Robert Crane Bob Crane Sex Celebrity and My Father's Unsolved Murder

Bob Crane’s Murder Thirty-Seven Years Later: His Son, Robert, Remembers

On June 29, 1978, thirty-seven years ago today, Bob Crane, the erstwhile star of Hogan’s Heroes was found murdered in an apartment in Scottsdale, Arizona. Still one of Hollywood’s most famous unsolved murders, Robert Crane, Bob’s eldest son, still works to reconcile the loving father he knew with the man who was front-page tabloid news. In an essay for The Daily Beast, Robert recalls his father’s journey from  Hogan’s Heroes, to sex addiction, to murder.

Excerpted from The Daily Beast, May 31, 2015

On Thursday, June 29, 1978, I was 27 years and two days old. I had just interviewed Chevy Chase, the hottest star in Hollywood at the time, for an article I was doing for Playboy’s new Euro-hip Oui magazine. I was spiraling up in a thermal of great possibilities when I encountered a nasty downdraft.

I received a call that Thursday afternoon from my dad’s business manager who said there was a rumor my dad had been shot. He hadn’t. But someone had crept into the apartment where he was staying in Scottsdale, Arizona, while doing a dinner theater gig, and bashed his head in with a blunt object while he slept. My dad was two weeks shy of his fiftieth birthday.

Read the full article online.

Crane Sex Celebrity and My Fathers Unsolved Murder Bob Crane Robert’s memoir, Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder was released earlier this Spring.  In this poignant memoir, Robert Crane discusses that terrible day and how he has lived with the unsolved murder of his father. But this storyline is just one thread in his tale of growing up in Los Angeles, his struggles to reconcile the good and sordid sides of his celebrity father, and his own fascinating life.

Crane began his career writing for Oui magazine and spent many years interviewing celebrities for Playboy—stars such as Chevy Chase, Bruce Dern, Joan Rivers, and even Koko the signing gorilla. As a result of a raucous encounter with the cast of Canada’s SCTV, he found himself shelving his notepad and tape recorder to enter the employ of John Candy—first as an on-again, off-again publicist; then as a full-time assistant, confidant, screenwriter, and producer; and finally as one of Candy’s pallbearers.

Through disappointment, loss, and heartbreak, Crane’s humor and perseverance shine. Beyond the big stars and behind-the-scenes revelations, this riveting account of death, survival, and renewal in the shadow of the Hollywood sign makes a profound statement about the desire for love and permanence in a life where those things continually slip away. By turns shocking and uplifting, Crane is an unforgettable and deeply human story.

Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Joseph Mankiewicz, Tom Mankiewicz Robert Crane University Press of Kentucky

Bogart, Ava, Dad and Me: Growing Up as Hollywood Royalty

9780813161235Yes, we know, Father’s Day was yesterday. But, we have one more story for you that’s too good to not share!

All dad’s are certainly ‘cool’—in their own special ways—but when you’re the son of famed director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra) and the nephew of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, stories about your family are just a bit ‘cooler.’

Tom Mankiewicz was genuine Hollywood royalty. He grew up in Beverly Hills and New York; spent summers on his dad’s film sets; dined with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; and traveled the world writing for Brando, Sinatra, and Connery. A member of one of Hollywood’s most elite cinema families, Tom “Mank” Mankiewicz was destined for a career in film.

In his memoir, My Life as a Mankiewicz (Paperback $19.95), Mank describes one very memorable summer on set with his father in Rome:

