the spotlight. And they should be, dammit!
Junior high had been fun, but high school seemed a long road paved with life’s mediocrity that lay ahead and the immediate fear of ridicule. Just to persist through the three years, grades 10, 11, and 12, was a survival test. Some kids had Scouts or Pony League or the school marching band to escape into away from problems at home or the hurt generated by mocking schoolmates. More and more, I enjoyed decamping behind the barbwire of Stalag 13 during my teenage years. It was a safe, insulated sanctuary apart from the judgment of my peers. It was also a great escape.
WithHogan’s Heroesa big hit on CBS, the executives at Black Rock in Manhattan looked for creative avenues to exploit the series’ popularity. Someone working for William Paley, head of the corporation, had seen my dad drum onThe Red Skelton Hourand said that he wasn’t half bad. Calls were made to agents in Los Angeles, and soon my dad was drumming with musical veterans like Ray Brown on bass, with Ernie Freeman arranging and Stu Phillips producing. Some of the players had worked with Sinatra. My dad filmedHogan’sduring the day and recorded music at night.
The resulting album of television theme music, produced by Epic Records, a subsidiary of Columbia Records, which was owned by CBS, was calledBob Crane (Colonel Hogan), His Drums, and Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV.Some of the theme songs, like those forGet SmartandF Troop,featured gimmicklike voices and sound effects not unlike those my dad had used on his radio show. John Banner did a spoken-word cameo as Sergeant Schultz on theHogan’s Heroestrack. The album was recorded in the Columbia Records studio in the basement of the KNX Radio building at Sunset and Gower. My dad had returned to the scene of his earlier radio success but now as a television star. I went to the sessions, bringing along my school homework, as if I was going to work on it. Some of those sessions went late into the night. My dad was ecstatic, back in the world of the big band, laughing and playing alongside some of the best session players in Los Angeles.
Naturally, Epic Records wanted aHogan’s Heroestie-in for the cover artwork so CBS could place ads for the album inTV Guideand other extensively circulated magazines. The result was a drum set being placedin the middle of the Stalag 13 set—Hogan behind the drums—surrounded by Colonel Klink, his secretary, Hilda, and Sergeant Schultz, all in costume, of course. The photographer, Gene Howard, suggested using an extra German soldier, weapon menacingly pointed in their direction, to give the tableau an “authentic” look. Since I was visiting the set in Culver City my dad pitched me as the guard. Or, rather, strongly suggested that I could deliver what Howard needed for the photograph. I was sixteen, so perhaps too young to play a German soldier convincingly, but I gave it my best shot, turning on a glowering look of intimidation. As I was getting into my storm trooper uniform, complete with helmet and machine gun, my thoughts returned to childhood days spent playing army with Ron Heck, emulatingCombat!and Vic Morrow as Sergeant Chip Saunders, spending hours in our backyards fending off imaginary onslaughts of “Jerries.” Now here I was, kitted out as the young Aryan who would have been machine-gunned or blown up by myCombat!hero. It seemed like an honor.
I didn’t have to learn any lines. I didn’t have to speak. I just had to stand there with my rubber machine gun pointed at the stars ofHogan’s Heroes.Howard went through a couple of rolls of film capturing what the publicity department at Epic Records was after.
I thought it was great that my dad included me in his project, even if it was just throwing me a bone. His unyielding father had never thrown him so much as gristle. There was a price for laughter in that family—a laugh had to be earned. I think my dad may have developed his quick wit as a form of rebellion against his stern, stoic Connecticut family. In Culver City on that photo shoot, the laughs were plentiful and easy, and my rubber Mauser and I were a part of the fun.
Despite the ads inTV Guide,Bob “Colonel Hogan” Crane’s album stiffed, notwithstanding his gimmicks, sounds effects, and drumming sessions with some of the best musicians in town. Listening to Hogan drum to theMy Three Sonstheme song couldn’t draw a $5 bill out of even the most dedicated fan’s wallet. Still, my dad thought the experience was worth it. His one and only album completed his recording contract. And I thought it was cool. I mean, the Yardbirds recorded for Epic Records. Years later, Epic would become home to some squeaky-clean, moonwalking kid from Gary, Indiana, name of Jackson.
DespiteHogan’sbeing a hit and generating millions of dollars for CBS, Paramount, and Bing Crosby Productions, my dad didn’t seek outperks. He didn’t get driven to the set ofHogan’s Heroesin a limousine; he preferred to drive his own car, memorizing his lines for the day’s scenes on his way to Hollywood or Culver City. When I got a driver’s license, I would drop him off at the airport when he was going out of town, and he would make his own way through the check-in protocol without studio publicity department handlers or airline VIP escorts. That may have been the movie star world, but it wasn’t Planet Crane. My parents were self-reliant, just like the pioneers they once were. That changed when my dad met Patti inHogan’ssecond season. Then it was as though he ceded all control of his destiny to her.
Bob Crane album cover: Bobby Crane, Werner Klemperer, Bob Crane, Sigrid Valdis, and John Banner, Culver City, California, 1967 (photo by Gene Howard; author’s collection).
11Happy Father’s Day, 1978
I don’t recall ever going to bed on the night following my dad’s murder. I was sitting out by the pool of the Hellhole Motel on the fringe of Scottsdale, staring at the stars and thinking about the impact of my dad’s death on Patti and her son and daughter and how the whole radioactive scene of her divorce from my dad had just been hosed down, demagnetized like so much used videotape. And all of it to Patti’s advantage.
My dad had phoned me the day after Father’s Day, June 18. “Bobby, you’ll never believe who showed up here yesterday,” he said. I could almost see him shaking his head.
I immediately started thinking of all the actresses or other women of interest to my dad. Gina Lollobrigida. Lee Remick. Stripper Angel Carter from the Classic Cat in Hollywood. There was a cast of thousands. “I have no idea,” I said finally.
“Patti and Scotty,” he said.
“You’re kidding! How did that happen?”
“They spent the night. It was very uncomfortable for everybody. I went out for a while with Scotty. We went to the park in the neighborhood. I was pretty relieved when they left.”
My dad was put off balance by Patti’s sudden appearance. He sounded completely bewildered to me, which was remarkable because he was almost never at a loss like that. My dad and Patti were just weeks from the decree finalizing their divorce. They were in the middle of World War III. Why would Patti do that after all the vitriol? Six months earlier, in her divorce petition, she had called my dad an unfit father who, among other grievances, showed his young son pornographic videotapes. The press had jumped all over that—“Hogan’s a Pervert!” Of course, my dad denied those accusations, and that’s when attorneys became involved and things turned really ugly. Maybe Patti was trying to con my dad into thinking they still had a marriage, but that was a lost cause. My dad wasgone on that issue. He was moving ahead, getting on with his life. Perhaps she did it as a show for the attorneys or even for the court, but Patti never lost sight of the fact that there was a lot of property at stake for her.
To this day I don’t know how she knew where he was staying. Patti knew my dad was going to be in Scottsdale only for a couple more weeks, and she was uncertain what was going to happen when he got home. She did not like uncertainty. I think she was there on a combination reconnaissance mission and a kind of perverted, half-assed attempt to show her son what a wonderful mother she was by taking him to see his dad, even though it was the worst possible time to do that. I think it was all for show. Her visit was especially odd considering that the only intercourse Patti and my dad were having was the volley of threatening letters that ricocheted between their divorce attorneys.
Was she getting the layout of enemy territory? Was she the scout for the agent or agents of destruction that would follow in her wake? Did she just want a few minutes alone in my dad’s apartment to look for something or things known only to her? After the murder it was discovered that one of the two sets of keys for the apartment was missing. Did Patti pick them up while she was there? The police never found the keys, nor did they ever seriously investigate Patti’s possible participation, active or otherwise.
In the morning, Lloyd Vaughn, Bill Goldstein, and I had breakfast together before going to the Scottsdale Police Department. I felt a little wobbly emotionally. We talked to Detective Dennis Borkenhagen and Lieutenant Ron Dean, who were leading the investigation. While they were asking me about jealous boyfriends of cocktail waitresses I kept reiterating that they needed to take a closer look at Patti’s motives and movements. They ignored me. They had their noses down on their own trail of clues.
Vaughn, Goldstein, and I boarded a plane and flew back to Burbank. I thanked Lloyd and Bill for all their help, got in my car, and drove to the Westwood apartment I had shared with my dad. I knew my time there was on life support. A security guard was standing outside the front door. I didn’t know who he was, who he was affiliated with, or on whose behalf he was there. The guard was about my age, with bad skin, and we talked for a minute. He was just there doing his job and didn’t know anything about anything. His job was to secure the apartment. He was, it turned out, hired by Patti to make sure nothing was taken from the apartment,and in performing his duties he refused to let me into my own home. I showed him my key, explained I had been living there for the past six months with my dad, and told him I needed to go into the apartment. He went in to phone his superiors, leaving me standing on the front step, door shut in my face, like an unwanted peddler. Somebody contacted Patti. After what seemed like hours of haggling I was allowed into the apartment—provided that the first night I was there the guard stayed inside the apartment too.
I went into my bedroom and locked the door. It was surreal to me that my dad had just been killed by person or persons unknown while he slept, and here I was in my apartment all night with a gun-toting stranger in the next room. I didn’t sleep much that night, either.
12Divorce, Tarzana Style, 1968–1969
The role of the lothario had hovered over my dad’s career since his walk-on inThe New Internsas Drunk Guy at Party with up-and-coming contract players like George Segal, Michael Callan, and Stefanie Powers. That epic was shot at Columbia Pictures at Sunset and Gower across the street from his morning gig at KNX and was an early opportunity for him to spend a few hours on a set. From there it was the break offered by Carl Reiner to appear as a philandering husband onThe Dick Van Dyke Showfollowed by two seasons as Carl Betz’s good-time dentist friend onThe Donna Reed Show.Then there was Colonel Hogan, a role that was as close to playing his hero, Jack Lemmon, as my dad would ever experience. Besides squeezing out some Lemmon, my dad gave Hogan the appropriate look of the day—a combination of James Garner, Robert Culp, Robert Vaughn, Robert Conrad, and Gig Young.
After a few seasons ofHogan’s Heroes,which by then was a well-oiled machine and a favorite at Black Rock in Manhattan, my dad jumped at the chance to costar in a motion picture with the red-hot European bomb-shell Elke Sommer. The script forThe Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultzhad never had any fingerprints of Garner, Culp, Vaughn, Conrad, or Young on it because it was toxic. The film was directed by George Marshall, a Hollywood veteran in his seventies who had distinguished himself with the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Bob Hope, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, but who was not fully connected to the hip late 1960s. His style of filmmaking and the look of the film, with its limp attempts at comedy, were relics of the ’40s and ’50s. Sommer was a nonactress who had appeared nude in many of her films as a way of unleashing her thespian gifts. She had graced the pages ofPlayboymagazine, which was why I was personally enthused about visiting the set. The director, the crew, the script, shooting at the nearly shuttered MGM lot, all cried archaic, antiquated, and out of touch. As a last-ditch effort to salvage some kind ofbox office viability, the producer threw in Werner Klemperer, John Banner, and Leon Askin fromHogan’sin an effort to inject some lifeblood into an otherwise DOA project.
My dad, playing an American conman in cold war Germany instead of World War II Germany, knew the film was a dinosaur in both method and message. This was 1968, and theNew York Timesmade the intriguing choice of feminist author Renata Adler to review the film. She wrote on behalf of her sisters and the changes in the air for women’s rights when she pointed out just how old-fashioned, chauvinistic, and downright dreadful the story and depiction of women were and how the film’s male characters (specifically my dad) were Neanderthal in their dealings with women. I hurt for my dad, who didn’t know Gloria Steinem from Mamie Van Doren. What he did know was that his smile couldn’t make up for such a vulgar script. His charm reserve tank had nowhere near the capacity to keep that baby rolling. Colonel Hogan was a winner because solid dialogue and situations propped him up and producer Ed Feldman served as quality-control inspector.
Even with as much skin as Elke Sommer could display, Paula Schulz’s wicked dreams turned into a nightmare. United Artists dumped the film out in February, when most feral dogs are released. My dad took his costar billing, his check, and a fistful of bad notices and hightailed it back to his day job.
In spite of thePaula Schulzdebacle, a year later my dad was offered and accepted the most prestigious role of his career—playing the Cary Grant role in an ABC television production ofArsenic and Old Lace.He worked with Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, and Fred Gwynne. The play was videotaped in front of a live audience in New York. It would be my dad’s only project outside ofHogan’sthat had a distinctive level of quality. It also challenged my dad’s acting chops. He did a respectable job, but Cary Grant didn’t need to come out of retirement to defend his crown. Besides, no one watched the broadcast.
In 1969, what had been our little Tarzana family series was suddenly canceled. Life as my parents, sisters, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles knew it was not being renewed for another season. Dad would never live in our house again. My parents, those rocks of stability, always to be counted on, taken for granted even, just crumbled overnight. Mom and Dad. Together since high school. Married for twenty years. The pioneers who had traveled west in their Oldsmobile Conestoga, braving thedangers of midwestern food and sleeping rough in Travelodges and Holiday Inns, would never spend another night together. I was seventeen, my sisters eight and nine.
Debbie, Bob, Karen, and Bobby Crane, Tarzana, 1968 (author’s collection).
The change came like a tsunami—a warm, comfortable atmosphere one moment, and then in an instant I was underwater, looking for something to keep me afloat. Everything I knew, trusted, and counted on was drowned. Overnight Mom officially became a single parent. Dad was officially gone. Gone with another woman. As blame, anger, mistrust, and confusion permeated the household, I looked at my dad differently from that moment on.
Young people don’t like change; they rely on continuity. Still comfortably naïve, I was trying desperately to hold onto something that wasn’t there anymore. We had just had our small world rocked by an 8.2 earthquake, and there was no way to prep for the ensuing surge when you didn’t know what was coming. It was everyone for himself; just try to keep your head above the rising tide.
I thought what might help me stay afloat was a girlfriend. There withlifesaving water wings was a chipper, freckle-faced redhead who loved politics named Chris Klauser. She and I dutifully played our roles as boyfriend and girlfriend, going to school dances, skiing with her family, making out in my ’66 Ford Mustang, which Chris dubbed the White Horse. We would break up, get back together, and ultimately attend the senior prom arm in arm. These were all anxiety-producing, seemingly important moments. In the end, like most high school romances, our relationship wasn’t sustainable. There wasn’t enough life experience for it to feed off. There’s only so long that teenaged hormones can keep a thing alive, but this first serious relationship did serve as a rite of passage, a necessary road for me to take and invaluable life experience in the mysteries of bra hardware.
At the same time I was having profound conversations with Chris about Vietnam, civil rights, and international justice, I found I could also have a pleasant time with a nonpolitical girl named Pam Connell, who had long, dark hair and was two years younger than I, in the tenth grade when I was a senior. We met in photography class. Pam came from a broken home, which I could immediately relate to. She was living with her mother; her dad was gone. She liked Creedence Clearwater Revival. In a lot of ways I could connect with her much more easily than with Chris, who came from a highly educated family stocked with teachers, professors, and principals. In the Klauser household there was always talk of PhDs, theses, and graduate schools, all things that my family had never experienced. Ultimately, I felt I didn’t fit in with that family. The Cranes were a circus troupe, a carny family compared to the Klausers. We were freaks. Besides, Pam Connell’s bra was a snap to unhook.
The impact on my life of my folks’ separation was truly the shattering of a dream. They had always seemed so safe, so certain. Perhaps they had thought so themselves, complacent that they could weather any storm. Hell, they had moved across the country. They had taken creative leaps. They were conservative by nature, politically and in terms of family values. There were no drugs; there was no alcohol. There was no pill-popping craziness, schizophrenia, suicide attempts, physical or mental abuse. We were a small-thinking, small-town family living in a suburban community with a dad who just happened to be on radio and television. However, by the time of the separation and divorce, my dad was a very well-known television star. That fact alone fueled the announcement of the breakup, which begat a raft of rumors and innuendoes: Bob cheated on Anne atwork, Anne cheated with her physician on Bob. It was another showbiz family run amok. Former working-class nobodies wrecked by money and fame.
I hated the expressions on the faces of my classmates when I entered a classroom or walked down a hallway. Some were sympathetic, some were smug and smirking, and some were embarrassed for me. I hated the whispers. “That’s Hogan’s son.” I didn’t want to be Hogan’s son. I cringed at having the same name. I went by Robert Crane to lessen the blowback of Bob Crane. Still, many well-meaning people called me Bob Crane Junior. I would smile and quietly respond, “I’m not a junior; we have different middle names.” The well-meaning people didn’t care. I wasn’t an individual to them. I rose or fell depending on how strangers felt about my dad. I’ve never been comfortable with that. I didn’t enjoy rooms going quiet when I walked in. I didn’t want to be the center of attention.
It all became a moot point when I graduated from Taft High School in June 1969 along with a thousand other boomer teenagers. My mom attended the marathon ceremony. My dad did not.
One of my chief motivating factors for going on to college was the simple fact that I wanted to survive past eighteen years of age. Going to college meant a 2-S student deferment from the draft, which equated to not having to draw my last breaths in a Vietnamese rice paddy because that country’s people didn’t embrace our square peg brand of capitalism and democracy in their round hole. I didn’t buy the sleight-of-hand McCarthyesque leftovers being sold by the war industry in Washington, DC, that proclaimed we had to stop the hammer and sickle before it came ashore in Long Beach.
Ours was a nonacademic family. There weren’t any parchment degrees and Phi Beta Kappa certificates decorating the walls next to the eight-by-ten glossies at our house. Success in show business didn’t require attending great houses of learning or acquiring a string of initials after your name. Still, with the monolithic demon of Vietnam looming over me, I talked to my dad about possibly going to the University of Southern California. USC had a world-class film school, and I wanted to be a filmmaker.
The height of American film—and world film, as far as I’m concerned—occurred during the ’60s and ’70s. Eagerly anticipated reviews from Charles Champlin and Kevin Thomas in theL.A. Timeswould kick-startboisterous conversations with friends about which film or films to see on the coming Friday and Saturday nights. We would drive over to Westwood and stand in line for an hour or more to get in to seeEasy Rider, Medium Cool, Midnight Cowboy,orThe Wild Bunch.Foreign films were at their height of popularity. I knew all the directors: Bergman, Visconti, Truffaut, Antonioni, Fellini. I looked forward to each month’s issue ofCinemamagazine. It was a very exciting time. Looking back now, I know that was partly because of my age and the fact that I was fresh and impressionable, but also it was an era of truly envelope-pushing filmmaking going on right before our eyes. Cassavetes, Costa-Gavras, Schlesinger, Penn, and Russell were just a few of the directors who were making thought-provoking movies. Film was art, and since I couldn’t paint, draw, or sculpt, I wanted to go to film school.
In the late ’60s there were three choices for film school: NYU, UCLA, and USC. My dad had emceed a few dinners for USC in previous years and happened to know the dean of the cinema school, Bernie Kantor. A phone call was made; I met with Dr. Kantor, filled out an application, and soon thereafter was accepted into the university even with my unexceptional 3.0 grade point average. It was like the Beatles tickets redux. Would I have been accepted at USC without my dad’s phone call? I don’t know, but since no one in my family had ever attended college, I felt proud of my pioneering soul.
13Loose Nukes, 1978
On the morning of July 1, I woke with a start. In an instantaneous and regrettable flood of consciousness I realized my dad was still dead and there was a stranger in the next room.
It turned out that the guard hired by my stepmother, Patti, was there because she was paranoid I might clear out the apartment. While there was a lot of equipment there that now technically belonged to her, that wasn’t what she was really worried about. Patti was afraid that I would get my hands on video footage and photos that revealed her in some very compromising positions, and the singular fiction she’d been presenting to the court—that my dad was pursuing a life of porn and yet was on the verge of a reconciliation with her—would go up in the toxic fumes of so much unpreserved nitrate film stock. I had seen evidence that proved Patti had a lot to be paranoid about. My dad had shown me photos of Patti and him with a woman they had met at a nightclub engaged in a threesome in the bedroom of their house on Tilden Avenue. The bedroom next to the one where their young son slept. The son Patti was trying to leverage to her advantage when talking to the judge and media jury.
