Bob Crane / WICC Studio Lobby Card, circa 1952.
Courtesy of WICC. Used with permission.
American Radio Personality, Actor, and Musician
Written and submitted by Carol Ford.
Bob Crane (July 13, 1928-June 29, 1978), known to millions around the world as Colonel Robert E. Hogan on the popular 1960s television situation comedy, Hogan’s Heroes, was originally from Connecticut. Born in Waterbury, Bob moved with his family to Stamford shortly before 1930, where he and his older brother, Al, grew up. After graduating from Stamford High School in 1946, he went to work at Finlay Straus Jewelry Store on Main Street in Stamford and enlisted in the Stamford National Guard, serving from 1948 until his discharge in 1950. He was married twice, first to Anne Terzian (1949-1969) and then to Patricia Olsen (1970-1978). He was the father of four children; three with Anne (Robert David, Deborah Ann, and Karen Leslie), and one with Patty (Robert Scott). Bob and Patty also adopted a daughter, Ana Marie.
Music was always extremely important to Bob. In April 1939 and at the young age of 10, he first heard legendary drummer Gene Krupa play at the New York World’s Fair, and from that moment on, Bob knew he wanted to be a drummer. By middle school, Bob was forming his own bands with the neighborhood kids and teaching his friends how to play drums so they could march in local parades. In high school, he played in the school orchestra, marching band, and jazz band, which during his senior year was known as the Crane-Catino Jazz Band. The jazz band performed regularly for school functions, as well as for other gigs in Stamford and neighboring towns, including Greenwich, Norwalk, and Darien. According to the Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra (originally the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra), Bob also performed timpani with the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra while still in high school as part of the orchestra’s school music program. School friends also recall him playing with the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra during this time. It was his love of music and drums that led him to pursue a career in radio.
Upon graduating from high school in 1946, Bob began sending audition tapes out to radio stations up and down the East Coast. In 1949, he took a course at the University of Bridgeport in station operation instructed by Wally Dunlap (of WICC). Though discouraged at all the rejection responses he received, he did not give up. Finally, in early 1950, Bob received a call from WLEA in Hornell, New York, while working at the jewelry store. WLEA became credited with offering Bob his first job in radio.
Bob spent nine months at WLEA and had achieved the role of program director before his departure in early 1951, when he accepted an offer from WBIS in Bristol, Connecticut. Wanting to be back in his home state, Bob had continued to send audition tapes to radio stations in Connecticut. He was rejected repeatedly, however, because his voice was not as low and slow as stations desired, but instead, fast and frenetic. Even WBIS was taken by surprise when they met Bob in person. Their tape machine had played his audition tape more slowly than normal, so they had expected someone who sounded like Edward R. Murrow. Despite this glitch, WBIS was impressed with Bob’s talents. Soon after he was hired, Bob was quickly promoted to senior announcer and program director.
His time spent in Bristol was short, and by May 1951, Crane had moved to WLIZ in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he promptly became the area’s “new town crier.” Bob would often say that he had been hired at radio stations for all sorts of bizarre reasons. In this case, Wally Dunlap had been searching for a new morning man for WLIZ. The one stipulation – he must not drink alcohol. Not a drinker and because Dunlap had known Bob from his college course, Bob earned the morning time slot at WLIZ.
On November 17, 1951, WLIZ purchased WICC for $190,000. Crane’s morning show shifted to WICC, and soon after, he was promoted to program director of the station. While at WICC, Bob also worked at WICC’s UHF television station, Channel 43, with well-known Bridgeport figure, Morgan Kaolian. During this time, UHF television was in its infancy, and the station floundered despite the ongoing efforts of Crane and Kaolian.
Bob remained at WICC until August 11, 1956, when he gave his final morning show over the WICC airwaves. He and his family moved out to Los Angeles, where one month later, on September 13, Bob launched his show to Southern California audiences over KNX-CBS Radio. At KNX, Crane would hone and perfect his radio show and become one of the premiere celebrity interviewers of his time.
Bob Crane’s radio show was unique in many ways. As early as his days at WLEA, he began experimenting with sound effects. For example, he would put water in a saltshaker, and while promoting Borden’s Milk, he would shake the water out over a cup of water, saying to listeners that he was milking the cow right there in the studio, so “How fresh can the milk be?” Another sound effect he used was a chicken cackling and an “egg plop,” where he would rate records based on how many eggs would drop into a basket. From there, he graduated to voice impersonations – some famous, some not – and he soon became known as the “Man with a Thousand Voices.” All of these gimmicks, as Bob called them, were interwoven into his radio show, and most of the time, in with commercials, which was unprecedented. By the time he reached KNX, advertisers were paying top dollar for airtime during “The Bob Crane Show,” simply because he could get people to stay put, pay attention to, and actually enjoy the commercials.
