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The Murder of Bob Crane

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Robert Graysmith

After a successful radio career, Bob Crane starred in the popular comedy series Hogan's Heroes from 1965 to 1971. When he failed to launch another series, he toured in plays throughout the Southwest. Unknown to his fans, Crane, who had been raised a … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Robert Graysmith
Publisher: Berkley
1 review about The Murder of Bob Crane

As lurid a true-crime book you would wish for

  • Sep 1, 2000
Rating:
+3
Somewhere in the middle of "The Murder of Bob Crane," author Robert Graysmith recalls a quotation by Paul Theroux along the lines of how murder halts the victim's life in mid-stride, revealing more about that person than they would want revealed. When death is anticipated, there is time to put things away, make one's peace, and write your obituary. But the murdered person leaves their life open to examination by all.

Not that Bob Crane was hiding all that much by the time he was found bludgeoned to death in a Scottsdale, Arizona, hotel room in 1978. His friends, co-workers and ex-wives knew of his passion for pornography, his relentless pursuit of women, and his interest in photography and videotape. He would brag of his conquests, and even casual visitors to his home may be shown his collection of Polaroid prints depicting he and sometimes his friends in numerous positions and acts.

But it took the death of the former "Hogan's Heroes" for his hobby to become known to the public, and Robert Graysmith is unrelenting in his quest for details about the case.

Unlike its more powerful brethren like "In Cold Blood" and "Fatal Vision," "The Murder of Bob Crane" will not become a classic. Graysmith's pursuit of detail is meticulous and overwhelming, and shows no sign of discrimination, down to informing us that the carpet at CBS's executive headquarters is blue. His prose is overwrought at times, as padded as a down jacket in others. He repeats facts, sometimes pages apart and usually using the same words, and the dialog has the scent of the make-believe. His characterizations are non-existent, leaving us to fill in the gaps. One gets the impression that large portions of the book were written by opening the notebook and dumping in its contents.

After describing Crane's activities in Scottsdale the month before his murder -- he was appearing in a dinner theater play ironically titled "Beginner's Luck" -- and the opening phases of the murder investigation, Graysmith jumps into a biography of Crane and particularly the creation and production of "Hogan's Heroes." While this material has little to do with the murder case, the 70 pages fills the book to a publishable 289 pages. Fans of the show -- and those who wonder just how in the hell a sit-com set in a German POW camp during World War II could be a ratings hit on American television -- will be fascinated by the tale.

"Hogan's Heroes" was the stepchild of "Sgt. Bilko," and the show's creator Bernard Fein, was trying to sell without success an offshoot set in a federal penitentiary. In fact, Fein had given up, and was at the airport about to leave Hollywood when he spied a fellow passenger reading "Von Ryan's Express," a novel in which POWs hijack a German train carrying stolen art. Inspiration struck, aided by the recent success of "Stalag 17," and the rest, as they say, is television history.

Three of "Hogan's" cast members, all Jews, were affected by the war in ways that makes one wonder why they would involve themselves in such a project. Robert Cleary, who played the Frenchman, LeBeau, spent the war in a concentration camp and nearly died at Buchenwald; the family of Werner Kemperer (who played the German commandant, Klink) fled Germany before the war; and John Banner, who was the bumbling but good-hearted Sgt. Schultz, was an Austrian whose family was killed by the Nazis in 1938. That Banner and Kemperer had spent most of their careers portraying Nazis is ironic in the extreme, but as Banner simply commented, "Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?"

The book follows "Hogan's Heroes" through its cancellation after six seasons, and picks up Bob Crane's story, his failed marriages, his sputtering film career (including two movies at Disney), a second sit-com that was canceled, and his stage work. As portrayed by Graysmith, Bob Crane was not a happy man. He was a genial comic and a thoroughly professional actor of limited talent., but whose private life was marked by an urgent need not only to copulate, but to record it. He seemed singularly incapable of relating to anyone out of bed or off the stage, and the vignettes of the lonely Crane sitting by himself in restaurants and bars, drinking grapefruit juice (he did not drink often and never used drugs), are affecting. One wonders while reading this what would have happened if he had diverted just a quarter of his energy from seeking sex to growing his career.

Crane's life did not have a happy ending, and that curse was extended past his dying. The investigation into his murder was marred by conflicts among the investigating officers, the medical examiners, and the prosecutors, as well as the inexperience of the detectives (who, after all, worked in a city that averaged about one murder a year). It was 16 years before Crane's friend, John Henry Carpenter was arrested, tried and acquitted of the murder. Carpenter was with Crane in Scottsdale, a video expert who helped him set up his system (back when the top-of-the-line model video recorder was a black-and-white Betamax) and participated in Crane's nocturnal activities. Although found not guilty, examining the evidence (blood of the same type as Crane's was found in Carpenter's rental car, and Carpenter's behavior was suspicious the morning after the murder) leads one to think that a more honest verdict would have been, at least, not proven.'

"The Murder of Bob Crane" is a luridly compelling read about a sad man whose compulsions ultimately and unwittingly led to his death.

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