I had tried not to look at the photographs initially, but it was like the irresistible pull you feel passing a car wreck on the highway—my voyeurism got the better of me. It was a looky-lulu moment. How many people ever see their parents or stepparents in carnal bliss? How many want to? Not many would be my guess. I didn’t have friends who had seen their stepmother nude, let alone having sex with another woman. Hell, I didn’t have any friends who even had a stepmother in the first place. Yet my dad proudly shared these shocking images with me as if he were hawking wares on a card table in Times Square. He behaved like a jock at a fraternity party, oblivious to my uncomfortable reaction. I felt like a cult member witnessing events that would sicken the average person. Nevertheless, I didn’t allow in ill feelings because of my belief that life is about processinginformation to decipher the truth. I felt that recording people and events in my mind’s eye always took precedence.
Patti knew my dad had these photos and plenty of other material that ballyhooed her talents as the star of the Midvale Avenue film production center located on our dining room table. She didn’t know the extent of my knowledge of her exploits, but she was keenly aware she had to secure the loose nukes that had her empire written on the nosecone. Not that launching her private images would have impacted her inheritance, which was hers alone, but it certainly would have pockmarked the public image she had concocted for the press, the courts, and her son. She was terrified I would back up a moving van to the apartment, sweep everything into it, and disappear, leaving the key in the door with a note reading, “See you in theEnquirer.”
The poor schmuck of a guard didn’t look like he had gotten much sleep either, and he clearly had no clue why he was in the apartment to begin with since I had returned home. I felt sorry for him. We both made some phone calls, and a short time later he received his marching orders.
Now I was really alone. The seriousness of that aloneness closed around me like the darkness in a theater just before the movie starts. I was in a ghastly horror film, and I already knew the blood-spattered ending. There was no hero coming to save the day, no last-minute intervention by the governor, no swelling of music as the sun slid into a calming ocean. There were only tears. Lots of tears.
At some point on that afternoon of July 1 Patti showed up at the apartment. It was not a condolence call. She offered nothing in the way of sympathy to a son who had just lost his father. She was on a mission. It was a reconnaissance, much like the one I imagine she had done in Scottsdale. She was reconnoitering, mentally inventorying the apartment and its contents. Maybe I was next on her hit list. This was the first time I’d seen or spoken to her since the murder. She was steely, dry-eyed, and cold as a concrete slab. She was not the grieving widow for her prodigal but supposedly reconciling husband. She walked quickly through the apartment, surveying, ticking items off in her head. She knew what she was looking for.
I asked her, innocently enough, “Why did this have to happen?”
“Well,” she said as she panned the dining room media center, “I guess your father’s lifestyle caught up with him.” That was it. One last look around and she was out the door.
I felt as though I were standing naked in the snow. The apartment was a frozen, lifeless place. My dad was no longer part of it. I resolved to move out, pronto. Even if I could have afforded the rent on my own, I would have had to move. All that equipment, the cameras and monitors, the tape decks, editing machine, the wires and cables, had all become just so much steel and plastic. It didn’t mean anything without my dad laughing and whistling as he spliced tape together or dubbed in music, entertaining himself with his own ingenuity.
When I did move out, I took a few items that my dad had said were mine. These included a three-quarter-inch videocassette player, a video monitor, and a tape recorder. But I did not take any of his video or photographic archive. I wanted to live to see my twenty-eighth birthday.
I’ve never been very attached to material possessions because things in and of themselves don’t mean much to me without the person they belong to. Clothing, shoes, jewelry, photographs, or other keepsakes just don’t resonate unless the person connected to them is still around, not necessarily in the vicinity but still walking the planet somewhere, sharing the air. Otherwise, all that stuff is clutter—dead, inanimate dust collectors. I keep people I love alive in my heart and my mind. I don’t need a threadbare sweater or a one-eyed teddy bear to remind me of someone important to me. Besides, I hate dusting.
Even so, I did keep my dad’s leather jacket fromHogan’s Heroes,but I cherished it not just because it was my dad’s but also because it was worn by Frank Sinatra in the 1965 filmVon Ryan’s Express.For me, the jacket was as much a piece of cinema memorabilia as it was a family memento. Like a UN peacekeeper I gave Hogan’s hat to Patti because she said Scotty always loved seeing his dad in it. Odd, since Scotty wasn’t even born until afterHogan’s Heroes’ six seasons were over.
I pulled up in front of my mom and Chuck’s house in my four-year-old orange BMW 2002. The usually quiet cul-de-sac was full of cars. I watched as people who had never been to the house before and would never be there again went in the front door. The scene had the appearance of the beginnings of a summer barbeque, albeit without any joviality. I joined the queue. Once inside I immediately spied the father of a friend of mine and some of Chuck’s family members, the Worthingtons, making their debut at the house. After my initial question “What are they doing here?” I realized they meant their presence to be consoling, but then Icynically thought, “Were they expecting to see Hollywood stars on the patio overlooking the Valley?”
Entertaining the guests superseded the opportunity to sit down with my mother, sisters, grandmothers, and Chuck to talk about “it”—to cry, hug each other, utter useless platitudes, and rally each other’s broken hearts. We were in the middle of a wake—drinks were poured, beers were opened, heads shaking all the while in disbelief. Most of the drop-ins had never met my dad, but they “knew” him.
Afternoon rolled ever so slowly into night, and my family never had that sit-down meeting, that cry fest, that hug-in. Stealing moments, we would catch one another’s eye and try to express smatterings of anger, disappointment, embarrassment, what-ifs, and whys. We exchanged comments that were fragments of feelings but never coalesced into a complete picture. It wasn’t just the presence of the outsiders. We were not a cohesive unit. We were not the mythical family that I had always fantasized we should be. The family that stands together, finding solace in tragedy.
In any event, I didn’t need to cry anymore. I’d done enough of that for now, and I knew there’d be more tears down the road. I also had no need for the hugs and handshakes, the concerned looks from neighbors and parents of friends. They offered up their quasi-religious airy statements meant as comfort, but these rapidly turned mind numbing. What I needed was a dialogue with my immediate family, an acknowledgment between us that some kind of otherworldly, unthinkable abnormality had happened to us. What I needed was for us to develop a mutual plan of attack on how to deal with the emotional fallout. That meeting has never to this day taken place.
On Wednesday, July 5, my dad was remembered by 150 people at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood and buried at the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth (where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers rest in peace). Carroll O’Connor, Patty Duke and John Astin, Robert Clary, Larry Hovis, Leon Askin, and Edward H. Feldman were among the attendees. Patti and Scotty avoided my side of the family, but John Carpenter did not. He gave me a warm embrace on the steps leading to the church. Thinking about it now makes me shudder.
Carpenter was always on the top of the Scottsdale Police Department’s suspect list. As far as I was concerned, the more I learned about the events of June 28 and 29, 1978, the more the anomalies of this particular trip Carpenter took to see my dad stood out. Carpenter always stayed with mydad on the road. This time he didn’t. Carpenter never called me when he got back from seeing my dad. This time he did. The call itself was innocuous, but the fact that he made it in the first place was bizarre to me.
Pallbearers at Bob Crane’s funeral: Robert Clary, Larry Hovis, Edward H. Feldman, and Robert Crane, Westwood, California, 1978 (author’s collection).
Eyewitnesses at a nightclub had reported my dad and Carpenter in a heated argument the night of the 28th. There was a video camera tripod missing from the murder scene that the police suspected might be the murder weapon. A section of electrical cord used with the camera had been tied around my dad’s neck, although, per the coroner, it was not the cause of death. Recently, my dad had told me that Carpenter was becoming “a pain in the ass,” and as part of his changes he was going to end his relationship with him. The police figured that Carpenter, who was bisexual, was perhaps in love with my dad and reacted to this information like a spurned lover.
I also learned that Carpenter had called my dad’s apartment and the dinner theater on the 29th from L.A., returning to the scene of the crime, albeit by phone, in the opinion of the Scottsdale police. All of these incidences didn’t add up to a conviction of Carpenter, but they certainly gave me pause. Maybe Carpenter was guilty.
It also wasn’t out of the realm of possibility in my mind that Patti andCarpenter were somehow in cahoots—either she had directly put him up to the job or, in a more Machiavellian manipulation of the volatile Carpenter, had stoked him into his own rage. Either way, the result suited her just fine.
The chance that I was ever going to talk to Patti again without lawyers present was virtually nil, but when Carpenter phoned me again over the next couple of weeks I would secretly tape-record those two telephone conversations, though I later inadvertently taped over the first call. I didn’t know what I might learn from his calls, but I wanted a record of them nonetheless. The second chat was the last time I would ever have a substantial dialogue with Carpenter, but at least I didn’t bungle that taping.*
Weeks after that last recording, I called the AKAI Corporation where Carpenter worked but was unable to get him on the line. He never returned my call, possibly because he had lawyered up by then. The Scottsdale Police Department had leaked Carpenter’s name as prime suspect to the press. Carpenter hired Gary Fleischman as his attorney, and they publicly expressed “shock” that Carpenter, Bob Crane’s buddy, was even mentioned as a person of interest in the case. Maricopa County district attorney Charles Hyder refused to file charges against Carpenter, citing the less than airtight investigation the Scottsdale Police Department had conducted. “I’m very perturbed about it,” Hyder told theArizona Republic.“It’s not my policy at all to mention anybody’s name until we arrest them or they have been indicted. … Certainly not during an investigation. … As of right now, I’m sorry to say, there is just insufficient evidence for us to take any action on, I wish it were otherwise.”
I decamped from the apartment to my mom and Chuck’s house, bivouacking there until I could get my bearings.
*Seeappendix Bfor the transcript of that call.
14Love in a Time of War, 1969–1970
The summer of love for the graduates of Taft High School in Woodland Hills was 1969, even though the official Summer of Love was the summer of 1967. That was the year of Haight-Ashbury, Griffith Park love-ins, and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” I was still too young, too naïve, and too inexperienced in 1967 to appreciate what that season meant. The highlight of my summer of love in 1969 was our all-night grad party held for L.A. high schools at Disneyland. My girlfriend, Chris Klauser, my friend Chris Fryer, and his date, Sandee Ericsson, and I cut out early from the Disneyland festivities and retreated to a small adobe hideaway that Klauser’s family owned in the northern foothills of the San Fernando Valley. We brought food, built a fire in the big stone fireplace, and the four of us spent the night there. I celebrated my graduation by finally getting Chris’s damn bra off. Talk about winning a scholarship.
In an eerie footnote to that memorable evening, it just so happened that the Manson family, which we would all hear about later that summer, was not far away from our location at the adobe. Charlie Manson and his clan were living farther up in the hills on an abandoned movie set that had been used in a lot of old-time westerns, such as the Tom Mix movies of the ’20s. Manson and his deluded minions were plotting the bloodletting they would perpetrate that August less than a mile from the love nest where the four of us were studying anatomy in our sleeping bags.
On June 27, 1969, I turned eighteen. In a few weeks the dreaded draft lottery for the Vietnam War was to be held. With the war escalating badly, the lottery became a perverse television event. I watched it at home, which by that summer was solely my mom’s house, as my parents had separated. The lottery worked by drawing numbers that matched birth dates. There was a big hopper with 366 ping-pong balls, like a Powerball drawing on steroids, except instead of winning a fortune you could win your future. It was a drawing for the rest of your life.
The June 27 ping-pong ball emerged at number 55. That meant two things. The number was, first of all, a guarantee of being drafted. Before the year was out, the military would call numbers 1 through 195 in an attempt to stem the Red tide flowing down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. My immediate reaction when the June 27 ball popped up was a vision of me, scared shitless in the monsoon rain in a Southeast Asian jungle. My body would come home in a box a few weeks later. So, the second and more important meaning of that number 55 ping-pong ball was that I would be the first Crane to go to college. If you stayed in school, you stayed out of Vietnam.
Just when I needed an infusion of character- and confidence-building in my life (and a shorthand education in the world of business, marketing, and selling), in that summer of 1969 between high school and college, Chris Fryer and I created a company called FC Enterprises that designed and manufactured license plate frames for colleges and universities. It was an idea we hatched one summer afternoon on our way home from Zuma Beach. The business model was simple: As an alternative to putting “Fletcher Jones Chevrolet” license plate frames on your car, we would offer USC Trojans frames painted in cardinal and gold. The die-cast frames would have the college’s nickname on top, and the school’s name would be bookended by its logo on the bottom.
Chris’s dad, David, was instrumental in the development of our fledgling enterprise. Dave Fryer’s world was retail—furniture, bedding, appliances. Chris and I were proud and excited about our new business. We invited our dads to a lunch meeting, the only time they ever met, at Monty’s Steakhouse in Encino to show off our creation and bask in their appreciation of our entrepreneurial spirit and our potential mint. Chris’s dad enthusiastically offered advice on building professional relationships; selling, marketing, and advertising the product; and using positive public relations to build the business into something sustainable. My dad listened but had nothing to offer. I was disappointed and a bit embarrassed as I ate my steak sandwich, but later it dawned on me that the only product my dad specialized in was himself. That’s all he knew. He didn’t have a marketing strategy or ideas for advertising in publications or methods for cold-calling a list of potential customers. He could shake someone’s hand, smile, and make a joke. He could stand in front of an audience and talk into a microphone. But he couldn’t offer us any business acumen for an inanimate product. That made a big impression on me. His dad, mygrandfather, Alfred Crane, would have been more help to us at that meeting because he came from the world of furniture and carpeting and might have supplemented Dave Fryer’s ideas. But I was happy, at least, that my dad attended the lunch meeting and listened.
FC Enterprises went on to become something like a dot-com success decades before there were such things. Since our first two accounts were USC and UCLA, it wasn’t long before we were spotting our product on a daily basis on the rear end of vehicles speeding along the byways of Los Angeles. Every time I saw the frames on a car, I felt much like what I imagine songwriters feel hearing a song they’ve written coming out of their dashboard radio. Through direct mail advertising, phone calls, and driving around the country, Chris and I managed to recruit over a hundred colleges and universities to sell school-spirited license plate frames. We expanded the business into service and fraternal groups like the American Legion and the Elks clubs, and ultimately to all the major league sports franchises. So from nothing but a crazy kernel of an idea on the way home from a day at the beach, we nurtured and tended our business into something of a national garden of green. It sure beat flipping burgers.
Chris Fryer and I were both headed to USC, as was Chris Klauser, who had long-range goals for us as a couple. It was pretty heady stuff to be freshmen at a major university, running our own business, making some money, and in our spare time between classes, traveling the country to visit other institutes of higher learning to show them the irrepressible charm of customized license plate frames. From the practical lessons of accounts payable and receivable and the seductive flow of molten metal, I also slid into a slipstream of film studies.
The USC film school in those days was a collection of mismatched and ancient bungalows off to one side of the campus. Some of them looked like Quonset huts left over from a military post, but the dilapidated structures had the charm of a stray dog simply because they were so disheveled. It would be shocking to see those buildings now in contrast to what the USC film school has become, thanks to its many illustrious and monumentally deep-pocketed alumni. Arthur Knight, a celebrated film critic and author ofPlayboy’s Sex in the Cinema series, was a professor at USC then, as were Steve and Eleanor Karpf, who had just written one of Michael Douglas’s early films,Adam at Six A.M.The film school faculty list was an eclectic and fascinating roster of freethinkers, writers, directors, editors, and producers.
Film school was an oasis from the daily reminder of the Vietnam War, which had infected almost every other aspect of campus life. There were endless classroom discussions, campus protests, and ultimately a shutdown of schools all over the country as students stopped attending classes, swarmed campuses, and in many cases occupied the dean’s offices. This was the spring of 1970, and was called the Moratorium. It seemed to me a potent demonstration of the power of the people. We were making a difference. The government was watching. Nixon was watching. Walter Cronkite was watching. The governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, was so attentive he dispatched the National Guard. That little show of executive power resulted in the murder of four students at Kent State that May. The temporary closure of a wealthy, private, and insular school like USC was a barometer of how intrusive and how important the war was to all segments of society. The dean’s office may not have been occupied by members of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), but a casting call for Berkeley types apparently had gone out, because there was a bigger influx of hippies and protest bands setting up shop in and around campus during that week than the home of Tommy Trojan had ever witnessed. After the Moratorium was over, that same longhaired invasion disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
Even though USC is only twenty miles from Tarzana, it might as well have been two thousand. USC was all the things that college is supposed to be—an exposure to ideas, to a broader worldview, to self-sufficiency and personal responsibility. As a result of the country’s political and social upheaval, being involved in film at that time felt like being in the center of the universe, or at least in the eye of a hurricane.
Directors seized that moment and became the tuning fork for society’s ills. In one of Arthur Knight’s classes we would see yet-to-be-released films and meet their filmmakers. One evening we saw a new film calledMinnie and Moskowitzdirected by John Cassavetes, who was at the height of his fame. He had done important films likeFacesandHusbandsand would go on to make the Oscar-nominatedA Woman Under the Influence.Afterward the students were invited to a pizza parlor called Jacopo’s in Beverly Hills, where we shared a couple of pies and pitchers of beer and discussed the impact of film and filmmaking on our turbulent society with Cassavetes and Knight.
Nowadays, I would prefer the slice and brew over meeting most current filmmakers. While I would have loved to spend time with MikeNichols or Francis Ford Coppola or George Lucas early on while devouring a mushroom, onion, and sausage slice, would I want to sit down with Judd Apatow and discussYou Don’t Mess with the Zohan?Check, please.
When I entered USC in 1969, I had just missed the wave of visionaries who had gone through the film department, including George Lucas, John Milius, who went on to cowriteApocalypse Now,and the amazing film editor and sound artist Walter Murch. The next set would feature such 2-S deferred future superstar directors as Robert Zemeckis, who later madeBack to the Future, Roger Rabbit,andForrest Gump,and Ron Howard ofA Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13,and Mayberry fame.
It was at this time that I met a bubbly, strawberry-blonde art major named Diane Haas. Her laugh was infectious, and her classical figure would have inspired any Renaissance artist. The first time I laid eyes on Diane I was visiting Chris Klauser at her dorm, the modern block of Birnkrant Hall where Diane also lived. Chris aspired to the world of sororities and the social status that conferred, so it wasn’t long before she left dorm life behind and moved onto Sorority Row. That was an alien world to me. I was not interested in the Greek scene, though Fryer and I did go to the sorority house meetings held on Monday nights, ostensibly to flog our license plate frames but really because it was a great way to meet girls and make some money, and it beat the hell out of studying for psychology. Chris Klauser had very different academic interests from mine, and she was much more political than I was. Public office was her calling, whereas I thought I should be wearing a beret and smoking a Cuban cigar while sipping an espresso and talking about the latest issue of theCahiers du cinéma.Our relationship didn’t end so much as it evaporated.
I managed to get Diane’s phone number and so began hours and hours of conversation in which everything—our personalities and others’, our likes and dislikes, the arts, world figures, family dynamics—was explored and dissected. In the dorm she had heard Chris Klauser talking about my dad, the television star. Diane and her family had seenHogan’s Heroesa few times during her teenage years, and her father was a television writer, so we were able to compare notes on living through the ups and downs of the business. She demonstrated a natural cool about my “showbiz” family.
For weeks our universe was the telephone, and it focused our attention on our words. It also provided an escape hatch, a way out of thisfledgling relationship if either of us heard something we didn’t like. But we lived just across campus from each other, and so finally we planned a meeting around our busy freshman schedules. Zero hour was 10:30 on a warm fall evening near Doheny Library. Diane had just finished a painting class and was sporting white paint on her hands and her sleeves. After so many hours of conversation on the phone our face-to-face meeting was a bit awkward. We knew each other pretty well but were strangers in person, so we circled each other like a pair of fencers, ultimately settling on a patchwork brick walkway with a recessed light shining heavenward between us. We talked until the wee hours in that floodlit darkness.
