The Mark of Crane

Nightclubbers and psychic set the stage for Bob Crane's comeback

By now deflated, Ross tersely answered him that she had already been in touch with Crane's spirit earlier in the evening. She said she had felt the pain of his bludgeoning in the back of her head (she was probably feeling it again right about now). It was hard to hear every detail over the roar, but it sounded like she said that the killer was a man with dark hair and dark eyes. He was a good friend of Bob Crane's, she said. The good friend had thrown the blunt instrument he had used to brain his buddy into a canal.

Ross made her escape by inviting the Reverend Roderic, a pleasant-looking man in impressive, white-and-green clerical garb, up onto the stage. In a dulcet English accent, the reverend blessed the crowd, and exhorted us to "think about Bob Crane!"

I did my best. Surveying the scene, something told me that if Bob Crane was watching, he must be having his first good laugh since he died.

Amazingly, the sight of the Reverend Roderic made the roar subside a bit. But the rev didn't push his luck. He was a trouper; he knew how to adapt as best he could to a tough crowd. "All the noise you want to make now, I'm sure, would be very helpful!" he said. The crowd howled happily, exultantly, louder than ever. "God bless you all," said the Reverend Roderic beatifically, and he and Jan Ross got off the stage while the getting was good.

Later, outside the club, the Reverend Roderic sweetly assured me that the Buzz revelers were helpful to Crane's spirit. "These were the sort of people he liked; this was the sort of fun he liked."

Buzz isn't through with Crane yet. On July 11 and 12, the club is celebrating his birthday. Ad fliers for the "1st annual" Bob Crane Birthday Bash promise that "Buzz will be transformed into Stalag 13" for these festivities.

On the surface, this Cranemania is a little puzzling. It's understandable enough that Buzz would try to publicize itself through its connection with Crane--why not?--but it's bizarre that this marketing strategy would prove so viable. Several TV stations were there for the seance, and other print media, too.

And this isn't even the nice, even-numbered 20th anniversary of the grim event--it's the 19th. Who celebrates the 19th anniversary of anything? Did Elvis get this kind of treatment on the 19th anniversary of his alleged death? Why do we care about Bob Crane, a minor star who happened to die here?

And yet, it makes sense that Crane's untimely, news-making death remains a watershed in Valley memory. The Valley has, in its way, a show-biz scene, but it's a transient one. Road shows play here, then leave. Movie companies shoot here, then leave. Nick Nolte trod the boards of Phoenix Little Theatre as a kid, then he left. At 17, Steven Spielberg used the PLT space to show his home movie Firelight. Then he left.

Crane came to Scottsdale, did a bad play, fooled around a little. But he didn't just get to split for the next hick town--if you believe Jan Ross, he still hasn't left. The death of Bob Crane was the revenge of the whistle stop.

Nobody expects to find a rich and distinguished theater history in a city as new as Phoenix. Theater lovers in the Valley might wish that the most notable event in our theater history was something less ignominious, less sordidly kitschy, than the murder of an oversexed, has-been TV star on the dinner-show grind. We could wish better for poor Crane's ghost, and for ourselves, too.

Just go to the light, Bob.

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