By Ciara LaVelle
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Robert Scott Crane insists he had no idea that people would be so fascinated with his famous father's penis (or is that his father's famous penis?). "We knew it would be big," Scotty Crane says, "but we didn't know how big." He's talking not about the member in question--of its impressiveness, you can make up your own mind--but about the Web site that now features nearly 50 photos and a handful of black-and-white short films depicting Colonel Robert Hogan, scourge of Stalag 13, throwing the schnitzel to eager beavers looking for a taste of fame. Though it's impossible to verify such statistics, Crane's youngest son says some 5.6 million people visited www.bobcrane.com during the first week of its existence last month. That means there are some 5.6 million people, at the very least, who will never again watch Hogan's Heroesreruns without thinking, "I know everything, I see everything." Sergeant Schultz had no idea what he was missing.
The site went live June 1, the day after Scotty Crane--whose mother is Sigrid Valdis, Crane's second wife and Colonel Klink's saucy secretary--went on Howard Stern's syndicated radio show touting his venture that would set the record straight about his father, who was murdered June 29, 1978, in a Scottsdale, Arizona, apartment, where he had been staying during a dinner-theater production of a play titled Beginner's Luck. Crane's head had been bashed in once, possibly twice, while he slept; part of his face was left nearly unrecognizable from the beating, which police estimate took place in the wee hours of the morning. The murder weapon was never found, though it's long been believed to have been a tripod--the very kind used by Crane to help film his countless sexual escapades, which Scotty Crane insists had been going on for more than three decades. No one has been convicted in the slaying, though one man--Crane's friend John Henry Carpenter, a like-minded videophile and porno fetishist introduced to Crane by his Hogan'sco-star Richard Dawson--was brought to trial and acquitted in 1994 because of flimsy photographic evidence. As far as the Scottsdale police are concerned, the case is closed: They had their man, and he got away.
Originally, the younger Crane insists, the site was merely an advertising vehicle for the book he and his wife were planning to publish, The Faces of Bob Crane (though one might reconsider titling it The "Oh!" Faces of Bob Crane, as in "Oh, oh, oh!"). But there was so much demand for the book that he was forced to seek an outside publisher, which has delayed publication. He says only that he is close to reaching a deal for the tome and that the book will begin shipping after that. Till then, you can pay $7.95 for a three-day pass to the Web site, $19.95 for a monthlong stay--or just pony up $18.95 for a T-shirt featuring a photo of clothed Crane standing behind a bent-over naked woman, camera at the ready. On the back of the shirt is a quote from Bob: "I don't smoke, I don't drink. Two out of three ain't bad."
Not surprisingly, Crane's half-brother Robert David Crane and half-sister Karen--children from Bob Crane's first marriage to his high school sweetheart, Ann Terzian, to whom he was wed from 1949 until 1968--have denounced Scotty's actions as nothing more than the money-grubbing antics of a son out to make cheap, sordid coin. Karen, who runs an antique shop in California, told The Arizona Republiclast month that Scotty "is using our father disgustingly to try to benefit himself." Scotty is unfazed by their condemnations and bristles at the suggestion that there is indeed something squalid about his desire to make money off his dead dad's dirty deeds.
Rather, he insists--again and again--that the Web site and book exist solely to dispel long-standing tales that his father was into S&M and homosexuality. (Seems Scotty wants the world to believe Colonel Hogan was merely a pain in Hitler's ass and no one else's, though some pictures depict Crane involved in group sex.) The latter, though, has rarely been in question: On June 3, 1993, Werner "Colonel Klink" Klemperer went on Larry King Liveand proclaimed Bob Crane "the most heterosexual person in the history of show business." Crane also insists all of the women photographed and filmed by his father gave their consent, but according to Robert Graysmith, author of the 1993 book The Murder of Bob Crane, and a 1993 article in the Phoenix New Times, some of the women had no idea until informed by Scottsdale police after the murder in 1978.
"All these untrue stories paint him as a dark kind of sinister character, and that's not the way he should be portrayed, because he really wasn't," Crane says. "He was really light, really fun-loving, really charismatic, and that's why women were so attracted to him--besides for his fame. And that's why he was able to get women to do these things that he did. He never videotaped or photographed these women without their knowledge...This is just like all-American fun, basically, in the 1960s and '70s, and everyone in Hollywood was doing it. It's just that he was filming it."
