Out of Focus?
No one denies that a man's head was smashed in, most likely with a camera tripod, on June 29, 1978, in an Arizona hotel room. No one denies that this same man was a porno freak, a maker and watcher and star of homemade sex films. No one denies he had been doing it for years--since the 1960s, at least, likely since the 1950s. No one denies this ruined at least one marriage and threatened another. That's not the problem.
The problem is 24 years after Bob Crane, star of Hogan's Heroes, was murdered in Scottsdale, found with his head broken and bloodied and with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck, the body still does not rest in peace. There are still so many playing keep-away with the corpse all these years later: sons who despise each other, a filmmaker who sees Bob Crane less as man than as symbol for all that's wrong with the sway of fame, a wife who says the filmmaker is killing her with his own fictions, a studio trying to sell its movie. They've all become bit players in this sordid story, in which Bob Crane--his camera in one hand, his cock in the other--is the main attraction.
The co-stars of this tale--which is as lurid as writer-director Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, in which Greg Kinnear portrays Crane as jovial pornographer--have revved up the PR machine, even those who'd seek to discredit it. God knows if Scotty Crane, Bob's 31-year-old son, loved the movie, this story wouldn't exist. It's as much fun to write about the sideshow as the main attraction, which is why Scotty and Bobby are appearing in print and on television as often as Schrader and Kinnear.
"Hey, I'm just trying to stay away from the Jerry Springer aspects of this picture," Kinnear says, grinning. Good luck, pal.
Scotty is host of his own radio show in the Northwest and the son of Bob Crane and his second wife, Patricia Olson, whom he married in 1970. At least we believe Scotty to be the son, since he has his father's sperm counts and DNA tests to prove him legit. Yet Scotty's half-brother, 51-year-old Robert David Crane--who goes by Bob Crane Jr., or Bobby--wants you to think Scotty, born Robert Scott Crane, is an impostor, a fraud grubbing for loose change. He was especially vocal about this last year, around the time Scotty launched www.bobcrane.com, where, for $19.95, you can view Bob's sexual exploits in still photography and moving pictures and purchase T-shirts and stickers featuring such Bob Crane quotes as, "I don't smoke, I don't drink. Two out of three ain't bad."
As far as Bobby, one of three children Bob Crane had while married to his high school sweetheart Anne, was concerned, no real son would degrade a father's memory by selling such smut. Funny thing is, in 1979 Bobby wrote a story for stroke mag Partner in which he detailed his old man's porno habits: "He had tapes of women in every major city blowing him off, sucking, licking, creaming, coming, fucking, smiling." Bobby also did some consulting for Schrader and even appears in the film as a journalist interviewing Kinnear. Scotty was not even allowed to see the film at a July screening in Los Angeles; when he phoned from the Sony studios parking lot that afternoon, he was nearly in tears.
One need only look at Scotty to see his father's face--before half of it was beaten beyond recognition, anyway--staring back at you. Scotty has his old man's same grin and same eyes. How can anyone believe he's not the offspring of Colonel Hogan? "Bobby's been saying since my father died I am not Bob Crane's son," Scotty says. "And I remained silent, but now it's gone too far." He refers also to a recent New York Times Magazine story in which writer Lynn Hirschberg says Scotty is out of work and has Bobby saying his father had a vasectomy three years before Scotty was born, suggesting his old man couldn't have sired Scotty. "My father had a vasectomy in 1968, and Scotty was born in 1971," Bobby told The Times. "That's all I have to say."
Scotty has spent the past year telling journalists what an abomination Schrader's movie is--a docudrama riddled with lies. He takes umbrage with a scene in which his father shows off his penile implant, though the autopsy report makes no mention of such enlargements. He is furious with scenes in which his mother, Patricia Olson, is shown drinking heavily; Scotty and her attorney say she is allergic to hard alcohol. He is outraged by scenes implying his old man was into bondage. And he and his mother, speaking through attorney Lee Blackman, are particularly incensed over the movie's portrayal of their marriage. The movie suggests that Patricia was violent and that she and Bob were well on their way to being divorced when Bob was murdered. Blackman and Scotty say that's nonsense, that the two had reconciled and that Bob was in therapy, trying to get over his addiction to porn--watching it, making it, all of it.
"None of us are trying in any way to camouflage, mask or alter history in any fashion whatsoever," says the Los Angeles-based Blackman, who hints that litigation against Sony and, for that matter, The New York Times might be in the works. "Bob was who he was. We accept that 110 percent. But he also wasn't some of the things they say he was."
Scotty has become, in fact, Sony Pictures' best publicist: The louder he shouts, the more attention the movie receives. Ironically, Schrader doesn't even argue with Scotty's contentions that some of the movie is made up. It happens all the time in biopics: Facts get distorted, timelines get condensed, characters get amalgamated. This isn't documentary, but docudrama--an interpretation of a man's life, not a literal reading.
"Bob Crane lived 49 years, and my movie lived one hour and 42 minutes," Schrader says. "Not the same thing. Drama has characters; it has themes. If it doesn't have plot, it has an escalation of incidents. You have to get to a point where both obligations are being served. Scotty's just come back from Europe, and I think he's going to look at this situation and say, 'I'm not going to be a fool again. I'm feeding their machinery and they're playing me. I'm just going to shut up.' That would be the intelligent, prudent thing for him to do."
So far, Scotty hasn't taken his advice.
