Buster Crabbe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the British diver with a similar name, see Lionel Crabb.
Buster Crabbe
Buster Crabbe - publicity.GIF
Circa 1940s
Born Clarence Linden Crabbe II
(1908-02-07)February 7, 1908
Oakland, California
Died April 23, 1983(1983-04-23) (aged 75)
Scottsdale, Arizona
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Green Acres Memorial Park, Scottsdale
Residence Scottsdale, Arizona
Education Punahou School
Alma mater University of Southern California
Occupation Actor
Years active 1930–1982 (acting)
Notable work Flash Gordon, Tarzan the Fearless, Jungle Man, King of the Congo, Buck Rogers
Home town Oakland, California
Television Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion,
The Gabby Hayes Show
Spouse(s) Adah Virginia Held (m. 1933–83) (his death)
Children Cullen, Susan, Caren Lynn†
Relatives Nick Holt, grandson

Clarence Linden Crabbe II (/ˈkræb/; February 7, 1908[note 1] – April 23, 1983), commonly known by his stage name Buster Crabbe, was an American competitive swimmer and movie actor. He won the 1932 Olympic gold medal for 400-meter freestyle swimming event before breaking into acting. He starred in a number of popular films in the 1930s and 1940s.[1] He also played the title role in the serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.


Crabbe was born to Edward Clinton Simmons Crabbe, a real estate broker, and Lucy Agnes (née McNamara) Crabbe, in Oakland, California. He had one brother, Edward Clinton Simmons Crabbe Jr. (1909–1972).[citation needed]

Olympic medal record
Competitor for the  United States
Men's swimming
Gold medal – first place 1932 Los Angeles 400 m freestyle
Bronze medal – third place 1928 Amsterdam 1500 m freestyle

Hawaii and Olympics[edit]

Raised in Hawaii, Crabbe graduated from the Punahou School in Honolulu. He competed in two Olympic Games as a swimmer. In 1928 he won the bronze medal for the 1,500 meters freestyle, and in 1932 he won the gold medal for the 400 meters freestyle when he beat Jean Taris of France by a tenth of a second.[2][3] He attended the University of Southern California, where he was the school's first All-American swimmer (1931) and a 1931 NCAA freestyle titlist. He also became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity before graduating from USC in 1931. In 1933 he married Adah Virginia Held, (December 16, 1912 – August 26, 2004) and gave himself one year to make it as an actor. If he didn't, he would start law school at USC. Crabbe and his wife were the parents of two daughters, Sande and Susan, and a son, Cullen. Sande died of apparent anorexia in 1957, after a long fast when she was 20; at the time of her death, she weighed only 60 pounds.[4]


Crabbe and lion Jack, one of his partners in King of the Jungle, are having a lunch in a Hollywood restaurant on February 6, 1933. Crabbe became a lion tamer while working on that film.

Crabbe's role in the 1933 Tarzan serial, Tarzan the Fearless, began a career in which he starred in more than one hundred movies. In the 1933 King of the Jungle, 1941 Jungle Man, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo, he played typical "jungle man" roles. He starred in several popular films at this time, including The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi alongside Betty Grable in 1933 and Search for Beauty (1934), and in 1936 he was Flash Gordon in the very successful Flash Gordon serial, followed by two sequels, released by Universal in 1938 and 1940. The series was shown later extensively on American television in the 1950s and 1960s, then edited for release on home video. He also portrayed a Western folk-hero version of Billy the Kid, in 36 films, starred as Buck Rogers. In some movies he is credited as "Larry Crabbe" or "Larry (Buster) Crabbe". His sidekick in most of his westerns was actor Al St. John. In 1939 Crabbe reunited with Betty Grable for a lead role in the mainstream comedy hit Million Dollar Legs. Crabbe is the only actor to play Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers – the top three syndicated comic strip heroes of the 1930s.

Crabbe starred at the Billy Rose's Aquacade at the New York World's Fair in its second year of 1940, replacing a fellow Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller.


Crabbe starred in the television series, Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion (1955 to 1957) as Captain Michael Gallant; the adventure series aired on NBC. His real-life son, Cullen Crabbe, appeared in this show as the character "Cuffy Sanders". He was featured frequently in archival footage in the children's television program, The Gabby Hayes Show. Prior to his playing "Captain Michael Gallant" Crabbe had hosted a local NYC based children's film wraparound television series The Buster Crabbe Show. The series, which was set against the backdrop of a ranch foreman's bunk house featured Crabbe engaging his viewers in games, stories, craftmaking, hobbies, informational segments, and interviews with guest performers and personalities in between reruns of old movie serials, westerns and comedies. The Buster Crabbe Show was seen weekday evenings on WOR-TV (Channel 9) in New York City from Monday March 12, 1951, to Friday October 3, 1952. The series returned to the NYC airways on WJZ-TV (Channel 7) (now WABC) on Monday September 21, 1953, and was retitled Buster's Buddies!. The WJZ TV version of the series included a studio audience of kids and became more of a kids' variety show. Despite the addition of the studio audience and Crabbe's personality, Buster's Buddies! was not a hit and it was canceled on Friday March 26, 1954. Crabbe made regular television appearances, including one on an episode of the 1979 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, in which he played a retired fighter pilot named "Brigadier Gordon" in honor of Flash Gordon. When Rogers (Gil Gerard) praises his flying, Gordon replies "I've been doing that sort of thing since before you were born." Rogers (who was born over 500 years earlier) responds "You think so, old timer?" to which Gordon replies "Young man, I know so." Crabbe had, in fact, been playing "Buck Rogers" since long before Gerard was born.[5]

