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(From Old Corral collection)
In the photo left, Fuzzy tightens up the last knot on the well-tied Buster Crabbe In THE DRIFTER (PRC, 1944). This is another of those 'hero plays dual roles', with Crabbe in his normal job as 'Billy Carson' as well as a baddie. Naturally, poor ol' Fuzzy gets confused and tries to restrain the evil 'Drifter' from mixing it up with his pal Billy ... but the 'Drifter' convinces Fuzz that he's really Billy Carson ... got the plot?

In addition to THE DRIFTER, Crabbe essayed dual roles in LAW AND ORDER (PRC, 1942), SHERIFF OF SAGE VALLEY (PRC, 1942), and PRAIRIE RUSTLERS (PRC, 1945).

Occasionally, Buster played the straight man in Fuzzy's comedy bits. A good example occurs in the closing minutes of PRAIRIE BADMEN (PRC, 1946) with our hero and sidekick doing fisticuffs with Charlie King, Kermit Maynard and John Cason. Fuzz knocks out Kermit with a rock from the cabin fireplace. After the threesome are captured, St. John swings his arm (rock included) in a circle over his head ... and clobbers Crabbe who falls flat on the floor. A few minutes later, there's a lapse when Fuzzy calls his screen partner 'Bus' (short for Buster) instead of 'Billy'.

All of the Crabbe westerns were produced and directed by the dynamic duo of Sigmund Neufeld (PRC executive and producer) and Sam Newfield (PRC "house director").  In real life, Sam and Sig were brothers, and knew how to churn out a low budget oater. At PRC, they were right at home ... and very busy doing the Crabbe series, the George Houston/Bob Livingston Lone Riders, the Frontier Marshal trio oaters, more.

Crabbe went back into the jungle for several other films for "Sig and Sam".  One less than memorable effort was NABONGA (PRC, 1944), a tale of a gal and a gorilla (with former Three Mesquiteer and Range Buster Ray 'Crash' Corrigan wearing his ape suit). NABONGA may be better known because of the appearance of young and sultry Julie London, who would later have the hit song "Cry Me A River".

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above and right are pressbook ads for a couple of other non-westerns, THE CONTENDER (1944) and JUNGLE SIREN (1942). Sam Newfield directed both.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Crabbe was tired of PRC and he made his last film for them in 1946. All reflected production shortcuts and minimal budgets and each were shot in about five - seven days. However, the later entries were lensed even faster to reduce costs. And there were those tinderbox sets. A further hindrance was that most of series was shot during World War II years when budgets were even tighter.

I asked movie location expert Tinsley Yarbrough about where the Crabbe PRCs were filmed: "The Buster Crabbes were divided between Iverson and Corriganville, with the early Billy the Kid entries mainly Iverson (and Monogram Ranch in Newhall) and the later Billy Carson ones mainly Corriganville (and the Corriganville street sets)."

Supporting Buster was PRC's stable of baddies which included Charlie King, Karl Hackett, John Merton, Kermit Maynard, Frank Ellis, I. Stanford Jolley, Jack Ingram, George Chesebro, Bud Osborne, Frank McCarroll, and several other familiar players. There's also a couple of younger faces doing henchie and owlhoot roles - John Merton's son Lane Bradford is in a few and John Lacy Cason (Bob Cason/Lefty Cason) appears in over half of the films.

Circa 1945 - 1946, PRC had more than Crabbe and St. John ridin' and shootin' for them. Tex Ritter had replaced James Newill in the final eight Texas Rangers trio oaters that were released in 1944 - 1945. Bob Steele, PRC's first 'Billy the Kid', was back doing his last starring work in four 1945 - 1946 releases. And Eddie Dean began his singin' cowboy movies in PRC's 1945 Cinecolor SONG OF OLD WYOMING (which featured Al LaRue before he became 'Lash').

Crabbe's first sagebrusher for PRC, BILLY THE KID WANTED, hit the screens in late 1941. His finale, OUTLAWS OF THE PLAINS, was released in late 1946. In total, there were 36 low budget oaters and all featured Al 'Fuzzy' St. John as the sidekick. There was good chemistry between the two and Buster always seemed to smile and have a good belly laugh when St. John did his hijinks and pratfalls. They worked well together and seemed to be having fun - and that camaraderie came across on the screen.

In retrospect, 1946 was an opportune time for Crabbe to exit as PRC was nearing the end of the trail. Over the next year or so, they cut the budgets on the Eddie Deans by dropping Cinecolor and churnin' out new ones in B&W ... they gave Lash LaRue his own series because of the quantity of his fan mail ... and circa 1948, PRC disappeared into the Eagle/Lion organization.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above, Buster Crabbe and longtime friend Kermit Maynard in a scene from PRAIRIE RUSTLERS (PRC, 1945), one of the 'Billy the Kid/Billy Carson' series. This was a dual role oater for Crabbe and in the above still, he's portraying Billy Carson's no-good cousin "Jim Slade".

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the cover of the pressbook for PRAIRIE BADMEN (PRC, 1946), one of the later 'Billy Carson' entries. In the bottom right, Buster is duking it out with a young John Lacy Cason (Bob Cason/Lefty Cason).

(From Old Corral collection)

Above is a lobby card from one of Crabbe's last movie roles, GUNFIGHTERS OF ABILENE (United Artists, 1959).

Bobby Copeland's Trail Talk book includes a couple of quotes from Crabbe which seem appropriate to this writeup: "Some say my acting rose to the level of incompetence and then leveled off.  I was a lot better actor than people gave me credit for. I didn't have any training, but I feel if I had been given the chance, I could have become a really good, top-rate actor.  I didn't make it like a Gable or Boyer.  But I wonder what would have happened if things had been different." and "If you can believe it, we started my last movie for PRC on Monday and had it in the can on Thursday! That's when I decided I'd had enough and quit. I went in and told them I was through. They didn't even bat an eye. The next thing I knew they replaced me with Lash LaRue."