Diane was a beautiful, highly imaginative, creative force with energy and drive. My hand eventually made its way through the beam of light and held her hand. The other hand touched her shoulder or her long hair or cupped the side of her face from time to time. The hours passed in a matter of moments, the night singing of mockingbirds our soundtrack. When it was time to say good-bye, my body blocked the light as I leaned forward and kissed Diane. Her lips were sweet and salty as she kissed then sucked then gently bit my lower lip. Our tongues met in a deep kiss and we held on to each other as if I were shipping out to ’Nam on the dawn transport. We caught our breath, and her hazel eyes absorbed my stare. Then another flow of emotion took over. This was the longest good-bye in my history, possibly in anybody’s history. The five-minute walk to Diane’s dorm took an hour. With blood raging and hormones and testosterone at dangerous levels, we separated—Lara and Zhivago, Elaine and Benjamin, Katie and Hubbell—and I disappeared back into the darkness. Stopping just short of pinching myself, I excitedly debated under my breath whether this whole evening had actually happened. I didn’t even worry about being mugged on the way back to my dorm, where of course I couldn’t sleep a wink.
From once or twice a week we started to see each other daily. When we couldn’t get together, the world temporarily stopped spinning for me. I went through the motions of life until I could see her again. Accidentally running into Diane during the school day was worse than not seeing her at all. The excitement of being near her without interaction was torture.
Some weekends Diane would go home to Hermosa Beach to see her family. I had gathered that there was still a hopeful suitor from high school standing in the wings, and that they saw each other on Diane’s weekends home. I had never felt jealousy like that before. When I bought tickets foran upcoming Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert at the Fabulous Forum, assuming this would be our first concert together, I was wrong. She had already made plans to go to the show withhim.I spent the evening scanning the seats for Diane and her date. Occasionally, I would watch Stephen Stills and Neil Young jam for a few seconds, but mostly I was preoccupied with crowd surveillance. It was getting to the point where I was no fun anymore.
Chris Fryer and I were roommates in Town & Gown Hall. One of the oldest buildings on campus, it retained as much elegance as a men’s dorm could possibly have. (Only UCLA had begun the radical experiment of coed dorms in those days.) Our room was in the front corner on the second floor of the three-story building and had three windows on two sides plus a small landing on the fire escape where I could sit outside in the shade of a magnificent magnolia tree that towered over our corner of the building. As dorm rooms went it was quite spacious and airy.
One night when Chris was on a date and I had the room to myself, I called Diane to invite her over. After an interminable amount of time there was a soft knock at the door. I didn’t want to appear too anxious, so I waited until she knocked again. After all, it took me at least half a second to get from anywhere in the room to the door. I prepared the mood lighting—turned off the overhead and switched on a desk lamp—and slowly opened the door. There she stood, backlit by the hallway light, wearing a tight long-sleeved white shirt, jeans, and brown boots. We embraced but out of the corner of my eye I spotted a neighbor coming out of his room. It was Don, one of Diane’s fellow art students. It was the first time we had been seen together as a couple, and knowing Don, it would be campus news by daybreak. I was very excited to see Diane on my home turf. I gave her a quick tour of our room—it couldn’t be anything but quick—and we sat down on my single bed. We kissed until our lips hurt. Coming up for air, she noticed Fryer’s acoustic guitar lying across his bed. She got up, grabbed the guitar, sat down, and strummed a few chords.
“Do you play?” she innocently asked.
I accepted the question as a challenge. “Sure, I was in a band,” I answered nonchalantly.
Diane handed me the guitar, and I warmed up with my G-C-D rendition of Cream’s “Sitting on Top of the World.” Eric Clapton had nothing to worry about, but I was emboldened enough to pull out the heavy artillery. In honor of the CSNY concert we hadn’t attended together, I played“Triad” by David Crosby. I had learned it from Dave Diamond, who had been “my date” at the concert and who is the kind of musician who can watch someone play a song and instantly know the chords.
But Diane’s mind was wandering as I plodded through Crosby’s ode to a threesome. She leaned into my ear and asked, “Why don’t you finish that later?” Gently, she took the guitar from me and leaned it against my desk.
We kissed with a new hyperpassion and soon clothes were flying. I glanced at the clock—Fryer would be away for hours. The last thing I wanted was an audience for the loss of my virginity.
I didn’t know if Diane was a virgin, too, but we spent an eternity exploring each other’s bodies as though it were all undiscovered territory. Not surprisingly, we finally figured it out. Our bodies were slick with perspiration as we lay in each other’s arms in my narrow bed. I was alive with an electric feeling inside my skin. Diane began to cry softly. Were these tears of joy or disappointment? Was she thinking of her CSNY concert date? I didn’t have the nerve to ask for answers to either of those questions.
Diane painted large oil-on-canvas images of women, women whose faces were always turned away or in shadow. They were not Playboy Playmate types but nudes of another century. They were, like Diane herself, Rubensesque. We spent hours at Café Figaro on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood sharing burgers and split pea soup, talking endlessly, and all the while Diane drew ideas for art projects on paper napkins or in her sketch tablet. This was the first time I had been exposed to an artist, and I loved the creative energy that infused the air around her. Romance was in both my head and my heart. We went to museums, galleries, and impromptu art shows in parking garages, restaurants, and apartments. I was a visitor in a foreign world, but Diane made me feel welcomed and a part of the scene. She took my hand and I followed. We went to student protests. We watched John and Yoko pitching peace from a hotel room bed. We saw Elliott Gould as Everyman in every other movie playing in Westwood. It was a poetic, dreamy, and idealistic time, the calm inside the otherwise violent and malevolent Vietnam era. It was what I imagined the Russian Revolution had been like—lofty idealism spinning impotently against a bigger, badder, cynical and corrupt world. Years later when I went to see Warren Beatty’sReds,I envisioned Diane and me marching down streets in protest wrapped around hours spent at neighborhoodcafés solving the world’s problems. We were young and full of ourselves, and she was the ignition for our creativity together.
We hooked up at one point with Ron Heck, the lead guitarist from my long-ago living room band, who was at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in education and surfing. We wrote and recorded songs together at Ron’s ad hoc music studio. Diane and I made eight-millimeter films. One was called25th Street,an ethereal and cerebral six minutes shot at water’s edge in Hermosa Beach near her parents’ bungalow. We added a naturalistic soundtrack of gulls and waves breaking. We were so happy with the outcome that we could have jumped on a jet and taken it to Cannes. We had awarded ourselves the Palme d’Or for work in eight millimeter.
15Don’t Make Waves, 1970–1971
My folks divorced in June 1970, and four months later on the Stalag 13 set my dad and Patti were united in something less than holy matrimony. My dad’s parents attended the celebration. Feeling sympathetic toward my brokenhearted mom, my sisters and I did not.
My dad enjoyed Patti as his confidante and the female pal he never had. He felt he could talk to her about anything, and to him that just eradicated the traditional boundaries of “husband” and “wife.” From my cynical perspective, I think Patti saw from the outset that my dad was a pliable subject. I never saw their relationship as one of equals. One person had to bend in their relationship, which may be the case in most relationships, but my dad was the one who had to do all the bending.
When my dad and Patti exchanged their vows on the Hogan’s soundstage, Fraulein Hilda just happened to have a strudel in the oven. That she was pregnant would not have been remarkable except for the fact that my dad had had a vasectomy in 1968 when he was still married to my mom. He had had the procedure because he knew he didn’t want any more kids and also because as a big-time TV star he was having affairs with lots of women, and free love or otherwise, out-of-wedlock children were still a big issue in Hollywood in 1968. Now it’s the norm.
I know about the vasectomy because for some reason I never discovered, my dad showed me a document from his doctor confirming the fact he’d had the procedure. A document that doesn’t count for much considering the swelling of Patti’s midsection. Her pregnancy raised a lot of eyebrows in our family. Maybe the doctor had botched the job. Maybe my dad should have been neutered. That might’ve helped.
During Christmas break of 1970 my newly married dad thought he would emulate Dr. Joyce Brothers and promote positive relationships and understanding—in other words, he’d turn us into the Brady Bunch. What better way to share the warmth than to take the clan for a weekend toMammoth Mountain in California’s High Sierras: his new bride, Patti’s daughter by a previous marriage, Melissa (known as Mits), and Debbie, Karen, and me. I invited Diane to come along as a kind of buffer, a neutral party in the multifamilial lineup.
We stayed in a rented condo right in the heart of rustic Mammoth Lakes. I was the only skier, so instead of schussing the slopes we spent hours riding plastic saucers at breakneck speed down steep, snow-covered hills. There were laughs and screams as my dad played camp director. He was trying hard to wipe out any lingering ill will harbored by his kids.
Many people love new beginnings and most wish for their happy outcome, but from my corner I felt—I knew—it was only a matter of time before gravity deflated this balloon of bonhomie. I could see that Patti had no use for my sisters, who still felt a guilty sense of betrayal to my mom for spending time with the enemy. Just as Yoko was perceived as the cause of the Beatles’ breakup at that time, Patti was fingered by my sisters as the linchpin in the destruction of my parents’ marriage. They were too young to understand the underlying circumstances that had led to the dissolution of our folks’ marriage.
Diane immediately picked up on a feeling that Patti invested herself most successfully in a male world. Patti’s daughter, her husband’s daughters, his mother, and ex-wife could only be obstacles to her manifest destiny. Still, Diane and I had fun that weekend: we saucered, hiked, and made love in the back of my dad’s frigid station wagon. Our breath and heat fogged the windows, and we loved and laughed until just before the sun came up. My dad liked Diane, and he was really glad that I had a girlfriend. He was enjoying his sex life with his new spouse, and he wanted his only son to also have a berth on the love train. In the past he had shown impatience with my constant self-doubt and analysis. “Damn it, Bobby, jump in and get the good!” was always his fatherly advice.
Diane and I would visit my dad from time to time on various sets. These were opportunities for Diane and my dad to spend time getting to know each other. Since her father was a television writer, “the business” was no big deal except on one unforgettable occasion. My dad was shooting a big, bombastic, flag-waving post–Labor Day special calledMake Mine Red, White and Blueat NBC in Burbank. I had arranged for Diane and me to spend most of the afternoon visiting the set because unbeknownst to her, Diane’s hero, Fred Astaire, was the host of the show. During a break my dad and I introduced her to the iconic dancer. Dianejust about levitated as she shook Mr. Astaire’s hand and told him what a dedicated fan she was. I watched with glee as her smile virtually lit the set. That brief meeting ranked high on her personal best list for many years, and seeing her reaction made me fall for her harder than ever.
While I was never much into hero worship, John Lennon was one of my guiding lights. I loved his songs and prose, his seductive singing voice, his Rickenbacker rhythm guitar, and his witty, elastic imagination. John and Yoko had really long hair (plus beard for Lennon), and I suspect looked more religious than they wanted to, or maybe not, but being the chameleons they were, they transformed themselves when they decided to cut off all their hair to raise money for their peace project.
With no false courage from drink or drugs, Diane and I talked each other into shearing our own rather bountiful locks in emulation of John and Yoko. So one night in that Town & Gown dorm room I shared with Fryer, who always seemed to be out, Diane and I cut each other’s hair off. It was not quite crew-cut length, but it was really short, heretical for 1971. The difference between our appearance earlier in the day and that night was profound. We put our intertwined tresses in a Plexiglas box; we were young and silly, and thought watching our hair cohabiting was exciting. And as I said, all of this was done without any chemical enrichment. There was laughter in the air and sex and wildness and kissing and holding and going to films together on opening day. We were getting high on each other and the life we were sharing.
Whereas Chris Klauser and I had had more of a “like” relationship, the twinges in my stomach I felt with Diane inspired the wordlovefrom me for the first time. At times I had to see Diane right away or I’d go crazy. We still spent hours on the telephone, often meeting each other at 11:30 at night (not necessarily a wise idea on the USC campus) after studying, attending film classes, making art. I was giddy with a happiness and contentment I’d never known before.
So my first two years at college became a daily regimen of Diane, film, license plate frames, and avoiding Vietnam. My academic life, however, was much too reminiscent of high school. My undergraduate requirements included geology and biology, which had no relevance to life as I knew it. It was like being stuck in thirteenth grade. It was the fear of a Private R. D. Crane body bag that kept me in school.
As 1971 began to unfurl, I couldn’t imagine myself with anyone other than Diane for the rest of my life. Our passion was raw, mentally andphysically. It was a love riot. We were going to be fueled forever by an intoxicating, highly combustible mix of creativity, art, love, and sex. One night as we were standing in a long Westwood queue waiting to see that great date flick, George Lucas’s low-budget futuristicTHX 1138,we killed time by stealing kisses, holding hands, and whispering “I love you.” At one point there was a pronounced silence—the longest dead air we had experienced to date. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. In fact it was just the opposite. It was a bubble of warmth and serenity that enveloped and protected us from all the turmoil the world was offering on a daily basis.
“Should we get married?” I asked. It was as much a dare as a question.
“Yes,” Diane answered immediately, her eyes glistening.
We embraced and shared a long, deep kiss. The line started to move. Since we’d already paid for our tickets, we decided to see the Lucas/Coppola production. Besides, it had been filmed in the San Francisco Bay area, and we had talked about moving north for the next episode of the Bob and Diane Show, so even if the film was awful we might be able to scout locations.
Wanting to go public with our engagement, we decided to take our love on the road. Our first stop was Westwood; my dad and Patti, newlyweds themselves, were soft targets. Of course they liked the idea; they were on their own love high. Patti and I still had a good relationship at the time, but her support of our conjugal scheme seemed like a loan for future repayment.
Next stop on the Love Me Tender Tour was Hermosa Beach, where the plan was presented to Diane’s parents, Bob and Betty. Bob was a no-nonsense television writer of shows likeThe FBI, Dragnet,andIronside.Betty was a wonderfully charming, funny, cute-as-a-button mother of three daughters, Diane being the middle child. There were genuine smiles and a group hug. So far, so good.
Then we drove to Tarzana to meet with my mom. This was during the pre-Chuck era. My parents’ marriage had always been the support structure for my mom’s existence, and with its deterioration and collapse, chaos reigned over the Vanalden homestead. Forty-one years old, my mother was trying to be both parents to my young sisters while coping with her own mother, who did nothing but complain about my mom’s poor choice of a husband. Now her oldest child, her only son, was about to embark on a road that she felt could only lead to the cul-de-sac of heartache.
Diane and I laid out our concept of matrimonial bliss. There was a long, very long silence, and then my mom hit the roof. The yelling was volcanic, the contained misery of several years suddenly erupting and flowing like lava down Kilauea. Because her own marriage had ended so badly, mom’s feeling was that mine would be the same, if not worse. While she might have been concerned for my best interests, there was also an elephant in the room—an Oedipal elephant. I don’t mean to imply there was ever anything other than a mother’s love for her first and only son, but from our earliest days in Stamford and Bridgeport, it was always Mom and Bobby, her little man. She loved me so much she didn’t want me to be with another woman. She’d already lost one man. Her world was sliding away right before her eyes. She saw my potential marriage only as another divorce, for her and for me.
My mom felt Diane and I were playing dress-up adults. She said we were good at playtime but not so effective at the nuts and bolts of everyday life. Where were we going to live? How were we going to support ourselves? What was I going to do for a living? My mom spoke the unpopular truth about most young courtships. She was the voice of reality, speaking about responsibility, about growing up. She marshaled wisdom in her attempt to talk down two love addicts. I tried to act as referee between the two most important women in my life, but in trying to mediate, to be the negotiator, I never put my arm around Diane and challenged my mom’s authority. I never said, “We’re doing this whether you like it or not!”
My mom used her emotion and condemnations like a good prosecuting attorney. Hearing this kind of ominous projection of her own future and seeing her mate’s inaction, Diane reached her breaking point. “You’re not going to fuck up my life!” she yelled back at my mom, index finger pointed menacingly.
“This is going to end badly,” my mom replied quietly, taking the air out of not just the room but the bubble that was Diane’s and my love.
The drive back to USC was interminable. Diane and I experienced the longest silence of our relationship. I couldn’t fathom what she was thinking and feeling. Reflecting on what just happened? Shutting down? Planning her next art project or mulling over a list of potential new suitors? I didn’t have the nerve to ask, and I’m not sure I even wanted the answer. The one thing I was sure of, ultimately, was that I trusted my mom’s judgment more than my own.
Diane and I had ridden a wave of euphoria for a couple of days, but after the opera at Vanalden we never talked about marriage again. Not once. That was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Diane. She was bitterly disappointed that I hadn’t stood up to defend her, our love, our future partnership in life’s challenges and rewards. Marriage was to be our next step, and I had hit a wrong note in our relationship that would never go away. We continued to see each other, but there was always a dissonant chord reverberating somewhere in the background.
If the failure of our engagement was the earthquake in our relationship, then I provoked the aftershocks that pretty much wiped out whatever remained standing. It started in a drama class at USC taught by Joan Tewkesbury, aka Joan McGuire, who was a Robert Altman associate. Tewkesbury was a script supervisor by trade who later penned the critically acclaimedNashvillefor Altman. The class was an easy four credits, but I recognized it more as an opportunity to learn how to communicate with actors since I was still under the impression that I was going to become the next Francis Ford Coppola.
Two of the more interesting students in class were Stephen Randall, whom I would later write for atPlayboymagazine and who would become deputy editor there, just below Hef on the masthead, and a quietly driven blonde named Laura Ziskin. Laura would much later become best known for producing theSpidermanfilms as well as two Oscar broadcasts, among a long list of other achievements, including the formation of the Stand Up 2 Cancer charity.
One of our acting class exercises included sitting in pairs, closing our eyes, and touching the other “actor’s” face. This was frighteningly intimate to me, but it was also thrilling, especially when I finally got to square off with Laura. I wanted to behave like an adult since she was vastly more mature—a year older. As my fingers traced her heavy, half-moon eyelids, which trailed off at the corners, creating a sad, weary, but seductive look, and her thin eyebrows, diminutive nose, and sweet lips, I knew I was falling in love. My feelings were not reciprocated equally, but Laura did take a momentary interest in me, and one night after class we met at the Old World restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood down the Strip from Whisky A Go-Go. In the course of our evening I must have said something worthwhile because she invited me back to her place. I’m sure I had the look of Jean-Pierre Léaud’s stock character Antoine Doinel from Truffaut’s films, a mix of amazement, trepidation, and surprise, as Ifollowed Laura to her small bungalow rental on Norwich Avenue a few minutes away. She gave me a one-minute tour of the crowded space before leading me to her bedroom. Unfortunately for Laura, I won no Oscar for my performance that night. Not even a nomination. What I lacked in experience and creativity in the sack I made up for in speed.
Now, Diane and I had an open, frank, and sincere relationship. After all, it was the age of honesty, full disclosure. It was the Age of Aquarius, for God’s sake. I decided to tell Diane I had slept with Laura. I would display integrity, candor, uprightness. I would behave like an adult. Wrong decision. Fuck integrity. Fuck candor. Fuck uprightness. Fuck being an adult. Diane felt betrayed. We didn’t see each other for months after my Honest Abe routine. I had seriously fucked up.
Shortly thereafter Diane left USC for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where she met bright, sexy, worldly art professors and fellow students and formed new relationships. Our pure, raw bond, our sharing of secrets and bodies, was gone. We still loved each other, but the pull of new experiences aggravated the fissure. I was responsible for shattering our marriage dream. I had let down the most important person in the world.
In any event, a new recruit joined the cast in June 1971. Now, my dad was christened Robert Edward Crane, and I am Robert David Crane, so I am not and have never wanted to be a “Junior” although the sobriquet gets pinned on me often. Patti and my dad’s new baby boy was named Robert Scott Crane. Who the hell did my dad think he was, George Foreman? When I was told about the name I held my tongue. I didn’t raise my voice. I didn’t storm out of the room in disgust, in spite of being hurt to the core. The story my dad told me was that Patti, who had had three stepfathers, always felt closest to the one named Robert. I could only shake my head in wounded and pathetic amazement.
“Don’t worry, Bobby,” my dad said cheerfully, “we’re gonna call him Scotty.”
I wanted to grab him and scream, “Then why don’t you name him Scott Crane? Why didn’t you tell Patti you’ve already got a son named Robert? Why the fuck don’t you just call him Ishmael?” I didn’t. I couldn’t.