The book, says the 30-year-old Crane, contains more than just sex pics of his dad as human Popsicle, but photos from throughout his life. The coffee-table book will contain snapshots of Bob with his family; during his days as a drummer with the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra; behind the microphone at CBS-owned radio station KNX in Los Angeles, where Crane was known briefly as "The King of the Airwaves"; on the set of television shows and movies, among them the Disney-made Superdad; and alone, reading.
"Not a lot of people want to talk about this, but this book is 144 pages long, and only about 25 pages of it are sex pictures," Crane says from his home in Seattle, where he's co-host of a popular radio show, Shaken, Not Stirred, on a local FM station. "The book starts with the very first known photograph of Bob Crane as a small child and ends with him dead in a Scottsdale hotel room, and that was the one photograph I censored...This is allthe faces of Bob Crane. The guy wore many hats, and so this isn't just a slash-and-burn, sleazy pornographic book. It's actually the true-life story of Bob Crane. There is some writing in the book, and it does tell Bob's story, but the photographs tell the story more than anything else. Pictures speak a thousand words."
Actually, they speak two: Jee. Zus.
That Bob Crane was a porno fiend fond of filming his exploits is no grand revelation. It was widely known throughout Hollywood that Crane frequented strip clubs, which he treated like a sexual smorgasbord for his doing-and-viewing pleasure. Scotty even recalls the time Bob allowed a reporter and photographer from one L.A. newspaper to accompany him on one such nudie-bar jaunt, which resulted in his being fired by Disney. And, Scotty recalls, Hollywood neighbors such as Carroll O'Connor and John and Patty Duke Astin were often escorted down to Crane's basement darkroom and allowed to gaze upon Bob's collection of his very public privates.
"Nothing was hidden in the house," Scotty insists. "These films and pictures were kinda everywhere. They were literally mixed in with our scrapbooks and family photo albums. It was hard for him to hide it, in a way, because it was like he'd be showing you a slide show and go, “Here's us in San Diego at Vacation Village, us skiing at Mammoth at Christmas time, and here's some chick I banged in Austin.' It was all just mixed together."
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Web site and book is that the sex photos are, most likely, linked to Crane's murder, whether it was at the hand of Carpenter, who died at the age of 70 in 1998, or, as Scotty suggests, an angry husband of one of the hundreds of women featured in the videos and pictures. He says Scottsdale police have returned some, not all, of the videos found in Crane's room the day his body was discovered. But most of the photos and videos available on bobcrane.com come from Crane's private stash, thousands of hours' worth of tape kept in his L.A. home that police never confiscated. Scotty says they date back to the 1940s, despite Karen and Robert David's insistence that Bob Crane didn't get involved in the swinging lifestyle till he took up with Sigrid Valdis, who tolerated but never partook in her husband's amateur-porn endeavors.
Indeed, Valdis, who has been in relative seclusion off the coast of Washington since 1978 and would not be interviewed for this story, is working on her own book about her life and marriage to Crane. She has also co-written, with Scotty and his radio-show partner Johnny Seattle, a screenplay titled Take Off Your Clothes and Smile, but it likely will never get made. There is already a film about Bob Crane in the works: Auto Focus, co-written and directed by Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver) and starring Greg Kinnear. Scotty says he's read one version of the screenplay, which is based on Graysmith's book, and is appalled that it's "based on rumor and innuendo." Schrader last week told the New York Daily News he finds it "sort of odd that [Scotty] would be the one to be pointing the sensationalistic finger when Scotty's selling his family's dirty laundry."
In the end (and in the front, and in the mouth), if people are going to see Bob Crane's penis, Scotty Crane wants to be the one showing it. Simple as that.
"It's been extremely hard," Scotty says, and he's still not talking about his pop's pecker. "The lies hurt a lot more than the truth, because I've known about the truth forever, and so little of it was out there till now. We're the only people even willing to discuss it. The people who are making films about him to this day don't want to discuss the truth. They want to discuss lies, and they want to make films based on that. It's bizarre. The thing about Bob Crane is his life doesn't need any sensationalism. It was a sensationalistic life as it was, and to try to make it more sensational is just so dumb, because the truth is just amazing."