The Bob Crane Case
Disc Jockey to the Stars
The man who would become known to millions of Americans as the suave and crafty Colonel Hogan had been born Robert Edward Crane in Waterbury, Connecticut, on July 13, 1928. He was raised a Roman Catholic. As a youngster he was known as a fun-loving, wisecracking boy. Music was his greatest love. He was especially partial to big band and jazz.
As a prepubescent child, he enjoyed acting in skits. He formed his own musical group, in which he played the drums. The outgoing boy made friends easily and loved being in a group, especially if he were the focus of attention.
He did not care for sports and was not much of a scholar. At 15, Bob Crane set his sights on becoming a professional drummer. He admired the well-known drummer Gene Krupa and wanted to have a similar career.
As a teenager, Crane dropped out of high school to become a drummer with the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. He was let go after a year because the clownish young man was believed not to be "serious enough."
His lack of formal school was something about which he seemed sensitive. He would sometimes joke about it, saying, "I can't tell Puccini from a pizza or Sartre from a samba." Awkwardness was palpable under the kidding.
He served in the National Guard and later joked, "I was a Remington Raider — the typewriter, that is."
Crane wed Anne Terzian, his high school sweetheart, in 1949. They would eventually have three children, Bob Jr., Debbie and Karen. When Anne and Bob first married, the couple lived with her parents in Stamford, Connecticut. Crane held down a day job in a jewelry store and spent nights drumming in dance clubs.
A career in radio began for Crane when he got a job as an announcer at the small WLEA channel in Hornell, New York. The financially struggling entertainer lived at the YMCA while his wife stayed behind in Stamford. Then he was hired away by the WBIS station in Bristol, Connecticut. From there, he went to radio station WICC in Bridgeport, where he stayed for six years.
In 1956, Los Angeles, California's channel KNX hired him as a radio program host. It was a big break. The Crane family moved to California. His show was a tremendous hit largely due to Crane's bubbly, brash personality and fast wit. His raucous morning drive-time show sometimes featured the banging of drums and the hoots of chimpanzees. He interviewed some of the biggest stars of the time, including Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Hope. He was nicknamed "King of the L.A. Airwaves" and became one of the first disc jockeys in America to earn more than $100,000 per year.
Crane's most dearly held ambition had gone from becoming a professional drummer to becoming a famous actor. Bob Cummings and Jack Lemmon had replaced Gene Krupa as his role models. The goal of an acting career seemed increasingly realistic as he got guest appearances on popular television programs like The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Twilight Zone. In 1961, he appeared in the movies Return to Peyton Place and Man-Trap. He received an even bigger plum in 1963 when he got a regular part on the Donna Reed Show. He was on that popular program for two years. In 1965, he was let go because the producers decided that his flirtatious character was a bit "too suggestive" for the wholesome series. This may have been a harbinger of the sexual obsession that would eventually consume his real life.
The actor must have felt a terrible let-down when he lost that part, but his mood was soon greatly buoyed when, in that same year, he was given the starring role in Hogan's Heroes, the greatest career success he would ever have.