David Rothel interviewed Crabbe. In his book Those Great Cowboy Sidekicks (WOY, 1984), Crabbe mentions that he was paid $1000.00 for each of his PRC westerns and he thought that St. John received about the same amount.

I think it was 1980 when I was in Arizona at a business conference. I visited Buster and spent about an hour chatting. I remember him chuckling about how his 1932 Olympic gold medal got him into films ... the busy and chaotic shooting schedules for the serials and PRC westerns ... that he thought he was reasonably decent actor ... he reminisced a little about Charles Middleton, calling him "Charlie Middleton" and that he was a "nice man" .... and he also chuckled about people still remembering him from the Flash Gordon serials. 1980 was a long time ago, and back then I didn't have the depth of knowledge on westerns and serials. So I didn't ask the right questions (about his Paramount contract and loan outs, and what it was like doing those Sam Newfield directed films at PRC). I wrote to him a couple times after that, including when I was doing a writeup on his friend Kermit Maynard.

After Flash Gordon and the PRC westerns, Crabbe's life included some film and TV work, business ventures and a family tragedy:

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above is a publicity postcard of Crabbe during his time at New York's WOR-TV in the early 1950s when he hosted THE BUSTER CRABBE SHOW which featured his westerns. The back of the postcard has an ad for the Palisades Amusement Park, including free admission on opening week.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above are Buster (as 'Captain Michael Gallant') and son Cullen 'Cuffy' Crabbe during their CAPTAIN GALLANT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION TV days circa 1955. It was originally broadcast on NBC and then went into syndication (and was later retitled as FOREIGN LEGIONNAIRE). 'Fuzzy' Knight was Crabbe's sidekick and helming some of episodes was none other than Sam Newfield.

The September 20, 1952 issue of Billboard had a lot of news on Buster's many business activities in New York City. Excerpts:

"Buster Crabbe opens his Buster Crabbe Health and Swim Club ... at the Hotel Shelton here."
"Crabbe is currently dividing his energies between 16 weekly TV and radio shows, including a daily exercise seg on NBC-TV's 'Today' show; a half-hour spot over WOR-TV every afternoon; a nightly sports show over WNBT; and a Sunday morning WNBT show, 'Time for Adventure.'"

George Kirazian remembers Crabbe and his WOR TV show. George writes:

"Circa 1950, Buster was on every Monday night on WOR-TV (Channel 9) in New York City, hosting one of his own films. He even brought (as I recall) Fuzzy St. John and Charlie King on as guests. Regarding the Palisade Amusement Park postcard - that Summer, Buster taught a swimming class there to about 8-10 kids, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. It was, at the time, THE public pool in the New York/New Jersey area. He had a beautiful family that accompanied him on the days he taught us, and several times they invited me to their 'blanket'."

Remember Crabbe's quote above: " ... wonder what would have happened if things had been different." I wonder too --- think what could have been if Crabbe had contracted to do a cowboy series at Columbia or Republic.  Dream a bit more, and visualize Crabbe as 'Tucson' in the Republic Three Mesquiteers.  Returning to real life, methinks that memories of the ol' cowboy stars will continue to wane through the further passing of time (and the passing of fans such as you and I).  The legacy of Clarence Linden Crabbe is that years into the future, they'll still be showing the Flash Gordon serials ... and a new generation of kids will see him battlin' the forces of Ming the Merciless ... in glorious B&W. In actuality, Buster Crabbe was more than Flash Gordon - he was a world class swimmer and Olympic champion, a 25+ year veteran of films and TV, and a success in business after he exited Hollywood.

Buster Crabbe passed away at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 23, 1983 from a heart attack, and his remains were cremated. You may want to go to the In Search Of ... webpage.  Then go to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and see if you can find a record for Crabbe. Crabbe's year of birth has been a question - some sources list 1907 or 1910. I've used the February 7, 1908 date from the Social Security Death Index as well as the 1908 birth year from the census.

Crabbe graduated with a B. A. degree (not a Law degree) from the University of Southern California in 1931, and they do have a Buster Crabbe Collection and Archive which was donated by his wife Virginia in the mid 1980s.

Crabbe never received a Golden Boot award nor has he been added to the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. But that's not unusual as there's several cowboy heroes who have not received recognition from either of these sources. Buster was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 - but that was for his television work.

The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s.  With a few exceptions, the annual poll results would list the "Top Ten" (or "Top Five") cowboy film stars.  In most cases, the winners were what you would expect --- Autry, Rogers, Holt, Starrett, Hoppy, etc. Crabbe did receive a rating in the 1936 Motion Picture Herald poll while he was at Paramount.  However, he was not ranked during his years at PRC. There were only a few PRC western heroes that ever attained a ranking in these polls - Tex Ritter made the list in 1944 and '45 while in the Texas Ranger series and Eddie Dean did it in 1946 and '47. Lash LaRue never achieved a ranking in these polls.

Popularity Ranking of Buster Crabbe
Year Motion Picture Herald Poll Ranking
1936 10th


Buster Crabbe starred in nine cliffhangers:

TARZAN THE FEARLESS (Principal, 1933)
FLASH GORDON (Universal, 1936)
RED BARRY (Universal, 1938)
BUCK ROGERS (Universal, 1939)
THE SEA HOUND (Columbia, 1947)
KING OF THE CONGO (Columbia, 1952)

(From Old Corral collection)

Above are pretty Jean Rogers (as Dale Arden) and Buster Crabbe, both with blonde hair, in a scene from the 1936 FLASH GORDON serial.

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