Dad made The Barefoot Contessa in Italy in 1953, directing his own screenplay. It was the first film he made for his recently formed independent production company (Figaro) and starred Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. Dad was nominated for his writing. Edmond O’Brien won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Dad and Mother had decided to take me to Rome with them. I was going on twelve.
[ . . . ]
I remember one cold, cold night when the film was shooting in a cemetery. I’d been dressed for the day in shirt sleeves, and the wardrobe man got me a jacket. I was still shivering. Humphrey Bogart walked by and noticed: “Are you cold, Tommy?”
“I sure am.”
“Here, try some of this.” Bogart pulled out a flask, took off the top, and filled it with a thimbleful of scotch.
I’d never had a drink of hard liquor in my life, only an occasional sip of wine at home. But what the hell, he was Humphrey Bogart. I downed it, just like they do in the movies. My throat started burning. I coughed. And then, son of a bitch, my chest did feel warmer. Bogart grinned.
In a half hour he passed by again. “Still cold?”
“A little bit.”
He filled the top again. I drank.
Later on Dad came by to take me home. “Ready?”
I looked up at him with a stupid smile. “Yesss . . .” The smile remained plastered on my face.
Dad looked around, zeroing in on Bogart. “He’s drunk. It has to be you, you prick.”
“Christ, Joe, the kid was cold. I was just trying to help out.”
To this day I have the singular honor of having received my first real drink from Humphrey Bogart.
On another late afternoon I found myself sitting near the set with Ava Gardner and several cast and crew members. Ava was described in the film as “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal.” She was certainly all of that at the time. A huge celebrity, constantly pursued by a gaggle of paparazzi, she had recently divorced Frank Sinatra and was currently keeping company with Luis Miguel Dominguin, the most charismatic matador of his day. Part artist in the bull ring, part rock star, he was impossibly handsome with zero body fat and a thin scar running down the side of his face. Sinatra had come to Rome in an attempt to get Ava back, but left empty handed.
During this particular week, Dominguin was fighting in Spain and Ava had time on her hands after shooting. “I want to go to the movies tonight,” she announced. “What’s at the Fiametta?” (The Fiametta was a little theater that ran American films in English, the only cinema in Rome to do so.)
“Who wants to take me to the movies?”
She looked around. Silence. “Anybody?” Silence. Clearly, the prospect of escorting a publicity magnet to a public venue was too intimidating to those sitting there.
“Tommy, how about you? Want to take me to the movies tonight?”
“Sure,” I said.
She grinned. “Great. It’s a date. I’ll send my car to pick you up at Joe’s.” She smiled at me and walked off.
A while later Dad had wrapped and was ready to take me home. “Guess what, Dad? I’m taking Ava Gardner to the movies tonight.”
His face darkened. “Like hell you are.”
“Why not? She asked me to.”
“Because I’m not going to have my twelve-year-old son’s picture in a hundred magazines escorting Ava Gardner in Rome for the evening. When you’re older you’ll understand how truly bizarre that’s going to look.”
My eyes misted over. I was about to cry. Dad noticed, softening. As usual, he solved the problem. That night, the public relations man on the film escorted Ava to the movies. I went with them. It was fine with me since secretly I knew I was the one who was really taking her.
Just a note, though it doesn’t really apply to a twelve-year-old and Ava Gardner. Actresses, especially beautiful or publicly famous ones, are quite intimidating to most men. At the end of a marriage or a publicized affair, you’d be surprised how often their phone doesn’t ring. Many guys are too scared to call. “Oh, she’d never go out with me. I’m not rich enough, good looking enough, famous enough, etc.” The truth is that most actresses are simply women with a fragile public occupation. They’re just as insecure and sometimes more so than anyone else. There is, after all, a certain pressure on them to be seen as publicly desirable, which sometimes forces them to make terrible personal choices in their lives. I’ve known several who got married just because they thought it looked good and relieved them of the need to date men in order to stay in the news.
I remember going to Disneyland in the late seventies with Kate Jackson and her little niece. She’d been somewhat known for a TV series called The Rookies, but now was one of Charlie’s Angels, which made her as instantly recognizable as anyone in show business. Suddenly, restaurants you couldn’t get into before are holding their best table for you. Going to be a little late? Don’t worry about it. Disneyland called out security to escort us, no waiting in line, as hundreds of fans screamed at and for her. Kate, a very private person, seemed almost scared. “You know, Mank,” she said, “I’m still little Skater (her father’s nickname for her) Jackson from Alabama. I haven’t changed. Everyone else has.”
I never knew where Dad went those nights he left our Rome apartment. All he would offer by way of explanation was: “Somewhere down by the train station where I can sleep.” A few weeks before the end of shooting, Bogie and Betty Bacall invited me to have Sunday brunch with them in their suite at the luxurious Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto. I arrived at the appointed time, picked up the house phone in the lobby, and asked for Mr. Bogart. He answered. “We’re in 675, you know, just a couple of doors down from where Joe keeps his suite.”
I could hear Betty’s voice in the background, warning him: “Bogie . . .”
“Come on up,” he said quickly.
It was a wonderful brunch. They were both so kind to me and such fun. When Betty wrote her autobiography By Myself, she inscribed a copy to me: “Tom. Remember Rome . . . Love, Betty.” By the way, the Excelsior Hotel is kind of near the train station. Say . . . two miles away.
Father's Day Reads University Press of Kentucky

