Bob Crane: A Closer Look at the Tragic Life & Death of TV’s ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ Star

Bob Crane, November April 1975.
Curt Gunther/TV Guide/Courtesy Everett Collection

He was one of the most affable actors in the history of Hollywood. But behind the smiles he showcased and ignited by way of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane, who died tragically in 1978, also shed and caused a lot of tears.

According to Lynette Rice and Entertainment Weekly [EW], “The seamy side of Crane’s life is no mystery. His obsession with sex hurt his career and possibly got him killed.”

Bob Crane in HOGAN'S HEROES, 1965-71

Everett Collection

Robert Crane, the actor’s son, told EW that his father’s dressing room was stashed with hidden Polaroids, negatives, and X-rated movies. “There’s still fog,” said Robert, the 68-year-old author of Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder. “And when I say ‘fog,’ it’s that word closure, which I hate. But there is no closure. You live with death for the rest of your life.”

As Rice reported, Hogan’s Heroes was “very loosely inspired by World War II movies like The Great Escape (1963)… [The show] featured a motley crew of inmates in a German prisoner-of-war camp outfoxing a remarkably inept Third Reich for six seasons. Along the way, it made Crane, who played the womanizing Col. Robert Hogan, a household name. Before going in front of the camera, the Connecticut-born Crane made his name as a radio host, interviewing Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, and Charlton Heston on CBS’ L.A. flagship station, KNX. After legendary TV writer Carl Reiner appeared on Crane’s radio show, he gave the broadcaster a guest gig as a philandering husband on The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, Ann Guilbert, Bob Crane, Jerry Paris (background), Mary Tyler Moore. Ep. 'Somebody Has To Play Cleopatra', 12/26/1962. Season 2. 1961 - 1966.

Everett Collection

“That led to a regular spot as a happy-go-lucky dentist on The Donna Reed Show,” Rice observed. “When his agent sent Crane the script for Heroes, the actor mistook it for a drama. ‘Bob, what are you talking about?’ the agent said, according to Robert’s 2015 book about his dad. “This is a comedy. These are the funny Nazis.”

“Crane wasn’t the only one who was confused,” Rice documented. “WWII had ended a mere 20 years before the sitcom’s premiere, a genocidal trauma within the living memory of millions. Making matters even more bizarre, three of Heroes‘ funny fascists—Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink), John Banner (Sergeant Schultz), and Leon Askin (General Burkhalter) — were Jews who survived the Holocaust, while Robert Clary (Corporal LeBeau) had been interned at Buchenwald and lost his parents at Auschwitz.”

HOGAN'S HEROES, John Banner, Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer, 1965-71.

Everett Collection

Clary, who died at 96 in November 2022, told Rice that Hogan’s Heroes was “well-written, well-directed, and well-acted. It was a great group to work with. Bob never said, ‘Hey, I’m Hogan and I’m the star.'”

But as Rice observed, “Crane was a star, and fame allowed him to indulge his appetite. Married to high school sweetheart Anne Terzian and with three children (Robert and his sisters, Deborah and Karen) the actor used his celebrity to meet women and then collected nude photos of them.”

“There were no drugs, no coercion, none of that,” his son Robert told Rice. “Women just liked him, or found him handsome, or whatever it was. They would hook up.”

“He made some bad moves,” Robert said of his troubled dad.

“In death,” Rice concluded, “Crane got the Hollywood treatment. About 150 mourners attended the funeral at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood, Calif., including Patty Duke, John Astin, Carroll O’Connor, and Crane’s Heroes castmates. A man who’d sought love in dangerous places suddenly had it, in abundance.”


Hollywood's Nastiest Feuds
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November 2017

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