My dad’s philosophy of “Don’t make waves” obviously didn’t extend to his firstborn’s feelings. I never discussed it with him, but I felt betrayed, like I was being forgotten, erased just like a piece of audiotape. I also feltit was a power play on Patti’s part. She wanted what she wanted. There was no regard for my feelings in the equation, and my dad failed miserably to stand up for me. In fact, he just bent over and said, “Thank you. I’ll have another.”
Basically, Patti hated everyone on my dad’s side of the family. That included me, my sisters, my dad’s mother, and my mom. None of us could bring anything positive to Patti’s life as far as she was concerned. We were a nuisance, an irritant, part of my dad’s history that she couldn’t wish away. We were all flies in her Cabernet.
16War Is Over, 1971–1972
In 1971 CBS cleaned house on its primetime schedule, eliminating past favorites likeGreen AcresandHogan’s Heroes.Ed Feldman was informed of the cancellation a month before his team was to have started shooting its seventh season. Everyone involved felt there was at least one more season left in the tank. But as a result of CBS’s action,Hogan’sdidn’t get to make a series’ finale episode. Hogan and the POWs could have been liberated and poor Klink and Schultz could have been captured and sent to an Allied forces’ POW camp, but we’ll never know. Still, as it was,Hogan’s Heroeslasted longer than World War II.
At this time, Walt Disney Pictures was at its lowest output and quality levels. The studio was undergoing a major transition. It had been almost a decade sinceMary Poppins,and another decade would pass before the transformation by the Michael Eisner regime. In the meantime, the studio produced tired comedies starring Don Knotts, Tim Conway, and Kurt Russell (still in his cute and goofy mode before his action-hero mode).
Though my dad was famous worldwide as Colonel Hogan, he still admired and wanted to emulate the careers of Jack Lemmon, Gig Young, and Cary Grant. Unfortunately, the acme of my dad’s career and fame coincided with the nadir of Disney’s creativity, and the result of this unlucky convergence wasSuperdad.The only movie my dad would ever star in was a comedy as out of touch with 1972 contemporary humor as the Elke Sommer skinfest had been with the swinging ’60s. It was written and directed by another gaggle of Hollywood veterans who were just going through the motions in the dark at the end of their careers.
The fatigued story of an overly protective father trying to turn back time and delay the development of his teenaged daughter made the viewer wistful for former Disney hit comedies likeThe Parent TraporThe Absent-minded Professor.InSuperdad,Joe Flynn and Dick Van Patten did their predictable comedic turns, and Barbara Rush, who had worked withSinatra, looked and behaved more like my dad’s mother than his wife. Sensibly, Kurt Russell would bolt the Disney stable after appearing inSuperdad.Two other castmates who played teenaged hooligans were the actors B. Kirby Jr., later known as Bruno Kirby (who went on to play the young Clemenza in the masterpieceGodfather 2), and Ed Begley Jr. (who later appeared in the Christopher Guest filmsBest in ShowandA Mighty Wind). Interestingly enough, thirty years later, Ed Begley Jr. would also appear inAuto Focus,Paul Schrader’s Calvinist take on the temptations of Bob Crane and the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, a film on which I consulted with Schrader with respect to Michael Gerbosi’s script. As it happened, Ed and I were the only two participants inAuto Focuswho had actually ever met my dad. But I digress.
Disney executives at the time of the making ofSuperdadwere not pleased by the rumors circulating around Hollywood suggesting that their new Dean Jones had a penchant for home movies that would make more than Bashful blush. Disney CEO Ron Miller sat onSuperdadfor a year and a half before finally releasing the film during the permafrost season early in 1974.Superdad’s quality level can only be described by the title of a hit from another era—Superbad.It tanked without even coming up for air once.
It also turned out that showing Polaroids and videotape of naked women to cast and crew was not a good move for a would-be Disney star. The publicity department could handle rumors of Julie Andrews’s sexual preferences or Dick Van Dyke’s drinking problem, but raw footage of partying females being exhibited on the same lot where Minnie Mouse lived? My dad was not gonna get work cleaning Mary Poppins’s chimney doing that. But my dad was clueless in that regard. Film executives, producers, directors, and publicists had lunch together. They talked. My dad believed that his product—his smile, laugh, quickness, volume—would still carry the day regardless of his hobbies. He would sell the charm, the handsome face, the funny cadence of saying words, and those qualities would trump the backstage talk, the gossip, the coworkers going silent when he walked into a room.
Like most men, I’ve always had a profound interest in the opposite sex, but alongside it I also have a deep-seated respect for women, probably owing to the fact that I was raised by and surrounded by them. Still, I suspect that a large percentage of men, in their private, testosterone-poisoned brains, think about women and sex as much as my dad did. Thedifference being that my dad stripped the gears of the transmission that engages the thought to the deed. He didn’t realize that just because he was on TV not everyone would be interested in him airing his privates. He would have fit right in with the lovefests of the ’60s Haight-Ashbury community if he hadn’t been a Republican.
As a fringe Hollywood family, we never attended movie premieres. Nowadays, the cast ofDuck Dynastyor Snooki might show up at a premiere, much to the delight of the fans. Jenny McCarthy smiles her goofy smile, Paula Abdul staggers, Kat Von D. shows off her latest ink, Melissa Rivers whines while keeping a firm grip on her mother’s spectral coattails. My family never received an invitation to a big-time Hollywood premiere. Movies were for movie stars. TV stars need not apply.
Instead, my dad and I attended the West Coast premiere of the X-ratedDeep Throatat the Pussycat Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. No limos for this red carpet event. Actually, we lucked out and found a parking space on a side street a couple of blocks away and walked to the box office. In lieu of klieg lights, silver screen luminaries, and adoring fans, the sidewalk throng consisted of a few homeless people, panhandlers, and streetwalkers. The Pussycat Theatre staff ushered us down a soggy red carpet into the hall. My dad stopped to talk with porno producers, actors, distributors, and their polyester-clad publicists. They couldn’t believe Colonel Hogan was there, that he might be one of them. But my dad never made class distinctions. He didn’t think of himself as a TV star. He thought of himself as the same as everyone else in that theater—paying the rent, having the car repaired, dropping off the dry cleaning, looking for a break. For him it was no different from going to a Disney movie. This just happened to beThe Absent-Minded Pornfessor.
The premiere ofDeep Throatwas a prime example of a Fellini Excursion. That’s a thing my dad and I had, an homage to Federico Fellini and all the bizarre images and people in his films. Whenever we encountered wild, weird, wonderful happenings, we would just look at each other and say, “Fellini Excursion.” Here’s an example: one time we went to Las Vegas for a bocce ball tournament at Caesar’s Palace. This was in the early ’70s, before Vegas really became the adult Disneyland. Caesar’s was the big hotel of the moment, boasting an enormous enclosed sporting venue where the bocce courts were set up. My dad was there to play for a charity fund-raiser, as was (more of a thrill for me) Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio was very grumpy. He had one expression for the whole event,and that was “Get me out of this fuckin’ place.” At one point my dad and I looked at each other as the Yankee Clipper tossed his balls in the sand and said simultaneously, “Fellini Excursion.” The significance of Fellini Excursions for me was that I was sharing time with my dad. Just him and me. No matter how bizarre the events, the fact that we were experiencing them together is what I remember and what was important.
Back at the Pussycat, my dad was mingling and signing autographs. I declined to shake anyone’s hand. For a brief moment I enjoyed the novelty of my first time in a XXX theater, but sitting in a thinly cushioned seat with my feet on a sticky floor watching some poor young woman bare her talents on the not-so-silver screen quickly lost its allure. After the second or third time Linda Lovelace orally pleasured some slick, greasy-looking guy, I started thinking about the chores I had to do the next day. ButDeep Throatbecame a phenomenon, and Linda Lovelace became a “star” in a raincoat-cloaked universe. If Lovelace were alive today, she would be showing up at the same events as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Lindsay Lohan, comparing tattoos with the cast ofJackass.
Inevitably, it didn’t take long until my dad secured his own video copy ofDeep Throat.He reedited the film, intercutting scenes of Lovelace going down on a nonunion actor while a rocket blasts off with clips of his favoriteTonight Showacts appearing with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon—“Hi-yo!” He did it just to do it, just to enjoy the editing process and technology and, of course, to get a laugh. The next time he and his dinner theater castmates were killing endless days before evening performances in Fort Lauderdale or Traverse City, he could whip out this latest creative effort to delight the crowd. My dad’s homespun productions put a new twist on watching television. And viewing the tape once was never enough. My dad was the Pied Piper of Porn, attracting friendly dinner theater employees, stage managers, and makeup artists who would join the cast at my dad’s apartment or hotel room for a screening. The state-of-the-art equipment coupled with scenes of the new film icon Lovelace made for a memorable party. Word traveled fast through places like Lake Charles and Jacksonville that Crane’s porno palace and laugh salon was the place to be, and an invitation should be had if at all possible while the show was in town. My dad had too much downtime and no structure. He never made the connection that his way of killing time was also killing his career.
My dad and I spent a lot of time together driving around Los Angeles.He always had a lot of errands. He had to go pick up something for Patti, drop off film for processing, or make a bank deposit. For lunch we often went to a burger joint next to the car wash at the corner of Westwood and Santa Monica boulevards. We’d sit in the car, eat burgers, drink Cokes, and talk. We talked a lot. As I entered my twenties, I became his unofficial junior agent, offering my take on choices relating to his career and the agents, managers, publicists, directors, and actors he dealt with. My dad always listened to me, but he didn’t completely trust anyone’s judgment and that included mine. I was still a nonprofessional who hadn’t opened any doors for anyone.
AfterHogan’s,my dad really lost structure. He missed Edward H. Feldman. He traveled the country appearing in his brisk ninety-minute play cum neo-stand-up routine,Beginner’s Luck,which he could have performed in his sleep. He was doing his Willy Loman best to pay his alimony and child support to my mom while also sustaining his second wife’s real estate hunger. He was to be praised for his financial due diligence, but he was also watering the hillside of his own slippery slope. Outside of a few hours onstage six nights a week at the dinner theater playing himself, the rest of his days were spent like a college freshman who attends all the parties and none of the classes. There was too much free time for the former Catholic altar boy, who was now allowed to be himself. This was where the publicist’s dream story of the small-town drummer and radio host who rose to the top of the Nielsen ratings as the All-American highflier the audience rooted for crashed and burned.
M*A*S*Hstar Alan Alda was everything my dad was not. He was an Emmy Award–winning actor on a popular program who expanded his career into writing and directing films. His career seemed to be heading down a road whose on-ramp wasn’t even on my dad’s map. It might have been easy for me to say, “Hey, Dad, be Alan Alda,” but the absence of structure and creative trust in anyone except himself constantly haunted him and held him back. My dad could think brilliantly, a kind of writing on his feet, but he didn’t possess the discipline to sit down and put the words on paper, to actually write a script. More important, he lacked the crucial ability to stand back and see the bigger picture and how he might fit into it. He was trapped staring into his own movieola, seeing one disconnected frame at a time.
17Beacon in the Storm, 1972
Through 1972 Diane and I still dated and even slept together occasionally. I knew she was seeing other men; she knew I was seeing other women. Life was full of possibilities, but she and I still had a connection that didn’t exist with other people, at least as far as I was concerned.
One day Diane called me at my apartment. We were cordial, dancing around the heaviness of the recent past. I was anticipating an invitation to her latest school art show. I never expected an announcement that she was pregnant. I couldn’t say for sure that I was the father. Nor could Diane. But I was the one she came to for help. It meant Diane still trusted me. I was the beacon in the storm.
Most women knew someone who knew someone who could direct them to a sympathetic physician who would perform a clandestine abortion. We were still a year beforeRoe v. Wade. Diane made several phone calls and through her grapevine found a clinic in South Los Angeles. On a bright Southern California day, I drove her to a dingy, single-story structure that had the look of a temporary office set up on a construction site. The building, the street, the industrial neighborhood were washed out under the relentless sun. The place lacked the open, honest, and unabashed energy of the Free Clinic in Venice where Diane and I had gone in better days for her Pap smears.
Paperwork was signed, and a payment in the amount of $500 cash was made, which was the bulk of my ready capital. Diane was led away. The operation was to take place in a back room, of course. We were strangers in a strange land, in primal circumstances such as these two middle-class young adults had never experienced.
Waiting for Diane’s return, I thought of this moment as another big step in my education. I still felt responsible and cowardly for making our marriage disappear, but I was glad Diane had chosen me as her companion on this sordid adventure. My practical assistance—I had a car and anapartment and some cash—eased the situation, yes, but, over and above that, Diane had chosen me to help, knowing not only that she could count on me to provide it but also that it would remain our secret. At least until now. Sitting in that illegal abortion clinic, a gloomy hallway separating me from the woman I still loved and respected, I didn’t care whether I was the father or not. I just wanted her to get through this somber affair and get the hell out of this place. Diane was not encouraged to stay for a long recovery period; after what seemed like only a few minutes, I helped her dress and supported her as she walked groggily to my car. I never wanted to see this part of town again. I was relieved to leave the clammy darkness behind us as I drove the sun-bleached streets to the one-bedroom apartment I was renting on Dorothy Street in Brentwood. I kept glancing over at Diane as she slept in the passenger seat to make sure she was alright. We’d decided she would retreat to my apartment for the weekend. No one was to know where she was.
It was Diane’s decision alone to abort. I was not consulted. Although we never discussed it, we both knew that motherhood and the pursuit of a career in art didn’t mix. At twenty-one, Diane had a greater love for making art than for this unborn child. Her ambition and her ego outweighed her maternal instincts at that point in her life. I would never be comfortable with the abortion, but ultimately it wasn’t my body; it wasn’t my decision. I helped someone I loved survive a scary, lonely, and very long weekend.
Diane and I would continue to see each other off and on, but now our shared history pulled us apart as much as it brought us together. We were traveling along different paths but—like Gatsby, who could always see the blinking green light at the end of Daisy’s dock—I knew Diane and I would have a connection forever.
18Heeeere’s Jackie!!! 1972–1975
In 1972 I was in my third and final year at USC. I was feeling confident that I wasn’t going to become GI Bob because the draft was winding down. It ended completely with the close of June 1973. I was still fascinated with film and filmmakers, but I was having problems with my other classes. Basically, I was underperforming in everything but my performing arts curriculum, and the notion that I still had to take a biology course or some kind of math class to graduate made me feel like I was back in high school.
FC Enterprises, my license plate frame business with Chris Fryer, was humming along, and Chris and I had made several road trips that were an important part of my self-discovery. We would get in the car and set out for college towns—Boulder, Colorado; Laramie, Wyoming; Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was meeting new people and going to places I never dreamed of visiting. In a weird way I was mirroring my dad’s wanderings around the country doing his play. The big difference was that the closest I ever got to getting lucky on the road was chatting up a couple of lookers in the Burger Barn in Beaver, Utah. All Chris and I got, for all our Hollywood magic, were some flirty looks followed by an escort to the county line by four guys in need of some serious acne remediation in a souped-up Camaro. It was a little too reminiscent ofEasy Rider,and I kept a keen eye in the rearview mirror for some toothless guys with a shotgun in a pickup truck.
What I did learn from these trips was how to deal with rejection, how to overcome objections, and how to walk cold into someone’s office and make a pitch, experiences that would help me later in life. But in those early lessons I was guided not by my dad but by Chris’s. David Fryer taught me how to pick up a phone and try to sell complete strangers something they had no idea they desperately needed. Attending the University of Dave was a very important part of my education.
So was spending days and days in a car with Chris as we planned how we were going to usher in the next new wave in American cinema. We analyzed films between Madison and Chicago. We tossed around screenplay ideas between Berkeley and Eugene. We made each other laugh till we cried. Our road trips were so much fun I would have done them without a purpose.
During the early 1970s the two of us had also become great observers of the ascendant star of Jack Nicholson.Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces,andCarnal Knowledgewere big, important films, at least to us. Jack represented an honesty, an abandon that I had seen elsewhere only in old Marlon Brando films. Nicholson crying in front of his paralyzed father inFive Easy Pieceswas a landmark moment for me. It was a shocking and spellbinding scene. How could you be a man and allow yourself to show emotion like that in front of millions of people? I was stunned by it, but I felt nothing but admiration. Ultimately I wanted to be like that character. I wanted to be that honest and open with other people. That particular scene spoke to me about my relationship with my dad, because except when I was a really young kid I could never cry in front of him. I wouldn’t allow myself to be that exposed. Seeing Nicholson do that was a revelation.
The semester after the release ofFive Easy PiecesChris and I took a class at USC called The Film Heroes of the ’30s and ’60s taught by screenwriter Steven Karpf, and we had the idea of teaming up to interview Jack Nicholson as the “antihero” for the ages. It never occurred to us that a couple of tyros from Tarzana and USC film school might not be able to talk to Jack Nicholson for their class project. We just didn’t know any better. Hell, we’d been told no by curmudgeonly gift shop buyers in college bookstores all over this great land, but we still managed to sell them license frames. So even though we’d heard the wordnoumpteen times, it just hadn’t made that much of an impression. We weren’t deterred by the word. We weren’t put off by the word. We just stepped around it, coming at the target from a different direction.
I had seen Jack once on a film panel at USC, and at that point in his career he was a great supporter of film, foreign cinema, and up-and-coming filmmakers. He’d been to the Cannes Film Festival with his directorial debut,Drive, He Said,but he was still accessible enough that he could be persuaded to make an appearance at a college. This was well before the curtain of opportunity closed for nobodies to get near Jack Nicholson.
Robert Crane and Jack Nicholson, Beverly Hills, 1972 (photo by Christopher Fryer; author’s collection).
Talking to Jack Nicholson was remarkably easy. Through a family connection of Chris’s we got what turned out to be Jack’s home phone number, though we didn’t know it at the time. I dialed it, and damned if the guy himself didn’t answer the phone on the second ring. I knew who it was, but I still asked for Mr. Nicholson just to be polite. He asked, “Who’s calling?” and I introduced myself and launched into my pitch for an interview. To our incredible surprise and elation, Jack Nicholson agreed to sit down with us and talk film. It was absolutely unreal. Chris and I were bouncing off the walls.
Jack invited us up to his house on Mulholland Drive. To illustrate how different the world was in 1972, there was no gate on the driveway—the same driveway Jack shared with his next-door neighbor, Marlon Brando. We rolled up to the open front door and were escorted into the two-story ranch house as Michelle Phillips, Jack’s girlfriend at the time, passed us in the foyer. Chris and I exchanged looks, trying to be cool, as we stepped down into the living room. We were in a different world.There was a large, plush, brown suede couch opposite the wall of windows that overlooked Franklin Canyon and Los Angeles. The house was comfortable, lived-in. I felt pretty much at ease even though I was about to meet one of my film heroes. Jack came down the stairs wearing a navy blue bathrobe with a bat pin on the lapel. He might have just gotten out of bed, although it was well past lunchtime. As I discovered over the next several hours spent talking about film, Jack’s upcoming projects, his past experiences, and the future of cinema, Jack wasn’t wearing anything under that robe as he inadvertently flashed me several times.
After finally switching off the tape recorder, we took a few commemorative photos—for our benefit, not Jack’s—and left the house on cloud 99. We were so juiced that Chris almost killed us, spinning out his Porsche on a Mulholland curve and doing a 360 into a cloud of dust. We came to a stop between a telephone pole and the edge of a cliff. As the dust settled we could hear our pounding hearts, and then laughed like lunatics. Needless to say, we got As in that class.
Serendipitously, after that first interview, Chris and I, separately and together, began bumping into Jack around L.A. I saw him at a Rolling Stones concert, and we exchanged pleasantries. My date, Barbara Stephens, who had been my government teacher at Taft High School, was suitably impressed. Chris ran into Jack at an antiwar/pro-McGovern rally at UCLA. Jack was always where the action was.
Because these chance meetings made us think we were becoming pals, we did the only logical thing—we decided to write a book about our new best friend. There had never been a book about Jack Nicholson, and we felt it was high time and that we were just the guys to do it. Frankly, in 1972 the name Jack Nicholson wasn’t yet on the American public’s radar screen. On more than one occasion when I mentioned the idea I was told, “Gee, Bobby, I didn’t know you were that interested in golf.”
