July 13, 1928 – Bob Crane
Back in the 1960s, before his name was linked to sex addiction, X-rated videotapes, and a murder, Bob Crane starred in the popular CBS sitcom Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971). He was a good choice for television comedy ideal leading man: handsome, clean-cut, funny, likable. I watched the show as a kid, but I think it was because it had mostly male characters who lived together in close quarters.
His character, Colonel Robert E. Hogan, is the wise-cracking leader of ragtag group of Allied soldiers plotting comic intrigues as a Special Operations group from the camp during WW II from inside a Nazi POW camp. Crane made Hogan’s Heroes one of the decade’s best-loved and highest-rated comedies. He was well-liked on and off set.
I know a comedy about Nazis seems tasteless in our own era, with real modern Nazis threatening our way of life, but it was highly rated and responsible for all sorts of merchandise, from lunch boxes to comic books to record albums. The show used the tagline:
“If you liked World War II, you’ll love ‘Hogan’s Heroes’!”
Talented actor and musician Werner Klemperer played Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the incompetent commandant of the camp, and John Banner played the bungling sergeant-of-the-guard, Sergeant Hans Schultz.
The actors who played the four major German roles: Klemperer, Banner (Schultz), Leon Askin (Burkhalter), and Howard Caine (Hochstetter), were all Jewish. Klemperer, Banner, Askin, and Robert Clary (LeBeau) were Jews who had fled Nazi Germany. Clary spent three years in a concentration camp, where his family were killed. He is still with us at 92-years-old and still he has an identity tattoo from the camp on his arm. Banner’s and Askin’s families were also killed during the war.
Klemperer fled Hitler’s Germany with his family in 1933. During the show’s production, he insisted that Hogan always win against his Nazi captors or else he would not take the part of Klink. He defended his playing a Luftwaffe Officer by claiming:
“I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi.”
Banner attempted to sum up the paradox of his role by saying:
“Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?”
Klemperer, Banner, and Askin all had served in the U.S. Armed Forces during WW II.
Crane began his career as a radio personality, first in NYC and then in Los Angeles, where he hosted the top-rated morning show. In the early 1960s, he moved into acting. Crane received two Emmy Award nominations for his work on Hogan’s Heroes. After the show ended, Crane’s career declined. He became frustrated with the roles he was being offered and began doing dinner theater. In 1975, he returned to television in the NBC series The Bob Crane Show which was cancelled after 13 episodes.
Crane returned to performing in dinner theaters and in occasional guest spots on television shows.
He was a conservative Republican family man, but beneath Crane’s glib exterior lay many secrets, secrets captured on hundreds of hard-core Polaroids and videotapes. Crane was a sex addict before the term was invented, a married man who seduced hundreds of women over the years and recorded the encounters.
Mark Dawson, son of Crane’s Hogan’s Heroes co-star Richard Dawson, was 17-years old when Crane decided to share some of the secrets with him. Dawson:
“He was carting a couple of videotapes and a Polaroid book. He went into the other room and then called me in: ‘Hey, come on in … you want to take a look at this stuff?'”
The “stuff” was pornographic videos, all of them starring Crane.
Crane’s private passion first became a public fascination in 1978, he was found murdered in his Arizona apartment, bludgeoned to death by a camera tripod at 49-years-old. At the crime scene, investigators found Crane’s video equipment and tapes.
Crane’s secrets became even more public in Auto Focus (2002), an excellent, if uncomfortable, film directed by Paul Schrader, starring Greg Kinnear as Crane. Kinnear:
“What’s fascinating about him is this sort of contradictory nature. I mean, he really saw himself as a one-woman man! And yet there were reams and reams of photographs and video of all these other behaviors going on.”
Crane married his high school sweetheart when he was 19-years-old and and had three children when he began an affair in 1965 with Cynthia Lynn, who played Col. Klink’s sexy secretary Helga on Hogan’s Heroes. Their relationship literally began as the cameras were rolling.
Lynn got involved in Crane’s special hobby:
“He was a camera nut. I loved it when he took pictures of me, because he was like a kid in a candy store. Yes, he took some nude pictures of me. But it was nothing to be ashamed of. There was nothing kinky or weird or about it.”
Lynn left Hogan’s Heroes after season one, and another stacked bombshell was hired to play Klink’s new secretary, Patricia Olson, who starred on Hogan’s Heroes using the name Sigrid Valdis. In 1970, she became the second Mrs. Crane. Olson:
“He was always hitting on me from day one. But he would hit on any bimbo that would walk on that set. It didn’t matter. I mean, that was just Bob.”
Olson was taken by lung cancer in 2007, but before her passing she curated a tribute website to her husband, with a blog where she answered questions from fans of her husband and Hogan’s Heroes. She says she knew all about Crane’s obsession with sex with multiple partners, and she didn’t mind. Olson in a 1999 interview said:
“He didn’t lose his first amendment rights when he married me — he loved having sex and filming it. He never broke any laws. Nothing he did was unconstitutional. From almost the first day on the set, he told me his hobby was photography. I didn’t figure it was landscape! He brought over a double-thick briefcase, and it was filled with like four rows of slides in a box about that big. So there were thousands of slides in there … of all the women in his life.”
“I know it sounds crazy. Bob used these women. He said, ‘I wish when I finished with them I could just push a button and they’d fall through the floor and disappear.’ Now, how could I be jealous of something like that? He treated women like the rest of the world treats toilet paper. Who’s going to be jealous of toilet paper?”
“We were happy together. We had a wonderful sex life. We had a wonderful marriage.”
The gruesome 1978 murder captivated the country. Details about it were in the tabloids for months, one of most lurid murder cases ever. Crane was found beaten to death with an electrical cord around his throat in a motel room in Scottsdale where he had been appearing in Beginner’s Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theatre.
Police suspected that a Crane friend, John Carpenter (played by Willem Dafoe in Auto Focus) had killed him, but they didn’t have any DNA evidence. Carpenter was acquitted at a 1994 trial; he maintained his innocence until his death in 1998.
Adding to the sensational tabloid aspect of the crime: Crane’s obsession with pornography, watching it and making his own, and his insatiable sexual appetite.
Police found Crane’s blood-splattered day planner, with dates such as his daughter’s high school graduation as well as names and numbers of women he picked up. Crane had also laid a narration over the action in his videos.
After the Carpenter trial, there was speculation that Olson might have had a role in instigating the crime. Crane’s son Robert Crane wrote:
“Nobody got a dime out of the murder except for one person.”
Crane’s will excluded his children and their mother, and left the entire estate to Olson. Robert Crane repeated his suspicions in his book Crane: Sex, Celebrity, And My Father’s Unsolved Murder (2015). Officially, Crane’s murder remains unsolved.
The final episode of Hogan’s Heroes is titled Hogan’s Double Life.
Beginner’s Luck, the play Crane was starring in when he was murdered, was a silly sex farce about swingers.
The Windmill Dinner Theater is now a strip club.