Also central to Bob Crane’s radio show was his drumming. Wherever Bob went, his drums went with him, and he incorporated his musicianship into his radio program. When playing a record over the air, he could often not resist the urge to play his drums along with it. Further, Bob was an exceptional interviewer, which earned him a coveted place with many celebrities. While at KNX, Bob interviewed more than 3,000 individuals from 1956 to 1965, and that list included such prominent individuals as Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Dick Van Dyke, Ronald Reagan, and countless more (for a partial list, click here http://vote4bobcrane.blogspot.com/2011/06/interviewer-extraordinaire.html). While they knew they would most likely get a good ribbing from Crane, they also knew it would bring great visibility to their latest movie, television series, record album, or stage performance, and they vied to be interviewed by him.
Bob began taking small television and movie parts as soon as his five-year, no-acting clause with KNX expired in 1961. One of his earliest television roles was on The Twilight Zone, where he played a radio announcer (and is only heard but not seen). In 1962, he earned a role on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the episode, “Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra,” as Harry Rogers. Donna Reed took notice of Crane’s acting talents, and he soon landed a permanent role on The Donna Reed Show as Dr. David Kelsey. From 1963 to 1965, Bob worked two full-time jobs, running back and forth between KNX and The Donna Reed Show. He left on his own accord to accept the title role on Hogan’s Heroes. He left KNX in 1965 for the same reason.
After the tremendous success of Hogan’s Heroes, for which he was nominated twice for an Emmy Award, Bob sought comedic roles in film and on television. However, he was plagued with being typecast. Aside from a brief run of his own situation comedy in 1975, The Bob Crane Show, leading roles in movies (The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schulz, ABC’s Arsenic and Old Lace,and Disney’s Superdad), and guest-starring on numerous television shows, he was unable to break away from his public image as Colonel Hogan.
Having had a keen interest in the theatre since his days in Connecticut, Bob performed in many stage productions from the 1950s through the 1970s. His first tour in 1969 with the play Cactus Flower received critical praise, and he admittedly hoped it would serve as a springboard to Broadway. Bob continued to perform on stage and receive terrific reviews in productions such as Send Me No Flowers, 6 Rms Riv Vu, and Beginner’s Luck, the latter of which he also owned rights, as well as starred in and directed.
Bob kept a close connection with radio long after his days at KNX. In 1973, Bob filled in for former drive-time competitor Dick Whittinghill over KMPC while Whittinghill was on vacation. Bob also never forgot his Connecticut roots, returning back east often. In January 1976, he returned to Bridgeport to help WICC celebrate the station’s 50th anniversary. He also returned to Connecticut several times to work the local portion of the United Cerebral Palsy telethons. In September 1976, Bob once again came back to Connecticut, this time to Bristol to help the city celebrate its Annual Chrysanthemum Festival, in which he was honored as grand marshal. That year also marked the 30th reunion of his high school graduation, and in June 1976, Bob returned to Stamford and celebrated with his high school classmates and friends.
In January 1978, Bob Crane filmed a pilot episode for a new television series, The Hawaiian Experience. The series, hosted by Bob, was to provide viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at various resorts on the Hawaiian Islands. The series was ultimately canceled because of Bob’s untimely death later that year.
On June 29, 1978, Bob Crane was murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona, while he slept. Many theories exist as to who murdered Bob and why; however, the crime has never been officially solved. At the time of his death, it was revealed that Bob had been heavily involved in homemade pornography and a proclivity toward sex with numerous women. Reverend Edward Beck, who was helping Bob seek professional help shortly before his death, proclaims that Bob recognized his addiction, knew it was a powerful force in his life, and wanted very much to break free of it. Rev. Beck remembers Bob as a “tremendous talent;” someone who “just happened to be famous;” was a “wonderful, wonderful person;” “caring, sensitive, and somewhat shy;” and with “weaknesses and foibles like the rest of us.”
Today, much of Bob Crane’s radio work is overshadowed by his role on Hogan’s Heroes and his murder. Bob’s work in radio is often listed as nothing more than a footnote; however, he spent fifteen consecutive years behind the mic from one coast to the other, and then continued to stay close to radio for the rest of his life. Without question, Bob Crane can be credited with changing the world of radio and paving the way for future radio personalities and disc jockeys for years to come.
To recognize his extensive work in and dedication to radio and broadcasting, Bob Crane has been nominated for the National Radio Hall of Fame.To learn more, click here. http://vote4bobcrane.blogspot.com/p/official-national-radio-hall-of-fame.html
WICC and the Connecticut Broadcasting History organization, along with several key individuals in the broadcasting and radio industry, have officially endorsed Bob Crane’s nomination. For more information on how you can officially endorse Bob Crane’s nomination for the National Radio Hall of Fame:
To see a complete list of official supporters, click here.
To view WICC’s page dedicated to Bob Crane, click here.
Bob Crane with Wally Dunlap over the WICC Airwaves, circa 1952. Courtesy of WICC. Used with permission.