Happy Father’s Day! Books on Dad Written by their Children

Oh, Dads…a seemingly limitless source of bad jokes (have you heard this one? What do you call an Alligator wearing a vest? An investigator!), bear hugs, and well-meaning advice. Some Dads are goofy, some serious, and my Dad will probably spend all day watching the U.S. Open, yelling at golf balls to “Get in there!” If I were to write a book about my Dad, it would include his terrible scrambled eggs recipe and endless battle against the rabbits that eat the flowers in his yard. Below are a few of our favorite books written by children about their fathers…I promise, the stories are much more interesting than scrambled eggs.

More Information:

Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder

Hitchcock’s Partner in Suspense

Voice of the Wildcats

Dalton Trumbo

My Life as a Mankiewicz

Portrait of a Father

My Father, Daniel Boone

Celebrating Belle Brezing’s 155th Birthday

Historian Thomas D. Clark often claimed that Lexington, Kentucky, long entertained an “infatuation” with the town’s alluring and notorious brothel keeper, Belle Brezing. Today, on Belle’s 155th birthday, that sense of allure continues to draw people into her fold just as it did over a century ago.

Last year, former Lexington Herald-Leader turf writer Maryjean Wall added fuel to the flame of this tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South with her book, Madame Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel. After years on the streets and in an upscale bordello run out of a former residence of Mary Todd Lincoln, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own brothel. She leveraged that first house and her early connections with wealthy patrons to purchase the more suitably ostentatious 59 Megowan Street. Here, on any twilit evening in Lexington, it was common to see fashionable international travelers, horsemen, and civic leaders mounting the five steps to the elegant house.

From the time Belle closed her business until her death in 1940, the once-enterprising madam lived out her retirement as a recluse in her crumbling, ivy-covered mansion. Upon her passing, though, evidence of Belle’s notoriety was made clear when the Lexington Herald’s entire run of nineteen thousand newspaper copies containing its remembrance of Belle sold out by ten that Tuesday morning. News of Belle’s death also reached national levels with an obituary in Time magazine. Her renown was further secured for future generations when she was widely credited as Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Madam Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind.

Along with Wall’s book, Belle’s presence is still very much felt around Lexington, particularly downtown on Market Street where you could enjoy a nice bourbon at Belle’s Cocktail House. If you can think of a better way to celebrate her birthday, we’d love to hear it.

Until then, here’s an excerpt from Wall’s Madame Belle to tide you over: Continue reading

‘Admit One’ to Kentucky’s REAL Jurassic Park

Big Bone Lick University Press of Kentucky

Hold on to your butts! There might be a Gallimimus-esque stampedeJurassic Park Stampede Scene this weekend to your local movie theatre as the long-awaited and much-hyped sequel to Jurassic Park (1997), Jurassic World hits the big screen. But the true dinosaur hunters know that you won’t find fossils at the bottom of your popcorn bucket—you’ll find them at Big Bone Lick State Park in Union, Kentucky.

Thomas Jefferson waited almost 30 years to lay eyes on the immense bones collected at Big Bone Lick. When Europeans first came into contact with this site in 1739, the fossils immediately garnered fame around the world and cast many scientific and philosophical assumptions of the day into doubt. The remains exceeded the size of any species found in America: huge femur and rib bones, great ivory tusks, jawbones wider than the span of a man’s arms, molars the size of pumpkins. In 1807, William Clark, who had recently returned from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, collected about 300 fossils for President Jefferson.

