Buster Crabbe

Clarence Linden Crabbe II (/ˈkræb/; February 7, 1908[note 1] – April 23, 1983), known professionally as Buster Crabbe, was an American two-time Olympic swimmer and movie actor. He won the 1932 Olympic gold medal for 400-meter freestyle swimming event, which launched his career onto the silver screen. He starred in a number of popular films in the 1930s and 1940s.[2] He also played the title role in the serials Tarzan the Fearless, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers. Crabbe is the only actor to have played Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers – the top three syndicated comic strip heroes of the 1930s.

Buster Crabbe
Buster Crabbe - publicity
Circa early 1940s
Clarence Linden Crabbe II

February 7, 1908
DiedApril 23, 1983 (aged 75)
Resting placeGreen Acres Memorial Park, Scottsdale, Arizona
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
Years active1930–82
Notable work
King of the Jungle
Flash Gordon
Buck Rogers[1]
Adah Virginia Held (m. 1933–1983)
(his death)
RelativesNick Holt (grandson)

Early life

Crabbe was born to Edward Clinton Simmons Crabbe, a real estate broker, and Lucy Agnes (née McNamara) Crabbe, in Oakland, California. He had a brother, Edward Clinton Simmons Crabbe Jr. (1909–1972). Crabbe grew up in Hawaii where he graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu. 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.

Olympic Games

Buster Crabbe 1928
Crabbe at age 20 at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam
Olympic medal record
Representing 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

Crabbe competed in two Olympic Games as a swimmer. At the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, he won the bronze medal for the 1,500 meters freestyle, and at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, he won the gold medal for the 400 meters freestyle when he beat Jean Taris of France by a tenth of a second.[3][4]

Acting career


Buster Crabbe 1933b
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.

In some movies he is credited as "Larry Crabbe" or "Larry (Buster) Crabbe". Crabbe's role in the Tarzan serial, Tarzan the Fearless (1933), began a career in which he starred in more than a hundred movies. In King of the Jungle (1933), Jungle Man (1941), and the serial King of the Congo (1952), he played typical "jungle man" roles. He starred in several popular films at this time, including The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933) alongside Betty Grable and Search for Beauty (1934).

In 1936 he was picked over several stars to play 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 starred as Buck Rogers for Universal playing the role with dark hair unlike Flash Gordon's blonde hair. In 1939, Crabbe reunited with Grable for a lead role in the mainstream comedy Million Dollar Legs.

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

During World War II Crabbe was contracted to Producers Releasing Corporation in lead roles from 1942-1946. He portrayed a Western folk-hero version of Billy the Kid in 13 films, and Billy Carson in 23 with Al St. John as his sidekick. As a 34-year-old married man, Crabbe had a deferment from the draft but made Army training films for the field artillery at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma along with St. John.[5] Crabbe also played some jungle roles for the studio.

Following the war Crabbe appeared opposite Weissmuller as a rival in two jungle films, Swamp Fire (1946) and Captive Girl (1950). Crabbe returned to the jungle for his final serial playing the role of Thun'da in King of the Congo (1952).


Captain gallant full
Buster Crabbe with real life son Cullen on Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, ca. 1955

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".

Crabbe 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.[6]

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." In fact, Crabbe had been playing "Buck Rogers" since long before Gerard was born.

Later years

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,[7] which advertised itself as a swim camp for youngsters aged eight to fourteen.

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[8] 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 inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. During his senior swimming career Crabbe set 16 world and 35 national records.[9] He continued swimming through his sixties, and in 1971 set a world record in his age group.[10] In 1975, marketing guru Jeffrey Feinman, got him a five-book deal with Playboy Press. His first book "Energistics" was an exercise program for seniors. It sold quite well and went into several printings. Feinman then did a series of infomercials with Crabbe that sold a huge amount of diverse products.

Personal life

In 1933, he married Adah Virginia Held (1912 – 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 had two daughters, Sande and Susan, and a son, Cullen. In 1957, Sande died of Anorexia nervosa; at the time of her death, aged 20, she weighed 60 pounds.[11] He was the maternal grandfather of the college football coach Nick Holt.[12]


Crabbe died on April 23, 1983 of a heart attack at age 75 in his Scottsdale, Arizona, home.[2] He is interred at Green Acres Memorial Park in Scottsdale.

