Robert Edward Crane (July 13, 1928 – June 29, 1978) was an American disc jockey and Emmy Award-nominated actor, best known for his performance as Colonel Robert E. Hogan in the television sitcom Hogan's Heroes from 1965 to 1971, and for his violent and unsolved death.
Crane was born in Waterbury, Connecticut. He dropped out of high school in 1946 and became a drummer, performing with dance bands and a symphony orchestra. In 1949, he married high school sweetheart Anne Terzian; they eventually had two children, Deborah Ann and Karen Leslie. Anne and Bob were briefly separated and living in different towns in the mid 1950's—after a few months, they did reconcile, and soon after, Anne gave birth to a boy they named Robert David Crane. Bob later divorced Anne and married Patricia Olsen (actress Sigrid Valdis). They had one son, Robert Scott Crane, and adopted a daughter, Ana Marie.
In 1950, Crane started his broadcasting career at WLEA in Hornell, New York. He quickly moved to WBIS in Bristol, Connecticut, followed by WICC in Bridgeport, Connecticut. This was a 500-watt operation where he remained until 1956, when the CBS radio network plucked Crane out to help stop his huge popularity from affecting their own station's ratings. Crane moved his family to California to host the morning show at KNX radio in Hollywood. He filled the broadcast with sly wit, drumming, and guests such as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope. It quickly became the number-one rated morning show in the LA area, with Crane known as "The King of the Los Angeles Airwaves." Crane's acting ambitions led to his subbing for Johnny Carson on the daytime game show Who Do You Trust? and appearances on The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and General Electric Theater. When Carl Reiner appeared on his show, Crane persuaded him to book him for a guest shot on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he was noticed by Donna Reed, who suggested him for the role of neighbor Dr. Dave Kelsey in her eponymous sitcom from 1963 through 1965.
In 1965, Crane was offered the starring role in a television comedy pilot about a German P.O.W. camp. Hogan's Heroes became a hit and finished in the Top Ten in its first year on the air. The series lasted six seasons, and Crane was nominated for an Emmy Award twice, in 1966 and 1967. During its run, he met Patricia Olsen who played Hilda under the stage name Sigrid Valdis. He divorced his wife of twenty years and married Olsen on the set of the show in 1970. They had a son, Scotty (Robert Scott), and adopted a daughter named Ana Marie.
Crane's drumming ability can be seen in the sixth season episode, "Look at the Pretty Snowflakes," where he has an extended drum solo during the prisoners' performance of the jazz standard "Cherokee".
In 1968, during the run of Hogan's Heroes, Crane and series costars Werner Klemperer, Leon Askin, and John Banner appeared, with Elke Sommer, in a feature film called The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz. The setting was the divided city of Berlin inside East Germany. Paula Schultz was being tempted to defect to the West, with Crane encouraging her to do so. Klemperer and Banner were involved as East German officials trying to keep Paula in the East.
Following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes in 1971, Crane continued to act, appearing in two Disney films, Superdad with the title role and Gus in a cameo role, and a number of TV shows, including Police Woman, Quincy, M.E., and The Love Boat. A second series of his own, 1975's The Bob Crane Show, was cancelled by NBC after three months.
During the run of Hogan's Heroes, sitcom costar Richard Dawson introduced Crane to John Henry Carpenter (not related to the American producer/director John Carpenter), who worked in the stock room at Sony Electronics and could acquire early VCRs. Crane was a photography enthusiast.
On a late night in 1978, Crane allegedly called Carpenter to tell him that their friendship was over. The following day, Crane was discovered violently bludgeoned to death with a weapon that was never found (but was believed to be a camera tripod) at the Winfield Place Apartments in Scottsdale, Arizona. Crane had been appearing in Scottsdale in a production of a play titled Beginner's Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theatre.
According to an episode of A&E's Cold Case Files, police officers who arrived at the scene of the crime noted that Carpenter called the apartment several times and didn't seem surprised that the police were there. This immediately raised suspicion, and the car Carpenter had rented the previous day was impounded by the police. In it several blood smears were found that matched Crane's blood type. At that time D.N.A. testing didn't exist to confirm if it was Crane's or not. Due to a lack of sufficient evidence, the district attorney declined to file charges and the case went cold.
In 1992, fourteen years after the murder, the case was reopened. An attempt to test the blood found in the car Carpenter rented failed to produce any result due to improper preservation of the evidence. The detective in charge instead hoped a picture of what appeared to be a piece of subcutaneous tissue (brain tissue) found in the rental car (which had been lost since the original investigation) would incriminate Carpenter. He was arrested and indicted. Carpenter was acquitted due to a lack of convincing evidence. Both the murder and the motive remain officially unsolved. Carpenter maintained his innocence until his death on September 4, 1998.
Crane's life and murder were the subject of the 2002 film Auto Focus, directed by Paul Schrader and starring Greg Kinnear as Crane. The film portrays Crane as a happily married, churchgoing family man and popular L.A. disc jockey who suddenly becomes a Hollywood celebrity.
Crane's second wife and their son Scotty objected to the way Crane was portrayed in the film, and took to the media to present their side of the story. Shortly before the film's release, Scotty also started the website www.bobcrane.com to provide documents and testimony that would contest the movie's version of his father's story.
"The whole mythology about him being this church-going saint that was brought down and corrupted by the evils of Hollywood—is really just a dramatic way to dress up a story."