Cinema Retro Lee Pfeiffer recently moderated a book signing event for authors Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer in relation to their new release "Bob Crane: Sex, Celebrity and My Father's Unsolved Murder", which has been published by the University Press of Kentucky. The event was held at The Coffee House Club, a legendary 100 year-old private venue for the arts in New York that has boasted such illustrious members as Sir Winston Churchill, Robert Benchley, Basil Rathbone and Henry Fonda. The book details the impact that the murder of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane had on his family, specifically his son Robert, who was in his early twenties when the grisly crime occurred in 1979. Bob Crane had risen to fame playing avuncular, sharp-witted "guy next door" types. He was also a highly talented musician who enjoyed moonlighting as an acclaimed drummer. In private life, he was a very complex man. As outlined in the book, he was capable of being a loving, hard-working father and husband who always ensured that his family was provided for. However, he also had many personal demons, most of them revolving around an obsession with sex that he was never able to control.
(L to R: Christopher Fryer, Leslie Crane, Desly Fryer, Robert Crane)
(L to R): Robert Crane, Lee Pfeiffer, Christopher Fryer.
From his first days of stardom on TV in the early 1960s, Crane's unrestrained attempts to satisfy his libido led to great distress in his family. He routinely bedded the seemingly endless array of willing female lovers. When his long-suffering wife finally ended their marriage, whatever structure still remained in Crane's life evaporated. A second marriage to an actress who was a regular on "Hogan's Heroes" led to even more consternation. When "Hogan's Heroes" was finally canceled after a long run, Crane found himself estranged from his second wife. He was trying to support both ex-spouses and his own lifestyle even as his star power dwindled, in no small part due to his personal excesses. Crane had always been interested in the latest video and audio technology. His friendship with a creepy hanger-on named John Carpenter proved to be problematic in the long run. Carpenter, who was in the video technology business, kept Crane up to date with the latest video cameras, which the actor used to document his sex sessions with countless lovers. In return, Carpenter benefited from being included in group sex sessions that were arranged by Crane for the purposes of being filmed. (Contrary to popular legend, Robert Crane told Lee Pfeiffer that he has never found evidence that any of these women were filmed surreptitiously or without their consent.) Ultimately, Bob Crane's fortunes had dwindled to the point that he had to make a living by performing a middling comedy stage play on the dinner theater circuit. He was doing so for a Phoenix engagement when his lifeless body was discovered in his rented apartment there. Crane had been brutally bludgeoned to death with the tripod of a camera. Over the decades, the consensus was that Carpenter, who had had a falling out with Crane, was the likely suspect. He had motive and opportunity but so many years passed before he was tried for the crime that the case was largely circumstantial and he was found not guilty. During the course of the book event, both Crane and his old friend and co-author Fryer, each discussed their own theories about who was likely to blame for the murder, which was the subject of Paul Schrader's film "Auto Focus". (For the record, Robert Crane remains convinced that Carpenter was a culprit but leaves the door open for involvement by another person, whose identity might surprise readers.) The book very effectively interweaves Bob Crane's life and career with the very dramatic life of his son. Robert recounts numerous personal obstacles in a compelling and moving manner. Here was a young man who had to contend with his father's murder at an early age, then the loss of his friend, mentor and employer, John Candy. He would later also lose his beloved first wife to a terminal illness. It all makes for a highly readable page turner.