Later years and death[edit]

Crabbe's Hollywood career waned somewhat in the 1950s and 1960s. The ever-industrious Crabbe became a stockbroker and businessman during this period. According to David Ragan's Movie Stars of the '30s, Crabbe owned a Southern California swimming pool-building company in later years. In the mid-1950s, Crabbe purchased the Adirondack campus of the Adirondack-Florida School,[6] which advertised itself as a swim camp for youngsters aged eight to 14.[citation needed]

During this period of his life, Buster joined the swimming pool company Cascade Industries of Talmadge Road, Edison, New Jersey. In his capacity as Vice President of Sales, promoter and spokesman for Cascade – the world's first "package pool" company – he attended shopping mall openings and fairgrounds combining promotion of his swim camps and Cascade vinyl liner in-ground swimming pools. A pool line was named after him, and pools were sold by "Buster Crabbe Dealers" throughout the eastern seaboard and southern states from 1952 until 1990. Though he followed other pursuits, he never stopped acting. However, his career in the 1950s and after was limited to lower-budget films, notably westerns such as Gunfighters of Abilene (1960), Arizona Raiders (1965) and The Bounty Killer (1965). He appeared as the father of a young swimmer in the comedy Swim Team (1979) and as a sheriff in the horror film Alien Dead (1980), followed by the feature film The Comeback Trail in 1982, one year before his death. Crabbe also appeared in television commercials[7] for Hormel Chili, Icy Hot, and the Magic Mold Bodyshirt, an upper body male girdle of sorts, which purportedly helped in weight loss. Through Icy Hot, he was actively involved in arthritis education. Despite his numerous film and television appearances, he is best remembered today as one of the original action heroes of 1930s and 1940s cinema. In the 1950s, two comic book series were published named after him. Eastern Color published 12 issues of Buster Crabbe Comics from 1951 to 1953, followed by Lev Gleason's The Amazing Adventures of Buster Crabbe for four issues in 1954.

In 1965 he was induced into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. During his senior swimming career Crabbe set 16 world and 35 national records.[8] He continued swimming through his sixties, and in 1971 set a world record in his age group.[9]

He died on April 23, 1983 of a heart attack after tripping over a wastebasket in his Scottsdale, Arizona home.[1] He is interred at Green Acres Memorial Park in Scottsdale.


Buster Crabbe at age 20 the 1928 Olympics

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As with many Hollywood stars there is a conflict between the birthdate given in his official documents, and the one used in his Hollywood publicity biographies. His birth certificate and his Social Security application both use the birthdate of February 7, 1908. See also: Age fabrication


  1. ^ a b "Buster Crabbe profile". Philadelphia Inquirer. April 24, 1983. Retrieved April 20, 2010. Buster Crabbe, 74, an Olympic gold medal swimmer who became the undisputed king of motion-picture adventure serials during the 1930s and 1940s, died yesterday of a heart attack at his home. A family spokesman said that Mr. Crabbe's death yesterday morning was 'very sudden' and that he had been in good health. Funeral arrangements were pending. The muscular, blond athlete became a Saturday afternoon hero playing Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers... 
  2. ^ "Buster Crabbe Wins 400 Meter Olympic Swim". Chicago Tribune. August 11, 1932. Retrieved April 20, 2010. Clarence [Buster] Crabbe, who learned his swimming in the Hawaiian islands, came from behind today to stage a Surprise victory for the United States in the 400-meter free style finals of the Olympic games before a crowd of 12,000. 
  3. ^ "Who Won". Time magazine. April 11, 1932. Retrieved April 20, 2010. Clarence (Buster) Crabbe, 22, of Los Angeles, ablest distance swimmer in the United States: the 1,500-metre race in the A.A.U. championships, at New Haven, lowering his own American record by 20.9 seconds to 19:45.6. Later he won two other championships: the 300 yard medley and 500 yard free style. Los Angeles won the team championship with 45 points to New York's 37. 
  4. ^ "Buster Crabbe Daughter Dies of Strange Illness. Doctor Refuses to Sign Death Certificate for Girl, 20, Who Weighed Only 60 Pounds". Los Angeles Times. April 12, 1957. Retrieved April 20, 2010. An investigation into the strange death of Caren Lynn (Sande) Crabbe, 20-year-old daughter of actor and former Olympic Games Swimming Champion Buster Crabbe, disclosed yesterday the girl apparently died of malnutrition... 
  5. ^ Info about Crabbe hosting The Buster Crabbe Show/Buster's Buddies can be found in "The NYC Kids Shows Round Up" section of TVParty.Com and in Children's Television: The First Thirty Five Years: Live, Taped And Filmed Shows by George Woolery, Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  6. ^ "Adirondack Museum". Adirondack Museum. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe". Fulvuedrive-in.com. March 20, 2006. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  8. ^ Buster Crabbe (USA) – Honor Swimmer profile at International Swimming Hall of Fame
  9. ^ Buster Crabbe. sports-reference.com

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Johnny Weissmuller
Actors to portray Tarzan
Succeeded by
Herman Brix