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Crane on the set of his television talk show, 1964
December 3, 1933
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 13, 2008
Greenbrae, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Tulane University|
|Known for||Talk-show host|
Les Crane (born Lesley Stein; December 3, 1933 – July 13, 2008) was a radio announcer and television talk show host, a pioneer in interactive broadcasting who also scored a spoken word hit with his 1971 recording of the poem Desiderata, winning a "Best Spoken Word" Grammy.
He began his radio career in 1958 at KONO in San Antonio and later worked at WPEN (now WKDN) in Philadelphia. In 1961, he became a popular and controversial host for the radio powerhouse KGO in San Francisco. With KGO's strong nighttime 50,000 Watt signal reaching as far north as Seattle, Washington, and as far south as Los Angeles, he attracted a regional audience in the West. Variety described him as "the popular, confrontational and sometimes controversial host of San Francisco's KGO. Helping to pioneer talk radio, he was outspoken and outraged some callers by hanging up on them."
A late-night program airing weekdays from 11pm to 2am, Crane at the hungry i (1962–63) found Crane interacting with owner and impresario Enrico Banducci and interviewing such talents as Barbra Streisand and Professor Irwin Corey.
In 1963, Crane moved to New York City to host Night Line, a 1:00 a.m. talk show on WABC-TV, the American Broadcasting Company flagship station. The first American TV appearance of The Rolling Stones was on Crane's program in June 1964 when only New Yorkers could see it. The program debuted nationwide with a trial run (telecast nightly for two weeks) in August 1964 starting at 11:15 p.m. on the ABC schedule and titled The Les Crane Show. It was the first network program to compete with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. ABC used kinescopes of two episodes from that month to pitch the show to affiliates that hadn't yet signed up to carry the program. One featured the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald debating Oswald's guilt with noted attorney Melvin Belli, Crane and audience members. The other featured Norman Mailer and Richard Burton. Burton encouraged Crane to recite the "gravedigger speech" from Hamlet, and Crane did. More affiliates signed up for a November relaunch of The Les Crane Show, and Look (American magazine) ran a prominent feature story with captioned still photographs from the August episodes. One image shows Shelley Winters debating a controversial issue with Jackie Robinson. While some critics found the late-night series innovative (indeed, five years later The Phil Donahue Show would follow a similar format to much greater success in daytime), it never gained much of an audience. In late June 1965, following a three-month hibernation, it was retitled ABC's Nightlife with network executives having removed most of the controversy and emphasizing light entertainment. Producer Nick Vanoff started forbidding guests from broaching controversial topics. After the summer 1965 run, they relocated the show from New York to Los Angeles. The Paley Center for Media has available for viewing the first 15 minutes of one of the last episodes before ABC finally cancelled ABC's Nightlife in November 1965. Crane can be seen and heard delivering his monologue, joking about words that could be censored and bantering with his sidekick Nipsey Russell.
The two kinescopes that ABC used to pitch The Les Crane Show to its affiliates in 1964 constitute the only surviving video and audio of Crane's show. An archive of source material on Malcolm X has audio of the Civil Rights leader's December 1964 appearance. Audio of Bob Dylan's February 17, 1965 appearance has circulated, and been transcribed. The National Archives has a transcript of the Oswald/Belli episode in its documents related to the JFK assassination that were declassified and released publicly in 1993 and 1994. Most Les Crane Show episodes pictured in the Look feature story, such as the one with Winters and Robinson, were destroyed, and what the participants said is unknown today.
Les Crane's confrontational interview technique, along with a "shotgun" microphone he aimed at audiences, earned him the name "the bad boy of late-night television", though critical opinion was divided. The New York Times' media critic Paul Gardner considered him an incisive interviewer who asked tough questions without being insulting. One critic who did not like his show found Crane's trademark shotgun microphone distracting. "Each time he points this mike into the audience, it looks as though he's about to shoot a spectator." (Laurent, 1964) Nearly every critic described Crane as photogenic. One described him as "a tall, handsome and personable lad..." (Smith, 1964) Crane was unable to dent Carson's ratings, and the show lasted 14 weeks before ABC executives transformed it into the more show-business-oriented ABC's Nightlife. Crane's guests had included Bob Dylan, who rarely appeared on American television; Malcolm X; Martin Luther King' Richard Burton; George Wallace; Robert F. Kennedy; and the voice of radio's The Shadow, Bret Morrison.
He tried acting, but his career was brief, with an appearance in the film An American Dream (1966), based on the Norman Mailer novel, and a few guest roles on television shows. Folksinger Phil Ochs mentioned him in the lyrics of his satirical 1966 song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal". Some sources say that Crane gave the rock group The Mamas & the Papas their name, but this is disputed in other sources, which say John Phillips came up with the name. (see Bronson, 2003)
Crane was one of the first interviewers to have an openly gay guest, Randy Wicker, on his television show, in January 1964. But when Crane tried to invite members of a lesbian advocacy group, the Daughters of Bilitis, to be guests on his show in June 1964, WABC ordered him to cancel the booking, and he did. Crane was also known as an advocate for civil rights, and was praised by the black press for his respectful interviews with such black news makers as Muhammad Ali (Young, 1968).