Before proceeding we called Jack and asked his permission. Amazingly, he gave us the thumb’s up, though to this day I think he felt nothing would ever come of it and he was merely humoring a couple of twenty-year-old film nuts. Chris and I immediately drew up a list of all the people who had worked with Jack whom we were interested in talking to. Everyone from Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Ann-Margret, and Monte Hellman to Mike Nichols, Robert Evans, Bob Rafelson, and Dennis Hopper was on that list. Then we started making phone calls. A million phone calls to agents, publicists, assistants, anyone with a connection, andif my cold-calling experience ever came in handy, this was the time. Sometimes we failed to secure the subject in question because of time constraints, distance, or just an abiding orneriness, but most of the time when we said Jack had okayed the project those restraints fell away.
Chris and I then spent over two years interviewing writers, actors, directors, and producers, and we even managed to get Jack to sit down for a second long interview. We drove sixteen hours nonstop from L.A. to Taos, New Mexico, to interview Dennis Hopper when we got the call that he had a small opening in his schedule to talk to us. His assistant, Ed Gaultney, met us at the Dennis Hopper Art Gallery in Taos when we raggedly came in off the road. He offered us what he described as “primo grass,” but we were really looking for authentic New Mexican cooking, which we found at La Fonda in downtown Taos, where we immediately fell under the spell of homemade sopapillas.
The next day we found ourselves in a small, cozy adobe bungalow, complete with hammocks slung from patio trees, on pueblo land. We were also face-to-face withEasy Rider’s Billy. Hopper was soft spoken, calm, and thoughtful, just the opposite of his maniacal image. He even took us on a tour of his home, which he was renting from the Taos Indians. As Hopper led us upstairs into the loftlike bedroom, he quickly ran ahead to fling the covers over the rumpled sheets of his bed. We happened to be doing the interview shortly after Hopper married his third wife, a beautiful but clueless actress, Daria Halprin. That summer Hopper was renting out to college art students a much grander house that he owned, which once had been owned by socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan and been graced by the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, D. H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, and Carl Jung.
Another time we had to go zooming up Highway 395 from L.A. to Lake Tahoe because after several weeks of phone calls we were told that we could finally talk to Ann-Margret, who was performing at Harrah’s. Unfortunately, that was all the information we had when we arrived at the Sierra resort. Luckily and completely coincidentally, we bumped into Roger Smith and Allan Carr (Ann-Margret’s husband and manager respectively) shopping in a sporting goods store near the motel where we had checked in that afternoon. Over a rack of Lacoste tennis shirts we introduced ourselves and arranged to do our interview that night in Ann-Margret’s dressing room before her show. After which we were invited to sit front and center for the dynamic song and dance extravaganza.
On top of that we met Mitzi McCall and her husband, Charlie Brill, who were Ann-Margret’s opening comedy act. As we made our introductions Mitzi announced, “Oh, I did a movie with Jack Nicholson, too.” Our eyes lit up. It turned out she was in Jack’s very first film,The Cry Baby Killer,so late that night, after the second show, we sat down and Mitzi gave us a short, funny impression about working with the twenty-one-year-old Nicholson.
Only two days after our interview with Ann-Margret she fell from moving scaffolding used in the entrance for her act and was rushed to the ICU unit at UCLA with serious head and face injuries. We sent flowers and talked about sending a card reading, “No, it’s ‘Break aleg,’” but decided in a fit of good taste that that was not appropriate.
During the production ofChinatownin 1973 I had found out through my dad’s former secretary at KNX, Carole Steller, who worked at Paramount, what Jack’s shooting schedule on the Roman Polanski movie was going to be, and I decided to head down to the L.A. City Hall shoot unannounced. I stood in the back of a large room at city hall watching the scene in which a farmer lets his sheep loose into the chamber while Jack’s character, J. J. Gittes, watches from the gallery. Polanski yelled, “Cut!” and Jack got up. He was about to light a cigarette when he noticed me standing there and invited me into his dressing room while the crew set up the next shot. It was just Jack and me, sitting in his trailer. He was telling me about having just finishedThe Passengerfor Antonioni with costar Maria Schneider.
“I loved her inLast Tango in Paris,” I enthused.
“Yeah, I fucked her,” he drawled, his trademark eyebrows raised over devilishly twinkling eyes.
I didn’t know if Jack was kidding, letting me in on a secret, padding his reputation as a lady-killer, or just testing me for a reaction. I tried to be cool.
All this crazy running around for the book was done completely “on spec,” which meant we had no idea whether or not we would ever make a dime from it—we did it purely “on speculation” of selling the finished product. Those are not the ideal conditions under which to write a book, but we would have done it even if we knew it was all going to go for naught. Chris and I were still attending school full-time and running an ever-growing business empire, but at long last we had a presentable manuscript. Yeah, so now what?
Diane’s dad, the television writer, put us in touch with his agent in Los Angeles, who directed us to a literary agent in New York, Henry Morrison. Henry sold the book after only a small raftful of rejections to M. Evans/Lippincott, and Chris and I split the royal sum of $4,500 for our more than three years of work. We were making more than that in a couple of months selling license plate frames, butJack Nicholson: Face to Facearrived in bookstores in May 1975, and we were pretty damned excited about it. I asked my dad if it would be possible to hold a book launch party at his Tilden Avenue house. Now, the closest my dad ever came to celebrating one of his own projects was hosting aHogan’s HeroesChristmas party once at the Vanalden House.
“Why would you do that?” he asked. “I never do that.”
That was the end of the book launch.
It was the first book ever written about Jack, and to this day the only one of more than a dozen to benefit from his amiable participation, his unique voice resonating from the pages. I am particularly proud of that. It was issued simultaneously in both a large hardcover and a softcover format. I never understood the thinking behind that decision. But it was printed exactly the way Chris and I turned it in. There wasn’t one change. The photographs and posters are in the positions and order in which we’d laid them out. The words we wrote and the subjects’ voices in the interviews are intact. The book features two interviews with Jack, one at the beginning and one at the end, after we’d seen him through the prism of his colleagues.
When we got our advance copies we called Jack to tell him and ask if we could bring him a hardcover copy. We hadn’t spoken in over two years, and his first reaction was, “Robert, what is this book?” I jogged his memory about who we were and what we were doing, and he sighed, “Okay, come on up.” He was in for a big surprise.
Chris and I drove up to his house with no near-fatal incidents and handed him a book and a T-shirt printed with his face, the photo on the cover of the book, on it. Jack looked genuinely pleased and only slightly bewildered about how, as Bruce Dern kiddingly referred to us, “the two lames from the Texaco station” had managed to produce this beautiful film archive about him. Thirty-five years later Chris and I are still amazed at what we managed to accomplish. To this day we can’t have a phone conversation in which one or the other of us doesn’t do a bad impersonation of Jack.
The book was published to mild acclaim, including a nice review from Charles Champlin, the film critic of theLos Angeles Times.He was someone I greatly admired—not only was his analysis of film intelligent and rational, but he was also a true fan. He was Siskel and Ebert before there was Siskel and Ebert.
The following year Chris was putting together an audiotape as a surprise for the landmark celebration of my first quarter century, my twenty-fifth birthday. He decided to compile salutations from many of my past girlfriends, other friends, USC professors, and naturally, some of the celebrities we had met along the way—Bruce Dern, Sally Struthers, and of course, Jack Nicholson. Chris called Jack to get a comment, a “Happy birthday” to yours truly. Didn’t seem like a big deal to Chris, considering we had lived, breathed, and slept the guy for over three years, but when Chris finally got him on the phone Jack reamed him out, telling him how much his time was worth and how everyone always just wanted “two minutes.” Chris, unable to comprehend that Jack was saying no, persisted until Jack relented, saying in a snarl he would later use to perfection as Colonel Jessup inA Few Good Men,“Okay, turn on the fucking tape, and let’s get it on.” Jack then delivered an Oscar-worthy performance of a birthday greeting to me. It was astounding. If you heard the tape you’d swear Jack and I are compadres, los dos amigos. We’re not, of course. But the tape, which lives on in a box in my closet, says otherwise.
Chris and I did attempt one last connection, showing up unannounced on the set of the Elia Kazan filmThe Last Tycoon,which was shot on location in Hancock Park. The film starred Robert DeNiro, but Jack had a cameo as a union rep meeting DeNiro’s Irving Thalberg. When Jack spotted us we said hi and asked if he had any plans for lunch.
“Yeah. No lunch,” was the terse reply, and Nicholson retreated as swiftly as possible back to the set.
Chris and I stood awkwardly among the busy crew members preparing the next scene. That signaled the end of our days hanging out with the big boys. On our way out we saw Nicholson having lunch at a table set up under some trees. The “lames from the Texaco station” slunk off into the afternoon, never to see Jack again. Well, not exactly.
19The Family Photo Album, 1975
Patti was not about to interfere with my dad’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for women. In one instance that I was privy to, Patti even acted as pimp for her priapic husband. The setting was a Sunset Boulevard strip club called the Classic Cat, where my dad often sat in and played drums with the jazz combo that accompanied the real entertainment. For him it didn’t get much better than beating the skins while simultaneously ogling some. At least not until his forty-seventh birthday.
The headliner at the club was a monumentally well-endowed ecdysiast named Angel Carter. My dad and Patti both had become friendly with her simply by virtue of being at the club so often. So, as any loving wife would do for her husband’s birthday, Patti arranged for my dad to have a private little birthday bash with Angel in her dressing room. While my dad beat some skin backstage, Patti sat at her table in the club nursing her red wine. She set it up and stepped aside. My foolish dad jumped in with reckless fervor. Would this later come back and bite him? Like a pit bull.
A few years later when my dad and Patti began divorce proceedings, Patti would cite the birthday bang she herself had organized as an example of my dad being a bad husband and a worse father, not to mention a man obsessed. I’m not saying some of that wasn’t the truth, but Patti was the agent, the facilitator of the behavior, at least in that particular case. You can’t keep pouring drinks for an alcoholic and then complain when he falls off the stool.
I had been on her good side for a number of years because I was of the male persuasion, a good listener, and interested in her because she had come from a world so different from that of my mom’s—modeling, selling cars, and acting. Patti claimed to have slept with Frank Sinatra, Bill Cosby (who, she said, had a preference for zaftig blondes), andMannixstar Mike Connors who, while not a great actor, was purported to wield a different kind of huge talent in Hollywood. Patti was worldly and frankwith me in revealing her Hollywood escapades as a young starlet. She was a brassy Broadway character, a combination of Gypsy Rose Lee and Auntie Mame. I had never known a woman so intimate and self-assured in her conversation. So the first few years of her marriage to my dad were revelatory for me. She was the older sister I’d never had who had seen and done it all.
Unfortunately, her love of control and her total denigration of the women in my dad’s family tilted the seesaw of their marriage into a negative, poisonous angle from which it couldn’t be righted. I drew away from her ultimately because any relationship with Patti was a minefield: one day you’re minding your own business, and then suddenly your legs are blown off by some form of verbal IED. I was one of the last survivors with my legs still securely attached.
My youngest sister, Karen, was not so fortunate. One afternoon when my dad and I were out together and Patti was inside their house, my then fourteen-year-old sister was charged with minding Scotty on the backyard swing. Scotty flung himself off the seat midswing, and though he seemed okay at first, by the next day it was apparent he had broken his arm.
Patti blamed Karen and demanded that my dad get her back to the house to face Patti’s unilateral tribunal. In his best “don’t make waves” mode, my dad called my mom to explain that Patti was hopping mad and wanted Karen to come to the house immediately. My mom gave the phone to my stepdad Chuck, and my dad continued, telling Chuck that it was so hot and uncomfortable for him that it was vital for Karen to come and stand before the inquisitor. My dad pleaded, “Chuck, I can’t begin to tell you how important this is to my marriage.”
I could hear my dad through the phone at Chuck’s ear. Chuck stood silently, deep in thought for what seemed like a full minute. Finally, he replied, “Bob, if this is that important to your marriage, you don’t have a marriage.”
I could feel my dad’s immediate deflation. He said, “You’re right, Chuck.”
So Karen never had to suffer the cat-o’-nine tails or be buried to the waist and stoned, neither of which I would have put past Patti. That incident widened the already uncrossable crevasse between Patti and the rest of my family. It was a pivotal moment. It also showed Chuck at his best.
Luckily, Mary Tyler Moore entered my dad’s life again. Her wildly successful production company, MTM Enterprises, specialized in sharplywritten, three-camera shows filmed in front of a studio audience. These weekly comedy series included her own eponymous show, its spinoffsRhodaandPhyllis,and Bob Newhart’s show. MTM offered my dad a pilot calledSecond Start.Unfortunately, the one-camera show came with MTM’s third-string lineup of creators, writers, and producers. Jackie Cooper, who had directed someM*A*S*Hepisodes, directed the pilot but clearly missed working with Alda. He and my dad demonstrated a total lack of chemistry. Cooper was a bitter, downcast, former child actor who seemed a better fit for a drama series than an MTM comedy. He barked out orders like a compassionless field general out of touch with his soldiers. Perhaps he felt he had better acting chops than my dad. There was no live audience for the pilot, and with a numbing quiet on the set (my dad’s drums were nowhere to be found) my dad retreated into his own form of paranoia. Lacking trust in the director was antithetical to producing a successful product for my dad—or any actor. He was lonely and missed the warm joviality of Stalag 13.
Second Startwas the story of forty-year-old Bob Wilcox quitting his unfulfilling job in the financial world and going back to his true calling, medical school. The story line had the stagnant feel of a hybrid version ofThe Donna Reed ShowandSuperdad. Hogan’s Heroeslooked likeM*A*S*Hcompared to that drivel. Where was Ed Feldman? Where was Gene Reynolds? Where wasMary Tyler Moore Showcocreator James L. Brooks? NBC hated the pilot but liked working with MTM, liked the premise, and liked my dad, in that order. So Jackie Cooper went kaput. The title went kaput. A one-camera shoot went kaput. After a year of (Grant) Tinker-ing (CEO of MTM, husband of MTM),The Bob Crane Showbecame a three-camera comedy series, filmed in front of a studio audience. It made its network debut in March 1975, facing off againstThe Waltons.Do you remember John-Boy? Do you remember Ma and Pa Walton? Goodnight, Bob Wilcox. Goodnight, wife Ellie and daughter Pam. Goodnight, medical school administrator Lyle Ingersoll and Wilcox’s goofy buddies Marvin and Jerry. Goodnight, all.
Hogan’s Heroeswas not a hit because of the talents of any one person. There were scores of actors, writers, camera crew people, set designers, makeup and hair artists, editors, costumers, grips, and special effects artists who all worked together to create a first-class show. The viewers saw the results of the hours of work and years of experience. They didn’t see the crew behind, below, and sometimes above the camera. It was a purecollaborative labor, not of one or two people but of eighty. Collaborative heads are always better than one, but since the demise ofHogan’s,my dad could never trust anyone again. As he got farther and farther away from the sphere of a television or film set, doing his play in a dinner theater in a mall in Paramus, New Jersey, he relied less and less on others. He was in charge of his set, his script, his performance. He was an actor-director trying to survive, which was fine to pay the bills, but in terms of living his life he made all the wrong choices. My dad knew how to sell only one product: Bob Crane. But he never learned or understood the fine line between selling and marketing. He had no trouble selling the quick wit, the charm, the laugh. His problem was he didn’t know how to make the suits want to buy the product.
My dad’s market had shrunk to cocktail waitresses in places like Scottsdale. His new audience, which was oblivious to the same old stool pigeons with the same old lame pickup lines, perked up when Colonel Hogan entered the room. He created a new small buzz in the space. Even thoughHogan’shad been off the network for four years, the personage of Colonel Robert E. Hogan, grayer, fuller around the middle, a step slower, had arrived, and he could still enlist volunteers for active duty.
While on the road performing his play, my dad began offering video services to cast members fascinated by the new technology. Some of them borrowed the camera and video deck and produced their own cinema verité. Many were enthralled with the instant results of using videotape in the same way we were once fascinated by tearing off the Polaroid and waving it in the air and watching while the image developed. There was an almost childlike preoccupation and obsession with playing back the results. My dad as the video pusher also got to watch. It was the technological advances that he was showing off when he would occasionally share with me footage of nude actresses or waitresses self-consciously adjusting themselves in front of the video camera, not the images themselves. The overwhelming power of the new technology, coupled with my dad’s naïveté, self-centered tunnel vision, and desire for instant gratification, took precedence in his mind over how friends and coworkers might react to the bold images. This was All-American Colonel Hogan sharing a family photo album with his costar or director or producer or publicist or agent. Or a family album if your relations happen to be Gypsy Rose Lee, Linda Lovelace, Heidi Fleiss, and the Mayflower Madam.
My dad had no governor in his brain. When he was on the radio thethought—the gag—fired through his brain’s synapses and was vocalized into a microphone and sent out through a transmitter on Mount Wilson into the car radio or the transistor radio in the kitchen nook. Except in the case of the radio waves his thoughts and word pictures hadn’t been X-rated. He believed that his Polaroids, his black-and-white stills, his half-inch reel-to-reel and three-quarter-inch cassette videotapes were just as cute and funny as his gags on the air. He felt that, because he was the presenter, the viewer would just go with the flow.
HisBeginner’s Luckcast was a traveling troupe, always on the road to El Paso or Columbus. The cast members became their own community. Things got shared. Some people shared their bodies; others shared drugs and alcohol. My dad shared his pornography captured by means of the new hot technology. He was the first kid on his block to have a Sony videotape deck and camera. He was the enthusiastic one saying, “Hey, look at this!” He simply didn’t consider that some people wouldn’t want to see his “this.” Nowadays, we share our new smart phones with our friends—“Wow, it takes photographs, downloadsLawrence of Arabia,makes cappuccino.” In the ’70s, portable video was the new toy, and my dad was more excited about the act of photographing sexy stuff than he was about the sexy stuff itself. He was the Catholic altar boy slugging back the Communion wine and getting a buzz, but it wasn’t the blood of Christ getting him high; it was a newfound interest in winemaking.
20Take the Bunny and Run, 1976–1977
In 1976, I was perusing an issue ofOuimagazine, which was still part of Playboy and based in Chicago. I found it refreshing in design, international interviewees, out-of-the-mainstream writers, and foreign models, so I picked out a name from the magazine’s masthead for a full-frontal assault. John Rezek, senior editor, had an important-sounding name but somehow seemed approachable to me. Using my finely honed cold-calling skills I dialed the 312 area code and number.
“Playboy Enterprises,” said the perky voice at 919 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
I envisioned a blonde coed with a bunny dip figure. “John Reezik, please,” I said, guessing at the pronunciation.
“It’s Rez-ek. John Rezek,” the future diplomat and centerfold gently corrected. “Just a moment, please.”
“John Rezek’s office,” snapped a new, no-nonsense voice.
“Hi, is Mr. Rezek available?” I went for a familiar but confident tack. “Who shall I say is calling?”
“Robert Crane from Los Angeles.”
There was a long pause as the secretary ran my name through her mental Rolodex. “He’s in a meeting,” she said in a voice that indicated Mr. Rezek would be in a meeting every time I called.
Well, I’d been put off by more seasoned pros than her. She couldn’t hold a candle to the dowager countess of USC’s gift store, Helen Trower, who ultimately stocked Trojans license plate frames, having been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and tenacity of Chris Fryer and yours truly. I immediately wrote John Rezek a letter, enclosing an interview I had conducted with my dad shortly afterThe Bob Crane Showwent off the air inan attempt to get him some much-needed publicity. The Q&A was titled “Interview with Bob Crane” by David Sloan. I figured a father and son conversation wouldn’t attract any interest, so I used my middle name and my stepdad’s last name.
Robert Crane’s Temptations interview forOuimagazine, 1979 (author’s collection).