John Filson Map Kentucky Bog Bone Lick

Detail from John Filson’s 1784 This Map of Kentucke, etc. (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

In 1781, when Jefferson’s interest in the fossils piqued, little-to-nothing was known about the colossal skeletons found, and considerable controversy surrounded their interpretation. The Shawnee believed that they were the remains of man-eating monsters destroyed by a benevolent god to protect them. Early European discoverers made conjectures that the remains were of now-extinct human-like giants, elephants, and bison. Others, committed to a belief in the perfection of God’s creation, found it hard to accept the notion of extinction. Jefferson thought that the very concept violated the inherent balance of nature. Until Lewis and Clark returned from their historic expedition, Jefferson and others believed that the mysterious creatures discovered at Big Bone Lick still inhabited lands west of the Mississippi River.

George Culver Mastodon Big Bone Lick Kentucky

George Cuvier’s 1806 drawing of a mastodon skeleton minus the tusks and the
as-yet undiscovered cranium. (Georges Cuvier, Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles,
3rd ed. [1825], vol. 1, p. 248, plate 5)

By 1806 French scientist Georges Cuvier had identified the extinct species, Mammut americanum, or the American mastodon. Since then thousands of fossil specimens have been excavated from Big Bone Lick and seven extinct species have been discovered there. Fossils from the lick have made their way into museums and collections east and across the Atlantic. A number of Big Bone Lick fossils were deposited in the collections of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia; others resided in the Cabinet du Roi, the French king’s collection of curiosities in Paris. Bones and teeth sent to London sparked debates before the Royal Society. The fossils even found their way into the Tammany Society’s museum in New York City.

Today, you can visit Big Bone Lick State Park to observe current archaeological research, view bones and fossils found on-site, learn about the Native American cultures who came across the first discoveries, or spend the night at the Park’s campgrounds.

For more information on the history and discoveries at Big Bone Lick, and what implications they might have on current scientific research, Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology, is a fascinating and comprehensive book from natural historian Stanley Hedeen. Hedeen recounts the rich history of the fossil site that gave the world the first evidence of the extinction of several mammalian species, including the American mastodon. It explores the infancy and adolescence of paleontology from its humble and sometimes humorous beginnings. Hedeen combines elements of history, geology, politics, and biology to make Big Bone Lick a valuable historical resource as well as the compelling tale of how a collection of fossilized bones captivated a young nation.

C’mon “Get Happy,” It’s Judy Garland’s Birthday!

Judy Garland Birthday Summer Stock Charles Walters

Director Charles Walters and muse: Garland’s “Get Happy” goes before the cameras, “Summer Stock” (1950). Courtesy John Fricke Collection

A very happy birthday to a classic star with a golden voice! Though best known as the wide-eyed ingenue who rocketed to fame as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Judy Garland brought her triple-threat talent to some of the greatest films of the twentieth century.

From the trolley scene in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) to “A Couple of Swells” in Easter Parade with Fred Astaire, many of Garland’s most beloved roles came out of her frequent collaboration with choreographer and director, Charles Walters, including her most iconic musical scene: “Get Happy” from Summer Stock (1950).

In Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance, media archivist Brent Phillips goes behind the scenes of Walters’ life and films. He explores not only the director’s work—like Easter ParadeSummer Stock, and Lili (1953)—but also Walters’ life and associations with stars like Garland, Lucille Ball, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly, and how he navigated the industry as an openly gay man.

To celebrate a partnership that keeps us smiling, dancing, and happy to this day, we’re bringing you an excerpt from Charles Waltersdetailing the behind-the-scenes story of “Get Happy”:

“Get Happy,” from Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips

Photography neared completion in late January 1950, with Walters running “on nothing but coffee and cigarettes.” Some of the dancers were leaving for other assignments, and a premature wrap party was organized. . .

Judy’s work on Summer Stock was deemed complete in early February—after two and a half months of filming—and she headed to Santa Barbara to rest. Meanwhile, Walters oversaw editing of the picture, and it soon became obvious that a Garland payoff was missing. “She was the star, but she never had a star turn in the final show,” he pointed out. Judy solved the problem herself, as he recalled, telling him, “I’ll give you a week. I want Harold Arlen’s ‘Get Happy,’ and I want to wear the costume from the ‘Mr. Monotony’ number cut from Easter Parade. And I want [you] to do it.” The director admitted the request seemed “a nice little challenge,” and he was pleasantly stunned when “she returned two weeks later, thin as a string.”