Schrader is a maker of films that are often about famous, and infamous, people; he's known both as writer (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) and director (American Gigolo, Affliction), revered for his long association with Martin Scorsese and a litany of creeps, among them Travis Bickle and Jack LaMotta. Scotty's father is a prime subject for Schrader, one more grotesquerie added to the freak show. Long ago he said he would never again make a movie about a real person. Yet he felt compelled to tell Crane's story, perhaps because it wasn't so much about Bob Crane as it was about a "delusional and clueless" celebrity who couldn't see how much damage his hobby was causing to himself, his family and his career. Crane became, in the end, just a symbol to Schrader--"a light, breezy guy" who lived in a very dark place.
"This was a story that would have been worth telling even if it had been made up," the writer-director says, sitting next to Kinnear on a couch in a Dallas hotel. "And that, to me, is the number-one factor: You shouldn't be making a film about a real-life person just because they were real, you know?"
Those are hardly the kinds of words that console Patricia Olson, stage name Sigrid Valdis, though she hasn't appeared on stage and screen for more than 30 years. Olson, who played one of Colonel Klink's secretaries on Hogan's Heroes, was Bob Crane's second wife, and as recently as July, Scotty insisted she was ready to grant her first interview since Bob's murder. But in recent weeks, Scotty cooled to the idea, saying his mother had taken ill because of the furor over Auto Focus. According to Scotty, Patricia was healthy 18 months ago, but when she obtained a copy of the Auto Focus screenplay--credited to Michael Gerbosi, though Schrader says at least 50 percent of the script is his--she could no longer sleep or eat. She would spend all her time on the Internet searching for information about the movie. He says his mother lost 75 pounds and was checked into the emergency room three times for malnutrition and "stress-related issues."
"She was a very happy 66-year-old woman a year ago," Scotty says. "Now she's 67, and this isn't how a 67-year-old murder victim should live. She still wears her [wedding] ring, never dated, and this isn't how she's supposed to be living out her golden years." Patricia did grant one interview, to ABC's 20/20, but Scotty says the experience was so horrific she will not talk publicly again. Instead, he passes along e-mails that indicate they were written by Patricia; one even hints that perhaps Bobby Crane isn't Bob Crane's real son.
So it goes: accusations piled atop protestations, gasoline poured onto roaring holocausts. To the outsider, such furor seems almost unfathomable: Bob Crane was just a one-hit wonder with a bad habit, a sex addict whose death remains unsolved. (John Carpenter, who introduced Crane to the joys of videotape, was tried for the killing in 1992 but never convicted; Carpenter, portrayed in Auto Focus by Willem Dafoe, died not long after the trial.) Today his exploits would seem tame, unworthy of major-motion-picture documentation; at best, he'd wind up with an E! True Hollywood Story.
"I saw Shirley Jones this morning in New York City, and I asked her, 'Did you know Bob Crane?' Kinnear recounts. "She said, 'Oh, yeah,' and I said, 'So, did you know what was going on?' She said, 'Everybody kind of knew, but it wasn't really addressed, it wasn't spoken of.' It's interesting that just the culture's changed so much that celebrity behavior has a kind of coffee-table book quality to it now. Back then it wasn't explored in all the media outlets the way it is now."
"The sin that once dare not speak its name now can't shut up," Schrader adds.
No one argues that these sordid details, rendered ho-hum after all these years, elevate Bob Crane from footnote to his own paragraph in the annals of squalid true Hollywood stories. Hell, Scotty and Patricia even have their own script they've been trying to sell, Take Off Your Clothes and Smile, which they will not let reporters read. That, Schrader says, is the real reason he never contacted Patricia and Scotty: He did not want to be accused of stealing from their script, so instead he robbed from the grave.
"I was told I'd probably get a note to stay away from these people, they're in a litigious state of mind, they're going to say that you stole their script," Schrader says. "And then my film got made, and they didn't have any say over it. So the grievance began essentially as a power issue, you know: 'We should control the Crane movie, not you.' That was the initial grievance. Out of that grievance, many other grievances have flowed, and if you have talked to Scott, you know what those grievances are."
And then some.
But Scotty has every right to be furious, as does Patricia Olson; Bob was his dad, her husband and remains, to this day, their provider. He left everything to Patricia in his will, and she makes money off the TV Land reruns of Hogan's Heroes. The family worries that the movie makes him look so despicable, the network will dump the show. "They're destroying the image of Bob Crane," says the son selling his daddy's pornos. As far as Scotty's concerned, the killing of Bob Crane is about to claim its second victim, his mother. As far as Schrader's concerned, it isn't his fault.
"All of this is an unfortunate distraction, but, you know, it is about a real person," Schrader says. "People are going to have opinions. Scotty is the son; he's going to be vocal about it. But, to me, Bob could've been an insurance salesman, and he still would've been a fascinating character as a performance piece. The aspects that interested me about the movie and still interest me about it have nothing to do with all that other noise, so I just kind of tuned it out. But Crane's story is a classic rise and fall."
"Bob was a celebrity," Kinnear adds, "and celebrity does have some element of corrupting. In terms of the obsessive nature of his own documentation, for better or for worse, that's out there for anybody to view. There were a couple of late nights driving home where I found myself not liking the character in spite of wanting to. There was, you know, almost a naïveté that Bob had that seemed kind of charming, and at times when we were shooting the movie, it had started to feel like, 'Damn it, Bob, what the hell were you doing?'"
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Dallas, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.