As luck would have it, Rezek’s father was a hugeHogan’s Heroesfan, and the piece caught his eye. Now, my dad was nowhere near hip enough to be aOuimagazine interview subject, but the interview was a good calling card for me. When John Rezek and I talked on the phone shortly afterward I immediately came out of the footlocker about my subterfuge and revealed the fact that I was Colonel Hogan’s son. Thus began a series of conversations in which the young, West Coast, doesn’t-take-no-for-an-answer-kid pitched names to the erudite, oenophilic, quick-thinking, big-city, well-traveled magazine editor. I pitched comedians. I pitched athletes. I pitched actors. After half a dozen phone calls and several dozen names, finally one name caught the attention of the bright, pop-culture-observant Rezek. It was the on-the-rise, outspoken Roger Corman alumnus Bruce Dern. Rezek said, “Go.”
Since Fryer and I had already interviewed Dern for our book on Nicholson, we joined forces again. Dern was in town filming a Michael Winner loser calledWon Ton Ton, the Dog who Saved Hollywoodat the Harold Lloyd estate in Beverly Hills. Fryer and I visited the set and pitched the idea to Dern. Bruce liked us and trusted us with his words. He also liked the idea of appearing in a well-circulated Hugh Hefner publication. Chris and I discussed possible questions for Dern with Rezek and soon afterward conducted our “Conversation with Bruce Dern.” We transcribed and edited the chat, and turned it in to Rezek. Both he and Dern were pleased with the result. In reading the interview one could “hear” Bruce’s voice. His words were candid, sometimes wildly outrageous, and very often hilarious. Chris and I received a check for $750. It was our first big-time magazine piece and the beginning of my long association with John Rezek.
The suits at Playboy Enterprises Incorporated in Chicago, which had taken on the French import, soon recognized thatPlayboy’s ooh-la-la sibling didn’t quite fit in with the mahogany décor at 919 North Michigan Avenue. Hugh Hefner and his board decided thatOuireflected a Los Angeles sensibility and moved operations to the Playboy building on Sunset Boulevard. The official press release stated something about Hefner wanting each magazine to retain its unique role in men’s magazines. There was no going-away party.
The new West CoastOuioccupied spacious, sun-drenched offices in the heart of the Sunset Strip and featured a freewheeling roster of editors, including Jan Golab, Stewart Weiner, Richard Cramer, Sharon O’Hara,and Toy Gibson. The building also housed the studios where Playboy Playmates were photographed, so I always planned on taking half a dozen elevator rides during a visit in hopes of sharing a few floors with Miss October. There was a lofty, sophisticated attitude about the models and employees of Playboy that trumped the louche, counterculture look ofOui.The editorial offices resembled a dean’s office full of occupying students. Hefner made it clear thatPlayboymagazine was and always would be number one in his heart. TheOuistaff relished its position as the black sheep of the family.
Robert Crane’s article on Bob Crane forOuimagazine, 1979 (author’s collection).
I conducted interviews with Dern, Karen Black, Fred Willard, and the Temptations (with Dave Diamond), contributed to a “How I Learned about Sex” survey by the children of celebrities, and wrote a rock ’n’ roll bubble gum–blowing contest fluff piece featuring Joan Jett, Alice Cooper, and Debbie Harry. Later I was also given an assignment by Golab that resulted in a wee hours one-draft ramble about my dad’s death. With vivid memories of enjoying my dad’s stack ofPlayboysin the back room, I thought I was as close as I would ever be to the big bunny.
21Scottsdale Redux, 1978
On the afternoon of June 29, 1978, at approximately 2:00, after my dad’sBeginner’s Luckcostar Victoria Berry ran screaming from unit 132A, the Windmill Dinner Theatre’s “star apartment” at the Winfield Apartments in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Scottsdale Police Department was called. Investigators entered the dark dwelling and in one of the two small bedrooms, atop a queen-size bed, found a body lying on its right side, right arm straight out, perpendicular to the body, left arm bent, left hand tucked under the chin. The body was clad in boxer shorts and wore a watch on the left wrist. There was an electrical cord fastened tightly around the neck. A pillow stood almost vertically, not flat, at the top of the head. An opened duffel bag sat on top of the bed near the feet of the body.
Upon closer inspection, investigators noticed two almost parallel gashes slightly above and behind the left ear. Blood droplets fanned the ceiling, the wall at the head of the bed, and the nightstand lamp. There was human tissue on the wall. The bedsheet and pillowcase were soaked with blood. There was a brief trail of blood indicating that the weapon had possibly been wiped toward the foot of the sheet. The blood flow originating from the two gashes by the left ear cascaded across the body’s face, resembling a Rorschach test or a map of some untraveled territory. The head’s thick, graying hair was matted. There were dried bloodlines weaving across the shoulders and back as if the person had lain down naked in a field of tumbleweed. There was semen or a sexual-aid gel on the left thigh. Later, at the autopsy, Scottsdale Police Department detective Dennis Borkenhagen asked the assistant to the medical examiner, Eloy Ysasi, to collect the specimen, only to be told, “What’s that going to tell you besides he had a piece of ass?”
The medical examiner, Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig, locally referred to as Dr. K, had, in an unorthodox manner, begun his preautopsy at the crimescene, shaving a portion of the head around the strike zone (in the process other hairs on the bed mixed with the decedent’s), cutting the electrical cord and a portion of the sheet where the presumed weapon had been wiped, and examining a flaky substance resembling semen in the groin area. Technician Ernie Cole caught all of this out-of-the-ordinary behavior on videotape. It could have been titledHow Not to Process a Crime Scene.When the police established that the apartment was rented by the Windmill Dinner Theatre, the theater’s manager, Ed Beck, was called in to ID the body. Beck told investigators, “There was no way I could identify him from one side; the other side—yes.”
Later, Lieutenant Ron Dean of the Scottsdale Police Department spoke to the assembling members of the press outside the crime scene and updated them in vague terms. He was followed by Dr. Karnitschnig and his assistant Eloy Ysasi; the latter, in a terrible breach of protocol, mentioned the electrical cord that had been placed around the victim’s neck. Later, Dean identified that bit of unprofessional disclosure as ground zero in the blossoming distrust between the police, medical, and legal departments assigned to the case. On average two murders a year occurred in Scottsdale, which didn’t help matters. The Scottsdale Police Department even lacked a separate homicide unit.
The only name the Scottsdale Police Department divulged to the press was that of one John Henry Carpenter. Dean and Borkenhagen theorized that their prime suspect, Carpenter, unable to handle the bad news that my dad was making changes in his life, had blown his “short fuse” and made some changes of his own—he killed his best friend. Charles Hyder, presiding over the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office at the time of my dad’s murder, felt it was premature to mention anyone as a suspect or even a person of interest.
The police refrained from discussing matters they’d screwed up, like not searching Carpenter’s room at the Sunburst Motel in a timely fashion. They had let too many hours pass after Carpenter’s hasty departure the morning of the murder, time for the maids to deploy their solvents and vacuum cleaners on all the awaiting fabric in the room. That Carpenter was even staying at the Sunburst stood out as odd from the beginning. Witnesses of the Crane/Carpenter dynamic, like Patti, frequentBeginner’s Luckactress Ronnie Richards, and I, knew that when he was on the road Carpenter always settled into my dad’s hotel suite or apartment for a few days of R & R in Cincinnati, Dallas, or Scottsdale, to name just a few ofthe cities where they frolicked. Carpenter didn’t go into his own pocket for accommodation if he didn’t have to.
The SPD continued giving Hyder agita by discussing possible murder weapons with the press. Blunt instruments of destruction—tire irons, golf clubs, fireplace pokers—were mentioned. The police also leaked information about one of the crime scene’s only missing items, an album containing Polaroids of women displaying their bodies for Dr. Land’s invention.
The police investigators maintained that my dad had had two tripods set up in the apartment’s living room for video, still, and, possibly, eight-millimeter cameras, to photograph posing Playmate wannabes and close encounters of the cocktail waitress kind. Only one tripod was found at the murder scene, and it was not the weapon used in the crime. A Phoenix Police Department criminologist inspected a bedsheet from the crime scene and figured that a bloody mark on it had been made by a tripod, not a tire iron, golf club, or fireplace poker.
In the days following the killing, a thin, three-inch smear of blood was collected from the padding near the top of the passenger door of Carpenter’s Chrysler Cordoba rental. A lab determined the blood sample was type B, my dad’s blood type, which only one in seven people have. Carpenter was not one of those seven. Police also determined that no one had bled in the car. In addition, a one-sixteenth-inch speck of fatty tissue or brain matter was also visible on the same door panel near the blood sample. With today’s forensics the case would likely have been solved in less than twenty-four hours, and it probably would have been “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” for John Henry Carpenter.
Police interviews with family, friends, coworkers, and business associates began in earnest. I was interviewed that summer by Borkenhagen and Dean of the Scottsdale Police Department, Larry Turoff and Ron Little of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and by the DA himself, Charles Hyder. Hyder called me on the phone at my apartment in Los Angeles. He asked, “Excluding Mr. Carpenter for the time being, do you know of anybody that might have had a motive to kill your dad?”
My reply, recorded in police transcripts, was immediate. “Patti, my stepmom, because of their [Patti and dad’s] situation … the will … is clearly one sided and cuts everybody else out of the thing except her. And according to Carpenter, Patti and my dad had a fight on the telephone at approximately eleven o’clock the night before the murder, and it would not be unlike Patti to fly into Phoenix unannounced. Or, any city unannounced.She had just flown into Phoenix two weeks before his death unannounced.”
That thread of Patti’s spontaneous appearances was picked up by Maricopa County deputy attorney Turoff during an interview he conducted shortly thereafter in the Beverly Hills office of Lloyd Vaughn with Vaughn, Bill Goldstein, Chuck, and me. The married Vaughn mostly kept mum on the subject of the second Mrs. Crane, since he was the only one at that table who had spent many evenings squiring her around town.
“Some years earlier didn’t Patti come in cold turkey to California [from another vacation in Seattle], too?” Turoff asked the group.
Goldstein, talking to me, said, “Remember when your dad was here [Los Angeles], and Patti found out that he left your sister Karen at the Tilden house unsupervised?” He turned to address Turoff and continued, “Patti was in Seattle, jumped on a plane, flew down here. Hung out in town for two days, and then went to the house and confronted Bob.”
Turoff was a bit baffled. “She hightailed it here from Seattle in the middle of the night, and then didn’t confront him immediately?” he asked.
“No, she waited,” Goldstein replied. “She was hanging around town for two days.” Goldstein was trying to illustrate to Turoff the cunning and calculating nature of Patricia Crane.
I added, “Our family was divided in two halves. Patti hated my grandmother, my dad’s mom. She hated my two sisters. She accused my older sister [Debbie] of streetwalking in Westwood. She accused Karen of breaking Scotty’s arm three or four years ago. Patti also accused Karen of sleeping with my father. Patti is insanely jealous of other females.” I continued my mini-rant: “I just recently found out about my dad’s will. It’s totally one-sided in favor of Patti, Melissa, her daughter, and Scotty, my half-brother.”
“When was this will made?” Turoff asked.
“The main portion of the will was done in January ’75,” I said, “but the codicil, which completely cut my two sisters and me out of any kind of inheritance, was done shortly before the murder.”
“Who drew up the will?” Turoff followed up.
I looked at Lloyd Vaughn, who sat grim and poker faced. “Lloyd did,” I said, continuing, “Patti saw the end in sight. My dad was not going to get back with her; he had in fact bought a house of his own. He had asked me if I wanted to move in with him again in the new house inSherman Oaks. I told my dad he was a slave in terms of his own marriage. He was the one making all the money. Patti never worked again afterHogan’s Heroes.”
Turoff was turning off. I could tell he wasn’t really listening to what I was saying. He said, “We need to wind it up; we’ve got another appointment.”
But I wasn’t quite finished. “Look,” I said. “My dad, from everything I could tell in the last couple of months was a new guy, optimistic, new directions, just didn’t want to be part of that whole kind of slavery trip that he had been into in terms of Patti running the show. The other thing was that according to Carpenter, my dad called Patti in the Seattle area [Bainbridge Island] on the final night at eleven—”
Turoff interrupted, “Yeah, we know about that. We’re starting to run a little short on time and we have another interview.”
I just kept talking, “They were on the phone, and got into a big argument. They hung up. Patti tried to call him back later, according to what she told me, but there was no answer. Carpenter, who had been in the other room listening to the argument, and my dad had left the apartment. It’s conceivable to me that she would, she could, hop on a jet and fly into Phoenix—it only takes two and a half hours—knocks on the door. My dad answers. They either make it or they don’t. He knows her obviously, and eventually he goes to sleep. She gets up and lets him have it. There’s really nothing at this point to be lost, and a lot to be gained financially.”
Chuck added his two cents. “One other time we [Dad and Chuck] had talked about burglaries and Bob related a situation, it may have been in Chicago, where Bobby and Karen were with him, and someone had come into the room and rifled their wallets and taken some money. As a result of that incident he always locked his doors.”
“Again, and this is according to Carpenter,” I added, “my dad positively dead bolted the front door every time. I assume the person at the door he readily let in. It was obviously somebody he was comfortable with.”
Turoff and Little packed up their gear and left us then, but reconvened the meeting a day or two later with more questions. They wanted to know if Bill Goldstein had contacted Patti after initially hearing about the incident involving my dad.
Goldstein told him, “Immediately upon getting my call from LloydVaughn that there was a rumor out that something is going on at Bob’s apartment [in Scottsdale], I felt that it was important to call her [Patti’s] attorney.”
“Now this was between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on the day of the murder?” Turoff asked.
“It was between 3:30 and 4:30,” Vaughn volunteered.
Goldstein elaborated. “I know for a fact he [Patti’s attorney] couldn’t reach her right away. He finally did, but it was substantially later. She was not to be found, though she did finally get back to him after 7:30 that night.”
I chimed in, “Don’t forget that Patti had dropped into town [Scottsdale] a couple of weeks before the death, so obviously her fingerprints are going to be there. She knows where the apartment is. In past history, my dad had told me she had hit him with coffee cups, drinking glasses. She threw a videotape box at him once, hitting him in the lip, and opening a big cut.”
Ron Little asked me, “When was the last time you spoke to your father previous to his death?”
“I spoke with him on my birthday, Tuesday, June 27th.”
“Did he indicate who was with him?”
“Yes, John Carpenter.”
“Did he say when John had come into Phoenix?”
“He had in a previous phone conversation the week before. He said Carpenter would be coming into town, I believe, on that Saturday, which was the 24th.”
“What percentage of time would Carpenter actually live in the same apartment that your father did?”
“I assumed it was a hundred percent of the time,” I said. “Every time my dad called me, and Carpenter was in town with him it always seemed to me that Carpenter was in the background.”
“Were you ever specifically told that by either your father or by Carpenter?”
“I was told that by my father.”
Bill Goldstein added, “I asked that same question of Patti, and she said to the best of her knowledge Carpenter always did stay with Bob.”
“Know any reason why Carpenter had rented the hotel room at the Sunburst?” Turoff asked.
“I didn’t even know that he had rented a motel room,” I responded. “I just assumed he was staying with my dad.”
Turoff continued, “Your father never indicated to you that they had an argument of any type, so that he told him to get out or you can’t stay with me or anything like that?”
“There was an indication before Phoenix,” I told him. “In a conversation I had with my dad regarding Carpenter coming into town, he said that Carpenter was getting to be a pain in the ass. He said he just didn’t need Carpenter hanging around him anymore.”
Then Turoff subtly put the spotlight on me, asking, “Now Bobby, I saw you the Sunday after your father was killed, right?”
“It was Friday,” Goldstein corrected.
“It would have been the 30th,” Ron Little added.
“You had just come in from L.A., I gather,” Turoff continued.
“We had come in Thursday night,” I said.
“Were you in L.A. Thursday morning?” Turoff asked.
“And Wednesday evening?”
“Where were you?”
“I was at the apartment on Midvale.” Had I become a suspect? I wondered. “I was home all that week up until Thursday night transcribing an interview with Chevy Chase because I had an assignment with a magazine.”
Turoff continued, “We know your dad was alive somewhere in the early morning about 2:00 a.m. He was killed somewhere between 2:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on the 29th. Where were you at that time?”
“I was at my father’s apartment, my apartment, our apartment at 634 Midvale Avenue, West Los Angeles, probably fast asleep at that point.”
“Were you by yourself?”
“Yes,” I said, and that was that. I guess I was never a serious suspect because no one ever asked me again about my movements or whereabouts.
The DA’s office always thought that Carpenter was the killer, but just didn’t have enough evidence to pin the murder on him. This was well before DNA testing. The police had the blood sample from Carpenter’s rental car, which he returned on the day of the murder, but although it was the same blood type as my dad’s, they couldn’t say conclusively that it was my dad’s blood. They also had a few other suspects who may have had motives: some faceless Mafiosi from Chicago, a couple of irate husbandsand boyfriends of strippers and cocktail waitresses in different cities. And, of course, there was Patti.
In that summer of 1978 Lloyd Vaughn had told me, “You’re going to see some money out of this,” meaning my dad’s death. Possibly that was supposed to be a very lame attempt to console me. I recognized that people are uncomfortable with death, and maybe even more so with grieving survivors, but the notion that money would be a palliative to me seemed insensitive, even considered in the best light.
Vaughn, who was my dad’s business manager, already knew that my sisters and I had been cut out of my dad’s will by virtue of the codicil that he had drawn up, supposedly for my dad and Patti. The cynical conspiracy theorist in me questions the authenticity of that codicil, especially since Patti and Lloyd were on exceedingly friendly terms, particularly when my dad was out of town. Maybe my dad never even saw the codicil, let alone signed it. Maybe Patti had an inkling that something bad might befall my dad. The codicil was her way of protecting her interests, since she alone benefited from his death. Maybe she made a few phone calls to contacts she might have had from her days with the rat pack and arranged for some heavy-handed gorilla to slip into my dad’s apartment, with a key she might have provided, while he was sleeping. Who knows? Maybe Patti was also on the grassy knoll.
It turned out the money I received was an insurance policy that my folks had set up for me at Mass Mutual when I was a little kid. After my dad’s death it was cashed out for $6,000. That money and a couple of pieces of electronics from the apartment were the sum total of my inheritance.
I took that money and immediately invested it in making a short film calledThe Second Morning After,which was written by Chris Fryer. I wanted to direct. I wanted to expose film. I had made movies in eight millimeter, Super 8, and sixteen millimeter, but it was time to play with the big boys and shoot in thirty-five millimeter. So with that $6,000 I rented a thirty-five-millimeter Mitchell camera, dolly, a bank of lights, and some sound equipment. I hired Ray Nankey, a cameraman who also doubled as editor. I also hired a soundman, a couple of actors. It was “Lights, camera, action.”
The Second Morning Afteris an eight-minute comedy about a middle-aged couple on the honeymoon morning of what is the second marriage for both. The shoot went well, though Shepard Menken, the actor playingthe husband, broke his leg a few days before we started. We had to reblock all the scenes to keep his thigh-high cast out of the frame. Even eight-minute films are not without their challenges.
Second Morning Afterset, Casa Serena Hotel, Oxnard, California, 1978: Carole Cohen, Shepard Menken (back to camera), Ray Nankey (behind camera), and Robert Crane (photo by Christopher Fryer; author’s collection).
In the fall of 1978,The Second Morning Afteropened at the United Artists theater in Westwood, on the bill withThe Big Fix,which was the latest star vehicle for Richard Dreyfuss. As I had done with an earlier short I’d made with Rick Decker calledMirage,which played at Westwood’s National Theatre withDog Day Afternoon,I would often go to the theater and just stand in the back, listening for the laughs, and then leave the cinema before the feature film began.Second Morning Afterwas up for Live Action Short Oscar consideration but didn’t make the final list of nominees.
In a way my dad had made the production possible, and I think he would’ve gotten a couple of laughs out of the film. But if I’d bought six grand worth of Disney stock in 1978 I’d be a millionaire today. That’s life.As my friend Dave Diamond always says, “If I had some ham, I could have ham and eggs, if I had some eggs.”
I was just trying to get a handle on where the hell I was headed. I knew I didn’t want to be an actor or in any public aspect of show business. I knew I wanted to write. I wanted to be behind the scenes. I wanted to create stuff, provided I wasn’t seen or known visually. I never wanted to be recognized on the street because of all the experiences I’d had with my dad and how uncomfortable it had always made me feel.