“Get Happy,” a quasi-spiritual from 1930, had been famously introduced by Ruth Etting as the first act finale of Ruth Selwyn’s 9:15 Revue. Thought Chuck, “What the hell am I gonna do with it? What does it say? What does it mean?” His answers to those questions proved iconic: a spare, sophisticated staging with Garland as a cool jazz vamp and accompanied by eight equally smooth male dancers.
Continue reading

At Long Last, A Triple Crown Winner

Sir Barton, the first horse to capture the American Triple Crown, with jockey Earl Sande. (Cook Collection, Keeneland Library, Lexington, Kentucky.)

Sir Barton, the first horse to capture the American Triple Crown, with jockey Earl Sande. (Cook Collection, Keeneland Library, Lexington, Kentucky.)

In the weeks between American Pharoah’s 2015 Kentucky Derby win and his dominant victory in the sloppy Preakness, and then during the lead-up to the Belmont Stakes, the hope in the hearts of many was similar: that this impressive three-year-old would finally break the thirty-seven year drought between Triple Crown champions. And on Saturday, American Pharoah did just that in spectacular fashion.

For those less directly connected to the Thoroughbred industry than those of us here in Kentucky, the world of horse racing can perhaps feel removed—a legacy sport of the landed gentry. Yet, in The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event, author James C. Nicholson describes how three special races have come to transcend the sport itself and define the pinnacle achievement of Thoroughbred racing.

At the heart of the series, of course, is the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Since 1920, the Triple Crown has become the yardstick by which outstanding three-year-old Thoroughbreds are measured.

In the realm of sport, the term Triple Crown had first been used to describe three English horse races: the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger Stakes. American racetracks had attempted to establish racing series along the English model, but none achieved lasting national recognition. By 1930 the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, the Kentucky Derby, and the Belmont Stakes in New York had clearly risen above all other American races for three-year-olds. That year Gallant Fox captured all three events and was referred to by the New York Times as a “Triple Crown Hero.” Five years later, Gallant Fox’s son Omaha matched his father’s feat (and the pair remains the only father-son combo to win the American Triple Crown). Once the term entered the popular vocabulary of sports fans and journalists in the 1930s, Sir Barton was recognized after the fact as the first to accomplish the feat in 1919.

Churchill Downs had moved the Derby from its traditional place on the opening day card to the second Saturday of the meet in 1923 in order to avoid a conflict with the Preakness, which was held the week prior. This arrangement continued until 1932, when the Derby was moved to the first Saturday in May, where it has remained, with two exceptions, ever since. The Derby was popular before the Triple Crown was even recognized. It could have survived with or without the Triple Crown. However, the association with the most important series of races in the country certainly raised the prestige of each of the races, including the Derby.

Matt Winn [the human face of the Kentucky Derby for almost fifty years] recognized the potential for a national Triple Crown series consisting of the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont and was an early proponent of a bonus to be presented to the winner of all three races, but the racetracks that hosted the events failed to cooperate. In fact, at least as early as 1919 Winn had proposed a Triple Crown modeled after the English version but consisting of three races run exclusively in Kentucky: the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, the Latonia Derby near Cincinnati, and a third race to be created at the Kentucky Association track in Lexington. The Kentucky Triple Crown never came to fruition, but the Kentucky Derby was certainly a beneficiary of the increase in media attention paid to the American Triple Crown series beginning in the 1930s. That acknowledgment of the American Triple Crown gave the three races, including then Derby, a small connection to the history and prestige of the English version on which the American Triple Crown was based.

Prior to Saturday, many wondered whether we would ever see another Triple Crown champion. Now, with American Pharoah’s ascension into the ranks of Sir Barton, War Admiral, and Secretariat, we’ve been reminded that the Triple Crown is achievable but that it takes a truly special horse to deserve the title and those just don’t come around every year.