After Crane's final television appearance in the 1970s, he refused to discuss his television career and did not respond to queries about his copies of the two surviving kinescopes of his late night ABC show from 1964.
In 1968, he was back on the West Coast, hosting a talk show on KLAC in Los Angeles. Critics noted that in the style of the 1960s, he now dressed in a turtleneck and moccasins, sprinkling his speech with words like "groovy." ("Communicasters," 1968). However, he was still doing interviews with major newsmakers and discussing topics like civil disobedience, hippies and the rising popularity of meditation. (Sweeney, 1968) He also did some local TV talk. Crane left KLAC when the station switched to a country music format.
Though Crane thought the poem was in the public domain when it was recorded, the rights belonged to the family of author Max Ehrmann, and royalties were distributed accordingly. When asked about the recording during an interview by the Los Angeles Times in 1987, Crane replied, "I can't listen to it now without gagging."
In the 1980s, Crane transitioned to the software industry and became chairman of The Software Toolworks, creators of the three-dimensional color chess series, Chessmaster and the educational series Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Toolworks was also responsible for such games as The Original Adventure and the PC version of Pong. The company was sold and renamed Mindscape in the early 1990s.
Crane was married five times. His fourth wife was Gilligan's Island actress Tina Louise, whom he married in 1966 and divorced in 1971. They had one daughter, Caprice Crane (b. 1970), who became an author, screenwriter and television producer.
- Woo, Elaine (July 16, 2008). "Les Crane, 74; former late-night TV host also founded software company". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
- "Les Crane dies at 74". Variety. 411 (9). Reed Business Information. July 21, 2008. pp. 35(1). Retrieved March 30, 2009.
NYC native and Tulane U. graduate scored a surprise Grammy for spoken word in 1971 with his reading of "Desiderata," which peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts. His restful voice intoning over a musical score became a counterculture hit (and also was parodied in 1972 by National Lampoon)
- "'Desiderata' vocalist Les Crane dies at 74". Associated Press via CNN.com. July 16, 2008. Archived from the original on July 30, 2008.
- Carey, B. "Television's New Bad Boy." Look (American magazine) November 3, 1964, pp. 111–4.
- Israel, Lee. Kilgallen. Delacorte Press, 1979, pp. 401–2
- Dylan, Bob (1999). "Genuine Bootleg Series, Manufacturer: Scorpio, Catalog No. J81310/J70918/J70826".
- See for instance, in Dylan, Bob; Miles, Barry; Marchbank, Pearce (1993). Bob Dylan in His Own Words. Music Sales Corp. ISBN 978-0825639241. and "The Les Crane Show February 17, 1965". (Dylan/Crane transcript) Bread Crumb Sins (Bob Dylan fan site; Giulio Molfese, ed.). Retrieved December 31, 2012.
- Gardner, Paul (August 4, 1964). "Television: Les Crane's New Program; Setting and Attitudes Change for Debut Telephone Is Replaced by Additional Guests" (Fee). The New York Times. p. 59. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
Les Crane, the bad boy of late-night television, has reformed. The man who kept insomniacs off sleeping pills during the hours after midnight has forsaken his telephone, desk and bedside manner.
- Leigh, Spencer (July 25, 2008). "Les Crane: TV host and 'Desiderata' narrator". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on May 29, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
- Loughery, p. 269
- "Homosexual Women Hear Psychologists". The New York Times. June 21, 1964. p. 54. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
- "Les Crane, 74, One-Hit Wonder". The Daily Telegraph. July 21, 2008. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
Les Crane, who died on July 13 at age 74, became an unlikely one-hit wonder in the British and American pop charts with "Desiderata" (1971), his spoken-word version of an obscure prose poem that became a New Age anthem.... number eight in the American Billboard chart and number seven in the British Top 10 in February 1972 as the country was gripped by a coal strike.Reprinted in New York Sun.
- Weber, Bruce (July 15, 2008). "Les Crane, Talk-Show Host, Dies at 74". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
- "Tina and Caprice". Oakland Tribune. November 5, 1970. p. 24.
- Bronson, Fred. "The Mamas and the Papas." Billboard Book of Number One Hits (p. 198) New York: Billboard Books, 2003.
- "Communicasters: Les Crane." Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1968, p. B13.
- Gardner, Paul. "Television: Les Crane's New Program." New York Times, August 4, 1964, p. 59.
- Laurent, Lawrence. "Les Crane's Show Lacks Controversy." Washington Post, November 24, 1964, p. C6.
- Lowry, Cynthia. "Insomnia Cure: Les Crane?" Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1964, p. S7.
- Smith, Cecil. "Crane Flying High Nightly." Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1964, p. C14.
- Sweeney, Louise. "Television's Talk, Talk, Talkathons on the Late Late Shows." Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1968, p. 4.
- Young, A.S. "Muhammad on TV." Chicago Defender, July 23, 1968, p. 24.
- Loughery, John (1998). The Other Side of Silence – Men's Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth-Century History. New York, Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-3896-5.
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