Even the most well-meaning fans—and there are a lot of good people out there—interfere with the living of life. I didn’t want any of that. Dad was always comfortable with his celebrity. He enjoyed it. At a ballgame, I’d seen him set down his “Dodger dog,” wipe the mustard from his hands, and miss a great catch while he cheerily autographed a fan’s program. The same program that probably went out with the next week’s trash.
22Heeeere’s Bobby!!! 1979
A year after my dad’s murder, I attempted to do something I’d never had the cajones to do while he was alive—host my own radio show. Operating under the one star per family theory, and with fear of my dad’s criticism and skepticism now out of the equation, it was time, not to be a star—I had no interest in that—but to reexperience the creative outlet I had enjoyed as a kid, being on the radio, being in a windowless room with a microphone and nobody looking at you. I set myself the challenge to produce, book the guests, sell advertising time, and front a show on a Los Angeles outlet. FM was out of the question as most stations were still musically oriented—rock or easy listening. AM was an uphill battle because it fell into two major categories—talk and all news. Talk was ruled by KABC, with the white Michael Jackson as its leader, and the 24/7 (though no one said 24/7 yet) news was led by my dad’s former station, KNX, which previously had been all entertainment. My dad and I shared a love of extracting information from people, of interviewing celebrities. I did it for magazines—why not do it over the airwaves?
Since I was a no-name radio entity with a short interview résumé, I lowered my sights considerably and found a mom-and-pop station called KIEV (which decades later assumed the call letters of L.A.’s rock ’n’ roll dinosaur KRLA) in Glendale, east of the San Fernando Valley. The sad-sack stucco, single-story office complex on San Fernando Boulevard housed a five-thousand-watt station that played a hodgepodge of entertainment programs along with a bit of news and talk. I approached the hardened station manager, who had heard and seen every two-bit “artist” walk through his dirt-streaked glass front door. I did my pitch of why Robert Crane would be an asset to the station. I could offer my vast stable of celebrity “pals” from my magazine Q&As who would like nothing more than to spend their afternoons in Glendale. I did not mention my dad. The outcome was I was allowed to rent an hour of airtime on Sundayafternoons. It was quite possibly the worst timeslot on the worst radio station in Southern California, but it was a win-win for KIEV: the station was earning money for an hour of dead zone. I had to come up with $400 a week for at least the next four weeks, at which time, if my head was above water, I would continue with my exercise in vanity.
The one problem I might not be able to overcome was how to get Angelenos, who on Sunday afternoons are out at sporting events, the beach, or in the backyard barbequing, to tune their car or transistor radio dials in on a station with about as much pop as stale Rice Krispies. The prospects reminded me of my dad’s old joke: “My show got a minus two rating—no one listened, and two people knocked it.” Nonetheless, I welcomed my own challenge, recalling stories from my dad about “just doing it,” initiating the momentum and not waiting for the phone to ring. It might never ring. No one helped my dad get work on the radio. In fact, his family discouraged it. “Get a real job, Bob” was the cry of his father and brother, the Willy and Biff Loman of Stamford.
As long as I didn’t scream obscenities over the airwaves, the station was fine with whatever I wanted to do. As far as it was concerned, the KIEV ledger showed plus $400 even if the only people in L.A. listening were shut-ins and illegals peeling onions in restaurant kitchens.
My girlfriend at the time, Lori Otelsberg, hit the pavement with her youthful enthusiasm and sex appeal, and enticed several owners of small businesses to buy commercial time on the show. I also got a tip and branded a steakhouse on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills for a few sixty-second spots at seventy-five bucks a shot. I was almost three-quarters of the way to covering my nut for the first week.
The next step in my Sisyphean labor was to book guest number one. Who was one of the hottest stars in show business? Chevy Chase. He also happened to be theOuimagazine interview subject I’d been working on at the time of my dad’s murder, so it seemed appropriate that he be my first celebrity guest. It kind of closed a circle for me.
TheOuiinterview had hit the newsstands in early 1979. Chevy became the first star ofSaturday Night Live,bolted after just one season, had his own special for NBC, and costarred with Goldie Hawn in his first studio hit,Foul Play.Everything he touched turned to gold. How about lending his Midas touch to Sunday afternoon radio, being a non-prime-time player for an hour? I called his publicist, Jasper Vance, and made my plea. Chevy and Vance had been pleased with the magazine piece becauseChevy felt that it was the first interview that not only got his words right but accurately translated his brand of humor (“I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not!”) to print, which was not an easy undertaking. He had thanked me for holding up my end of that job. Plus, his given name was Cornelius Crane Chase. How weird was that? Was this six degrees of separation? Who knew? Who cared? He hadn’t even worked with Kevin Bacon. Chevy agreed to be on the first segment ofThe Robert Crane Show,set to debut July 1, 1979.
Robert Crane’s Chevy Chase interview forOuimagazine, 1979 (author’s collection).
Bobby was back behind a microphone after a twenty-year hiatus. I had an engineer who played the prerecorded commercials, reviewers, comedy bits, and our upbeat theme “Teen Town” by Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report. Although we were light years from NPR, I was shooting for an arts and interview program, a kind ofTime Out Americalive from Glendale.
Chevy, behind the wheel of a black Porsche 911, pulled into the weedy, empty parking lot accompanied by Brian Doyle-Murray, older brother of Bill, who was a writer-performer onSaturday Night Liveat the time. Also in tow was Doug Kenney, who was instrumental in the development ofNational Lampoonmagazine and one of the writers of the ridiculously successfulAnimal House.I saw that film a month after my dad’s death with Diane’s younger sister, Kris, who was trying to lighten things up for me by providing a dose of John Belushi, reigning king of all media that summer.* The reason Chevy was with Murray and Kenney was that they had just finished a round of golf in preparation for their filmCaddyshack,which has become iconic not because it’s that great a film but because of the cast, which includes Chevy, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield. It wasAnimal Houseon the links.
The theme kicked in, and it was immediately three against one. I thought I would have enough problems just going one-on-one live with Chevy, but Doug Kenney severely challenged my concentration as he tossed a plastic bag of marijuana onto the table where the microphones stood. He rolled a spliff the size of a Louisville Slugger, leaned into his microphone, took a deep hit, and blew the smoke across the cramped studio, offering me a toke just seconds into my brand-spanking-new, uphill-battle, off-hours attempt at emulating my dad. I declined on-air—“No, thank you”—failing to disclose to the tens of listeners that chaos had overtaken my program and I was already losing control. Chevy was having fun listening to a couple of his best sketches fromSNL,including the classic with Richard Pryor where he interviewed Pryor for a sanitation worker position using word association. He read the commercial for my Beverly Hills steakhouse, stretching the succinct sixty-second copy into three minutes, injecting myriad ways to prepare meat and baked potatoes. The spot has to rank as the cheapest and most hilarious celebrity ad of all time.
Doug Kenney (back to camera), Robert Crane, and Chevy Chase, KIEV Radio studio, Glendale, California, 1979 (photo by Meris Powell; author’s collection).
I introduced the program’s two regulars: movie reviewer Desly Movius, who did a sardonic take onAlien,talking about Sigourney Weaver running around in her knickers, and Diane Haas (yes, my Diane Haas, now living in New York), who filled in ex–New Yorkers, traveling New Yorkers, and wannabe New Yorkers on what was happening in the Big Apple. The hour zipped by. There were tons of laughs. Brian Doyle-Murray threw in the occasional barb while a stoned Doug Kenney giggled and Chevy rained hilarity. All I had to do was hit the cues and get out of the way.
Even after that first hour with Chevy it was still a constant battle to enlist sponsors. No one listened to a program in that ungodly timeslot. Even the steakhouse in Beverly Hills sizzled out after two weeks.The Robert Crane Showdied as quietly as it had been born. I don’t know who took my place the Sunday after the fourth week. Probably the station manager’s mother humming show tunes. We were not missed.
I’m glad I did it, though, for all the hats that I wore on it. Most of the ventures in my life were either created or cocreated by me. And because those phone calls offering you your dream job don’t actually come, I had to create my own product and my own market. I never got that phone call from Sony. I never got that phone call from Paramount. Michael Ovitz never called saying he had to have me to package his next big project. Bob Evans never called to say he wanted to makeSecond Morning Afterinto a sidesplitting hour and a half. I’m sure he just misplaced my phone number and has been kicking himself ever since.
*Belushi had the number one film,Animal House;the number one late-night TV series,SNL;and, with Dan Aykroyd, the number one album,The Blues Brothers.
23There Ain’t No Stinkin’ Closure! 1979–1980
As the ’70s drew to a close, the interest in my dad’s murder case seemed to diminish exponentially. As far as district attorney Charles Hyder was concerned, the Scottsdale Police Department investigation led by Ron Dean and Dennis Borkenhagen had failed to produce enough compelling evidence to lead to an arrest and trial of John Henry Carpenter—or anyone else, for that matter.
It was just a pity there was no Columbo to winkle out the facts, no Barnaby Jones to put two and two together, no Joe Mannix to swoop in in his Olds Toronado and save the day. The Scottsdale Police Department didn’t even have an Andy of Mayberry to piece together the puzzle. What they did have was lots of Barney Fifes.
Tom Collins would assume the role of district attorney in Maricopa County during the inauguration of the Reagan ’80s, but by then the case was colder than a morgue slab. Officers, detectives, investigators, and medical examiners had moved on. The Scottsdale PD was anxious to put this blighted case behind it. One investigator who hadn’t moved on was county deputy attorney Larry Turoff. Although he proclaimed that the attorney’s office, in its latest review of the case, couldn’t find “anything new that could lead to an arrest,” he stressed that the case was not closed. But there wasn’t much optimism about a break in the case. I had about as much expectation that the Scottsdale Police Department would solve my dad’s murder as I did that the Beatles would get back together.
I was still stumbling emotionally. As far as the public was concerned, my dad was ancient history, but I was still having moments when I thought I’d pick up the phone to call him, only to be shocked to remember he was dead.
Nowadays when tragedy is still warm people talk about “closure.” I haven’t got any idea what that means, thirty-seven years on. If you lose someone you love, you never have closure. You keep him alive in your mind and your heart. His spirit ignites every time you think of his smile, his laugh, or his hand on the back of your neck. His existence has meaning because you make it meaningful with your own existence. There’s a grave marker on Page and Eloise Smith’s grave in northern California that reads, “It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.” Loving mortal things is what makes us human. I don’t think we ever “close” that door.
Many of my evenings were spent sitting by the Jacuzzi at my mom and Chuck’s house in an old terrycloth bathrobe watching the lights come up in the Valley as the sun slipped behind the Santa Monica Mountains. Never much of a social animal, I had become all the more reclusive because I felt myself to be a drag on any kind of gaiety and an easy target for cheap attempts at humor. Once, handing my credit card to a waiter at a local restaurant, I was heckled with “You’re Bob Crane? I thought you were dead.” I also had an old acquaintance sidle up to me and ask out of the blue, “Your dad took care of you, right? You getHogan’srerun money, don’t you?” Even worse, a bar patron, overhearing me talking about my dad to a friend, butted in, with no mock shock, “You mean Colonel Hogan’s dead?”
To which the bartender replied, “Wasn’t he a TV guy or something?”
And even the bar back joined in: “Yeah, what was the name of that show he was on?”
I said loudly, “Can I get another beer?”
Twenty-nine years old and my dad, my dear dead dad, was still making it hard for me to walk into or out of rooms. Then again, maybe it was just my own paranoia. Looking back on it now, it seems a bit solipsistic to think that people would be so focused on me. From my vantage point now, I want to tell my twenty-nine-year-old self to get off his ass. And I did try, giving myself a change of venue.
After Playboy had producedOuifor a few years, the magazine’s monthly sales numbers were nowhere near those of the company’s flagship publication, and Hefner’s lieutenants stoked doubt about the whole venture. Hefner caved and off-loadedOuito a New York consortium, which moved the operation from the glitz of La-La Land to the grit of Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
The new editor was Dian Hanson, late ofPuritanandJuggsmagazines, who could have, and should have, been the star of a European film about the sexual revolution. She was a free spirit, so open about all matters carnal that the only person I could compare her to was my dad. What a couple they would have made. Hanson was from Seattle, my age but decades older in life experience, living with a biker/tattoo artist and now overseeing the Playboy cast-off. As the sale and transfer between the two companies was occurring, Hanson visited Los Angeles to clean up some of the loose ends. She had read and liked my interviews and articles in the magazine, caught wind that my dad was the murdered actor Bob Crane, and gave me a call to ask for a meeting. The rendezvous was in her motel room on Franklin Avenue near the Hollywood Freeway on-ramp. We talked about the new directionOuiwould be taking; she thought Hefner was a fossil. Within minutes of saying hello, Hanson asked me to be a contributing editor. My writing career was taking a giant leap forward. To seal the deal, she propositioned me and we jumped into the sagging bed. I felt as if I were making love with an uninhibited pleasure seeker, but Hanson was just the new-age ’80s professional woman—fucking and working was the same release. No need to sign on the dotted line. Sex was the new handshake, and I knew she and I would never make love again.
I was one of the few writers to make the hump from Hefner-era to post-HefnerOui. Ouimagazine instantly became a dim memory to the board of directors at Playboy. I didn’t care. I was moving to the Big Apple. “Hey, Ed Koch, how’m I doin’?”
I bought a trunk, loaded up some clothing and my trusty tape recorder, and moved in with newlyweds Chris Fryer and Desly Movius at their one-bedroom apartment on West Seventy-first Street off Central Park. I was one block from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Dakota enclave. Chris and Desly graciously allowed me to sleep on their rollout couch while I acclimated.
My first day on the job I took the subway south from Seventy-second Street and Central Park West to theOuioffices at Forty-third Street and Eighth Avenue. With no Miss Any Month in sight, I shared the one grimy elevator with characters that made Ratzo Rizzo look like an aristocrat. At the magazine’s fifth-floor office I stepped through the door into a poorly lit and unkempt atmosphere featuring a small ensemble of art and copy editors working alongside advertising personnel, who all talked out of the sides of their mouths like Buddy Hackett. All that was missing was atroupe of grizzled men hovering over a fire in an open oil drum. Yet another Fellini Excursion. People moved between offices, doors closing ominously behind them. I immediately got the impression that activities way beyond the production of a men’s magazine were taking place behind those doors. Hanson greeted me out of the gloom and introduced me to some of the resident troglodytes. She proudly handed me the first issue of the newOui.
When Playboy owned the publication, the paper quality and color separation were top notch. It was slick. The magazine I now held in my hands was a piss-poor relative—the photographs were grainy, the color separation bled, it was badly printed on subpar stock. In my mind I could hear the former Los Angeles staffers erupting in laughter, thankful that they hadn’t moved a trunkful of clothes to sleep on a hide-a-bed and work in the publishing equivalent of a roach motel. I studied one nude layout and stopped short of asking Hanson for a pair of 3-D glasses. And yet, the magazine was still a viable publication. People were buying it—and I had a job.
Regardless of the sales figures, the publicists for the Bruce Derns, Chevy Chases, and Karen Blacks kept turning us down because of the atrocious look of the book. Whoever said, “Any publicity is good publicity” hadn’t seen the newOui.My office space was perfectly in keeping with the look of the magazine. It was grim. There was no privacy. There were refugees from the parole board moving about the space doing god knows what. I was now fielding calls from representatives of “celebrities” like Louisa Moritz and Pamela Sue Martin. The magazine was becoming a joke, not even a shadow of its former self. As much as I enjoyed being in New York, after a couple of weeks I knew this enterprise was doomed. I had made a terrible mistake. I loathed spending time atOui’s hellhole offices.
I approached Dian and shared the news that I was not meant to be a full-time employee in an office situation. I was a freelancer at heart and much more comfortable in the field. She expressed disappointment but said she understood. So after an educational two weeks, I abandoned Chris and Desly’s couch and hauled my trunk and my ass back to Southern California. On the flight home I was already rehearsing comeback lines to the inevitable razzing I would receive from my sisters about not being able to keep a job. But I still continued to write forOui.I contributed pieces like an exposé on the rampant lesbianism among female golf professionalscalled “Ladies to a Tee” and an interview with ’50s survivor Terry Moore regarding her relationship with Howard Hughes. I’d turn in the work and patiently wait to get paid. I could never guess when the check would arrive, or if it did, if it would even be good. Once, after I’d made numerous requests to be paid for an article, I received a check written on an automotive shocks and transmission company check. I’m not kidding.
Pete Best autographed this “Silver Beatles” poster (Liverpool, early 1960s) in 1983 (author’s collection).
My personal highlight of that time withOuiwas an opportunity to spend some time with the man who missed out on the greatest show business phenomenon ever. I was assigned to interview Pete Best, the Beatles’ first drummer, who was hawking a book and a vinyl record of some leftover tracks by the pre-Ringo Silver Beatles. I spent two hours with him in his modest hotel room on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles absorbing how bleak and depressing it was to have been on the Beatle float and then to have been coldly cast off, not by his bandmates but by Brian Epstein, who was doing the dirty work for Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Best had continued to drum for a while, but then chucked it all and foundsteady employment as a mailman. Pension aside, the inner turmoil of missing out on the plunder of superstardom had taken its toll. Like the rest of us, he couldn’t live a day without hearing a Beatles song played somewhere. He lived in an internal prison called “What if?”
And I thought I had suffered disappointment, going from the Sunset StripOuito the Sun Has SetOui.Life never ceases to give you perspective. Still, for my part, Dian and the thugs atOuihad allowed me to talk to a Beatle, albeit a former one. Years earlier, I’d recognized the importance of the Beatles when my dad acknowledged he hadn’t seen or heard anything like them since Frank Sinatra. He was respectful of their place in music, which made me feel good on the father-son bond level even though on TV’sPat Boone Showmy dad once referred to one of the Beatles as “Paul Lennon.” That embarrassed me to no end.
As if I wasn’t melancholy enough in 1980, on December 8 I was watching Monday Night Football with Chuck when Howard Cosell made the announcement that John Lennon had been shot in New York City. A couple of hours later it was reported that he was dead. I thought of all the Beatles as my “friends,” but John in particular. I never met him. The closest I ever got was sitting behind the visitors’ dugout at Dodger Stadium in 1966 while he and the other lads performed at second base. The Beatles were and still are a theme in my life, providing me with listening and viewing pleasure over hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. Lennon’s death was a four-alarm blaze in my head to get focused, get going, and try to appreciate every day I still had a pulse.
So it was in that spirit of carpe diem that I accepted an invitation to aSeems Like Old Timesparty at a private home in Beverly Hills.Seems Like Old Timeswas a Neil Simon comedy starring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn, who were riding the moneymaking wave of theirFoul Playcollaboration. Chevy’s publicist, Jasper Vance, invited me because Chevy had so liked our interview work together. I took as my date a woman who had always held a kind of fantasy role in my head. Diana Menken was the younger sister of a friend of a friend. She was wildly attractive, frighteningly intelligent, and obviously unhinged because she agreed to go out with Mr. Morose. I picked her up at her parents’ home in Malibu, and we drove into Beverly Hills. We walked into the New England–style house, and there was Neil Simon. I didn’t introduce myself but watched him from a safe distance. I tried to figure out if comedic genius gave off an aura or a force field or even some kind of smell.
Goldie was there. Chevy was there. I introduced Diana to the boldfaced names, but I felt like this freelancer was in over his head, so I threw back a couple of beverages and got just enough buzz to relax a little bit. Diana was having a good time. Her dad was an actor and voice-over specialist. Though she hadn’t really been exposed to lights this bright before, she handled it all with aplomb, just as I’d imagined she would.
I wandered off, observing everyone and everything, as a good fly on the wall does. I eventually found myself in a room with a piano, a bass, and a drum kit set up in the corner. I went over and sat at the drums, looking around the big, quiet room. Suddenly, Chevy Chase appeared from god knows where. “Do you play?”
“Well, you know,” I said, noncommittally.
Chevy, who is a pretty fair pianist, went over and sat down at the keyboard. He had played with Donald Fagen, later of Steely Dan, when they were both at Bard College together years before. Chevy started noodling some little jazzy number. I followed, lightly applying brushes to the snare drum. Somebody else wandered in and picked up the bass, joining the jam. I wasn’t doing anything complicated, just keeping the beat, but I was having an out-of-body experience watching myself making music with the Chevy Chase Trio. We kicked it along for quite a while, and to my ear it sounded pretty good. When we finished I just got up and left the room. It wasn’t until an hour later that I got nervous, thinking what an idiot I was to do that.
It was moderately late when I dropped Diana back in Malibu. We had a splendid goodnight kiss on her doorstep, which fueled me back to the Valley, but that was our one and only date. I don’t remember if we ever even spoke again. To this day, though, I still haven’t seenSeems Like Old Times.
24For Members Only, 1981–1982
BeforeOuimagazine started hopscotching around the country, my original editor there, John Rezek, had seized the opportunity to jump from Hefner’s rowboat (Oui) to his yacht and moneymaker,Playboy.Even though circulation was down a bit from its peak of 7 million copies a month in the ’60s, the bunny was still moving upward of 5 million units a month in the early ’80s.
While everyone’s first thoughts aboutPlayboyare almost always centered on the centerfold,Playboyhas always offered long interviews with newsmakers like Martin Luther King, Fidel Castro, and Malcolm X, musicians including the Beatles, Sinatra, and Miles Davis, actors like Marcello Mastroianni, Marlon Brando, and Jack Nicholson, filmmakers Ingmar Bergman, Fellini, and Kubrick, and writers Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand, and Norman Mailer. The interviewers themselves have included notables like Alex Haley and Alvin Toffler.
Since there were only twelve interview slots available every year, a kissin’ cousin to thePlayboyinterview was created, dubbed “20 Questions.” Obviously shorter than the feature interview, the “20Q” nonetheless had subjects who were readily recognizable, distinguished even, if not of Muhammad Ali or Johnny Carson greatness. The occasional exception would be someone like Jack Lemmon, Truman Capote, or John Kenneth Galbraith, who had already done the main interview but was promoting a film or book and got placed in the “20Q” hopper instead. “20 Questions” was John Rezek’s domain from its debut in the October 1978 issue ofPlayboy.The prototype was model Cheryl Tiegs, interviewed by future writer-director John Hughes. Though irregular the first couple of years after its inception, the “20Q” became a popular monthly fixture beginning in 1982.
During my tenure writing forOuiafter it was cut loose from the SSPlayboy(employment I kept close to the breast), I continued to call Rezekand pitch him “20Q” subjects. On a whim, I pitched Joan Rivers, who was not exactly a new comedienne at the time, but she was riding a renewed career wave thanks to multiple appearances on Johnny Carson’sTonight Show.Rivers was perfect “20Q” material—well known but not big enough for the main interview (that would come a few years later when Joan became Johnny’s permanent guest host). Rezek gave me the green light.
Publicity stands for one thing—control. From the large firms like PMK to the single-occupant offices on Van Nuys Boulevard in the Valley, publicists guard, protect, and build bomb-resistant walls between their clients and magazine, newspaper, and nowadays Internet writers. If the publicists could conduct the interview themselves and eliminate the middleman—writers like me—that would be their utopia. The interview would also be fluff. All parties concerned need people like me to ask penetrating, quirky, or funny questions to produce a readable and memorable interview, and since creative, insightful, and funny editors, like Rezek, find themselves mostly stuck behind their desks, the role of Hollywood trench reporter fell to writers like David Rensin, Warren Kalbacker, Bill Zehme, and me, who would assume Rezek’s alter ego in the field.
I called Joan Rivers’s publicist and did my pitch with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, stressing that the interview was fun, fun, fun, wouldn’t take too much of Joan’s time, and on a separate date would include a photo session with the photographer of Ms. Rivers’s choice, resulting in a full-page original shot facing the first page of the interview. Joan’s publicist liked the idea ofPlayboy,but would, of course, have to discuss the matter with her client and get back to me. The five most dreaded words anyone in Hollywood can hear are “I’ll get back to you,” but amazingly enough, less than twenty-four hours later, I received the go-ahead with a date, time, and Joan Rivers’s home address in a tony West L.A. neighborhood where the interview would be conducted.
I immediately called Rezek with the good news. He expected a lively and funny interview. I anticipated a job well done and looked forward to a Playboy Enterprises Incorporated check signed by one Christie Hefner.
The day before an interview was the most crucial, amusing, loose, and sometimes depraved part of the whole job. It was the final compilation of questions for the interview, some mine alone, others hybrids, and many pure and direct from the wickedly funny mind of John Rezek. Nothing was out of bounds. Rezek was a musician riffing on a couple of notes Ithrew down. I would offer one question, and he would follow with a dozen, including new areas of inquiry that I hadn’t even considered. He was the urbane, steadfast professor who went wild every once in a while at the local pub. I would scribble madly, and generally by the forty-five-minute mark I had dozens and dozens of questions written down.
My actual interviews were usually sixty or seventy questions. I would then transcribe the audiotape, tidy up the answers, and send everything to Rezek. He would then choose his favorite twenty Q&As. Although pitching scores of potential subjects was always tiresome, the rest of the process became automatic—a well-oiled production line delivering goods that Rezek could always work with. After its initial sporadic appearances, “20 Questions” became the cheeky alternative to the monolithicPlayboyinterview. If all went well, Joan Rivers would be positioned as the eleventh “20Q” following Jack Lemmon (who had also been the May 1964Playboyfeature interview).
I arrived at Rivers’s palatial estate in Bel Air and was ushered into the library by someone approximating a butler. I plugged in my trusty Panasonic cassette recorder, readied my questions, and anxiously waited. All at once, the entire family entered—Joan, instantly recognizable and way more attractive in person; her husband, manager, and minder, Edgar Rosenberg, who would sit in during the interview; and Melissa, her teenaged daughter and future costar.
I mentioned that my dad had appeared with Joan (and drummer Buddy Rich) on aMike Douglas Showepisode many years ago. Joan said she was sorry about his death and that she had liked him. I thanked her for doing the interview and explained the stockpile of questions (“Yes, I have more than twenty”). With our introductions and small talk completed, Melissa left the room, I placed the tape recorder as close to Rivers as possible without distracting her, pressed the record button, glanced over at Rosenberg, who had his dark eyes trained on me, and we began.
I would often preface a question with a reference to “my editor and I” as a cushion to suggest that thePlayboymagazine brain trust was behind this effort, so if interviewees were put off, repulsed, or felt the question was an invasion of their privacy I had some deniability. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!
Joan was ready. We called her “the sexiest comedienne working today,” to which she replied, “I was asked to pose nude, but then I took a look at my Jewish thighs.” She talked about being turned on by “situationslike being stuck for days after an earthquake with a handsome Italian guy.” She described her husband Edgar being romantic: “The nicest thing he says is ‘You don’t look bad.’” Of her first sexual experience, she said, “It took longer to pick the dress for the date than the whole sexual act.” Joan and I laughed a lot. Edgar never cracked a smile.
I guess Rivers enjoyed the experience because she invited me to the Desert Inn in Las Vegas to see her show. I took Diane Haas’s good friend Dana Bieber along just for the Fellini Excursion, and she and I wound up “babysitting” Melissa while Mom was on stage and Dad hovered somewhere behind the curtain. Melissa was bright, quick, and loud like her mom. They acted more like sisters than mother and daughter. On the other hand, I felt no connection between father and daughter.
Rezek was pleased with my results. He chose the twenty most revealing, diverting, and funny question and answer combinations for the magazine. I agreed with his choices. There were times when I might fight for a question here or an answer there, cut because of flow, repetition, or space, but Rezek was always 95 percent spot on.
I heard through Joan’s office that she wanted to be photographed by Hollywood veteran Harry Langdon, and, this being my inaugural “20Q,” I thought I would see the assignment through and “hang” at the photo session. I contributed nothing to Langdon’s couple of hours with Joan, but I got the chance to see two accomplished artists in their respective fields trade ideas, cajole, and compromise to get the job done. Joan looked beautiful in the photograph that accompanied the interview, revealing the wise, elegant New Yorker that she was before she became obsessed by cosmetic surgery.
“20 Questions with Joan Rivers” appeared in the August 1981Playboy.Team Rivers was pleased with the result, as was Rezek and the silk pajamas he reported to. I was also happy, especially when I tore open the envelope with the bunny head and Chicago return address and stared at a check for $1,750. Nice work if I could keep getting it.
I felt as though freelancing was in my veins—the uncertainty, the stress, the unknown, all rewarded by a sit-down with a boldfaced name for an hour, working a tape recorder, typing two-fingered, and all of it capped off with the receipt of a check payable in U.S. dollars. I thought I’d strike while I was hot. I called Rezek’s office and launched my best shot. “My favorite television show featuring the funniest cast on the tube, taped in Canada starring mostly Canadian performers and alumni of Second Citywho skewer the phoniness of television programs and the insincerity of celebrities.” I took a breath. Rezek was still listening. “SCTV. Second City Television.It’s on NBC Friday nights after Johnny Carson.”
There was a long pause. Then, “Call me tomorrow,” Rezek said.
One of the impressive things about John as an editor was that although he didn’t strike me as a television watcher or a movie attendee (I always pictured him in his leisure time playing a game of chess or opening a cherished bottle of La Mission Haut Brion), he was aware of who and what was out there in the pop culture miasma. He had to be. I doubted he had ever seen anSCTVepisode at 12:30 in the morning or had even set up his VHS recorder to tape one, but he probably knew about John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, and Eugene Levy, or, if not, he would certainly ask around thePlayboyoffices before the next time we spoke.
I had discoveredSCTVthrough my dad. Besides tapingCarsonevery night, he had begun to tape a half-hour, low-budget comedy show with a cast I had never heard of. It aired at the deadly time of 7:00 Saturday evenings on L.A.’s local channel 9. He told meSCTVwas a show I “had to watch.” NBC’sSaturday Night Livehad been on the air a year (1975–1976) capturing ratings and Emmys for the talented cast, which included Second City alums John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and, in the second season, Bill Murray. Andrew Alexander, the co-owner of Second City, didn’t want to lose any more talent toSNL,so he helped createSCTVin 1976.
The next day I nervously dialed Rezek. The leap—opening myself to acceptance or rejection—has always been exhilarating, even with its downside.
“Mr. Rezek’s just stepped out,” his assistant said, and my heart plunged, “but let me go see if I can find him.” She put me on hold. After an excruciating sixty seconds or so, John came on the line. “Good news. We thinkSCTVis perfect for ‘20Q.’ Go ahead. Keep me updated.”
Now came the hard part. I actually had to wrangle an interview of the entire cast for the piece. I knew the Canadian Second City stage was in Toronto, so I started there. Another cold phone call (thank you, David Fryer), this time to the Great White North.
“Second City,” answered the clean, crisp voice. I explained that I was a writer fromPlayboyand needed to contact theSCTVpublicist about an interview. The voice passed me to someone who knew something about something. Sally Cochran was her name. She ran Second City stage inToronto and happened to be married to the coproducer ofSCTV,Patrick Whitley. I did my pitch on howPlayboywould be conducive to translating the show’s humor to the printed page and how we were all big fans at the magazine. Sally was pleasant and seemed semiexcited that someone from a big U.S. publication wanted to focus on their farm club. Doing the interview was not going to be without pitfalls, she warned me. “You’re going to have to go to Edmonton. That’s where they’re shooting this season.” Cochran’s voice expressed dread, as if the shoot were taking place at the Molokai leper colony.
“No problem,” I reassured her.
I had never been to Canada. I got out a map to find Edmonton. In the minute or so between my hanging up with Sally and calling theSCTVoffice in Edmonton, she must have alerted the troops that they would be receiving a call from aPlayboyscribe. When associate producer Jason Schub answered the phone, there was a distinct air of nonchalance, as if the interview were a matter of when, not if. Schub said that cast, writers, and crew were practically working seven-day weeks because NBC wanted ninety minutes a week instead of the show’s previously syndicated thirty-minute version. All work and no play would pay off in back-to-back Emmys for Best Writing for a Variety Series in 1982–1983. Plus, there wasn’t much to do in Edmonton except attend Oiler hockey games.
Executive producer Andrew Alexander and his partner Len Stuart, producer Whitley, the writing staff, and, of course, the cast—Candy, Levy, O’Hara, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, and Rick Moranis—had debated and voted that appearing inPlayboymagazine was better than not appearing inPlayboymagazine. There must have been at least one call made to Belushi, Aykroyd, or Murray about howSNLhad been treated by the magazine in itsPlayboyinterview. Anyway, we had liftoff.
As the Air Canada flight made its approach to Edmonton and I was directed to stow my tray table and raise my seat back in both English and French, I looked out the window and saw miles and miles of wheat fields and farmland. This was a comedy hub? Oy, Canada!
I rented a car, drove to the Four Seasons downtown, checked in, and then sped out to the ITV Studios in the ’burbs, which began in Edmonton after what seemed like a couple of highway minutes. I wanted to be on the set pronto. I wanted to hang out with Guy Caballero, Edith Prickley, Johnny LaRue, Bob and Doug McKenzie, and Lola Heatherton.
SCTVwas sharing stages and offices with “the regulars” who wereproducing news and other “real” programs for the local market. When I arrived at the studio, a collection of nondescript buildings in an industrial park, I was escorted onto the soundstage, where John Candy, playing Gil Fisher, the Fishin’ Musician, was interviewing punk rockers Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics. Wendy was decked out in a platinum Mohawk and ripped tights, her prominent breasts adorned only with electrical tape Xs over her nipples. The NBC censor on set was having conniptions. Phone calls were made to 30 Rock in New York City. Pixilation was discussed. Tighter camera angles were considered. Cancellation of the segment was threatened. John Candy wanted her on the show because Williams as theSCTVmusical guest would stand in stark contrast toSNL’s usual acts, more conventional ones like Paul Simon and James Taylor. Levy and Moranis were adamantly opposed to her being there, but Candy won out. The series belonged to the cast, writers, producers, directors, and the hair, makeup, and wardrobe personnel, but this segment was Candy’s baby.
As I met each cast member in a hallway, office, or dressing room, I jotted down notes: “Creative chaos; the energy from the cast could light up much of Canada; they tape in Canada because they don’t want to be part of the scene in New York or Los Angeles, where theSNLrip-off calledFridayswas taped. These were the very places where the shows they satirized were made.” As I interviewed each cast member, I wrote down brief impressions: “John Candy—lovable bear, a warm, funny man; Andrea Martin—least inhibited, most accommodating; Eugene Levy—careful, most precise; Rick Moranis—best impressionist; Dave Thomas—most opinionated and thought-provoking; Joe Flaherty—most shy and introverted off-camera; Catherine O’Hara—most changeable in appearance and the best figure.”
During the week, I would interview them all one-on-one, occasionally in pairs, and sometimes in tag teams. They answered every question I asked—involving television, drugs, group dynamics, sex, censorship, words you can’t say on TV (which, oddly, includedbreast-feedingandturd), and comparisons withSNL—with gusto and candor. These people were smart and needed constant challenges.
Somehow, word had gotten out at theSCTVoffices that Colonel Hogan’s son was the writer on scene forPlayboy.I had never mentioned it. But when I stepped through their asylum door, there were never any sideways glances or rooms getting quiet. John Candy would later tell methat everyone immediately felt more comfortable with me because I had been around the business for years and obviously appreciated comedy. Of course, the fact that I told the cast and writing staff thatSCTVwas my favorite television program didn’t hurt either.
There is what I call the show business club. It’s been there for as long as film, television, radio, stage, music have existed. Its members are performers, writers, directors, producers. They enter a room, glance at one another, and give the all-knowing nod. As in most professions, performers have their own language, their own shorthand. With a look, a word, or a phrase they can communicate volumes to each other. They acknowledge that they are different from the masses. For better or worse, they occupy a different orbit because they have talents most people don’t. The club doesn’t differentiate between those talents. If you’re one of those rare people who as a profession stand in front of a camera or an audience and make people laugh or cry or cower in fear, then that’s the ticket of admission to the club. My dad was never more comfortable than when he was in front of a microphone, a camera, or a live audience. The club creates, however temporarily, a warm cocoon, nurturing among its members the shedding of inhibitions.
I received a guest pass (issued primarily by Candy and Thomas) to theSCTVchapter of the club. I sat in on script meetings, discussions with producers, chats among cast members, engagements with business managers, attorneys, and agents. I was more than a fly on the wall. Thomas invited me to watch him film a segment called “Power Play” on location in which he played William Shatner portraying a hockey coach as Captain Kirk. I felt included, honored. When he asked me to put on a sweater and play the coach’s assistant standing next to him for one shot, I felt like Mal Evans doing the audible countdown to the orchestra crescendo on the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” TheSCTV“20 Questions” appeared in the May 1982 issue. Billy Joel was the feature interview, though I thought they should have been reversed. My piece received good notices fromPlayboystaff and readers alike, and as a result, the editor’s door was cracked open: I had become a member of Rezek’s club.
I had become a peripatetic freelance writer, scratching out what I called a living. Most of my possessions were left in trunks and boxes, safely stored in my mom and Chuck’s garage. I lacked a steady enough income to rent my own apartment, so I lived at my mom and Chuck’s, ready and available to serve as somebody’s house sitter at a moment’s notice.
Through Diane during our days at USC, I had gotten to know a wonderful figurative painter named D. J. Hall and her husband, Toby Watson, a modernist architect. During that very dark summer of 1978, Diane had invited me to a party at D. J.’s studio in Culver City. Diane and I were a million light years apart by then, but she thought of me for the gathering and kindly asked me to accompany her. The star of that evening—and every evening where she was in attendance—was Debra Jane Hall. She is an attractive, athletic blonde who is alternately outrageous, funny, and obsessively creative. Toby, taking the permanent backseat, tolerated her many male fans. That night I joined the queue. Visiting this foreign world of “artistes” spieling on about the lackluster condition of the art world in minor league Los Angeles temporarily took my mind off the all-pervading, humorless wag called Death, who was my constant companion.
Venice Beach, California, was home to D. J. and Toby. When they took off to Hawaii for a couple of weeks they asked me to house-sit their 1920s Carroll Canal cottage and look after their black cat Mies (after Mies van der Rohe). I jumped at the opportunity for two reasons: I knew nothing about Venice and therefore my stay would be my own exploratory vacation, and second, my mom and Chuck would get a break from my long face.
I settled easily into the world of aging hippies and quacking ducks. Lots of duck shit covered the heaving, narrow walkways around the maze of canals. I played the house music chez Hall/Watson, which includedSteely Dan, but I passed on D. J. and Toby’s Tom Waits albums. I listened to the radio, which was always tuned to the Santa Monica–based National Public Radio station, KCRW. I looked through D. J.’s books on still-life and figurative artists Pierre Bonnard, Mary Cassatt, and Cecilia Beaux. I never turned on their elderly television. I also stayed away from the phone for the first few days, so at first I didn’t see the note D. J. had left on a torn piece of graph paper next to the black rotary dial phone. D. J. explained that their friends Bruce Everett and Kari Hildebrand had broken up after having lived together for five years. I had met Bruce once at an art opening. He was a talented plein air painter who taught art at Cal State Northridge. Kari, a former student of Bruce’s, was a professional landscape designer. D. J. suggested I give Kari a call during my stay. I trusted D. J.’s taste. I waited until late in the afternoon, and the passing hours gave me an opportunity to conjure up the nerve and contrive some warm dialogue for the cold phone call.
When Kari answered from her home in the San Fernando Valley, I introduced myself and lamely giggled as I mentioned that D. J. had left her phone number for me. Kari said D. J. had told her about me. She was working on a xeriscape design for a home in Calabasas. I asked what xeriscape was, and she explained that in the desert region we called Los Angeles it was worthwhile, if not necessary, to install drought-tolerant native plants that didn’t require much water. Kari said she despised lawns. She sounded like she was keenly aware of the environment, bright, and creative.
The conversation swung in my direction. “I do interviews with celebrities for magazines,” I explained when she asked what I did.
“Such as?” she probed.
“Well,Playboyis the big one. They’re the premier market for Q&A interviews.”