See also


  1. ^ As with many Hollywood stars there is a conflict between the birth date 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. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (1983-04-24). Buster Crabbe, Swimmer and Actor, Dies at 75. New York Times, 24 April 1983. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1983/04/24/obituaries/buster-crabbe-swimmer-and-actor-dies-at-75.html.
  2. ^ 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...
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ pp 31-32 Vermilye, Jerry Buster Crabbe: A Biofilmography McFarland, 29 Apr 2014
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Adirondack Museum". Adirondack Museum. Archived from the original on April 3, 2007. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  8. ^ "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe". Fulvuedrive-in.com. March 20, 2006. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  9. ^ Buster Crabbe (USA) – Honor Swimmer profile at International Swimming Hall of Fame
  10. ^ Buster Crabbe. sports-reference.com
  11. ^ "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...
  12. ^ Condotta, Bob (January 6, 2009). "UW football hires USC's Nick Holt as defensive coordinator". Seattle Times. Retrieved August 16, 2012.

External links

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

The Alien Dead is an American horror film directed by Fred Olen Ray. Ray co-wrote the script with Martin Nicholas. The film involves a meteor hitting a houseboat which causes the people onboard to become zombies who eat alligators, and eventually people.

The film was one of the last films featuring actor Buster Crabbe among a cast of unknowns. It was filmed in 1980 and released to home video in 1985. Reviews from Variety, Kim Newman and other retrospective horror guides have been negative noting low budget and bad acting.

Billy the Kid (film series)

The Billy the Kid series of 42 western films was produced between 1940 and 1946, and released by Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation.

The initial six star Bob Steele as Billy the Kid who left PRC to return to Republic Pictures. The next thirteen star Buster Crabbe as Billy the Kid, and the following 23 feature Crabbe as the same character, renamed "Billy Carson". All 42 films in the series are directed by Sam Newfield, "America's most prolific sound film director", sometimes under pseudonyms. All films feature Al St. John as Billy's sidekick.

The films were shot in 10 or 12 days with an average cost of $25,000 a film.

Billy the Kid Wanted

Billy the Kid Wanted is a 1941 American film directed by Sam Newfield. The film stars Buster Crabbe in the first of his appearances as Billy the Kid; replacing Bob Steele in the PRC film series. The film also features Sam Newfield's son Joel.

Caged Fury (1948 film)

Caged Fury is a 1948 American drama film directed by William Berke and written by David Lang. The film stars Richard Denning, Sheila Ryan, Mary Beth Hughes, Buster Crabbe and Frank Wilcox. The film was released on March 5, 1948, by Paramount Pictures.

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars is a 1938 Universal Pictures 15–chapter movie serial, based on the syndicated newspaper comic strip Flash Gordon. It is the second of the three Flash Gordon serials made by Universal between 1936 and 1940. The main cast from the first serial reprise their roles: Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon, Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, Frank Shannon as Dr. Alexis Zarkov, Charles B. Middleton as Ming the Merciless, and Richard Alexander as Prince Barin. Also in the principal cast are Beatrice Roberts as Queen Azura, Donald Kerr as Happy Hapgood, Montague Shaw as the Clay King, and Wheeler Oakman as Ming's chief henchman.

The serial was followed by Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).

Forlorn River (1937 film)

Forlorn River is a 1937 American film directed by Charles Barton and starring Buster Crabbe, June Martel, and Harvey Stephens. Based on the novel by Zane Grey, the film is about a cowboy name Nevada who takes a job on a ranch rounding up horses. He comes into conflict with a powerful cattleman and former bankrobber.

Illegal Traffic

Illegal Traffic is a 1938 American crime film directed by Louis King and written by Robert Yost, Lewis R. Foster and Stuart Anthony. The film stars J. Carrol Naish, Mary Carlisle, Robert Preston, Judith Barrett, Pierre Watkin, Buster Crabbe and George McKay. The film was released on November 4, 1938, by Paramount Pictures.

King of the Jungle (1933 film)

King of the Jungle is a 1933 American pre-Code adventure film directed by H. Bruce Humberstone and Max Marcin and written by Charles Thurley Stoneham, Max Marcin, Fred Niblo, Jr. and Philip Wylie. The film stars Buster Crabbe, Frances Dee, Sidney Toler, Nydia Westman, Robert Barrat, Irving Pichel and Douglass Dumbrille. The film was released on March 10, 1933, by Paramount Pictures.

Queen of Broadway

Queen of Broadway is a 1942 American drama film directed by Sam Newfield and written by Rusty McCullough and George Wallace Sayre. The film stars Rochelle Hudson, Buster Crabbe, Paul Bryar, Emmett Lynn, Donald Mayo and Isabelle LaMal. The film was released on November 24, 1942, by Producers Releasing Corporation.

Rose Bowl (film)

Rose Bowl is a 1936 American comedy film directed by Charles Barton and written by Marguerite Roberts. The film stars Eleanore Whitney, Tom Brown, Buster Crabbe, William Frawley, Benny Baker and Nydia Westman. The film was released on October 30, 1936, by Paramount Pictures.

Tarzan the Fearless

Tarzan the Fearless is a 12 chapter American Pre-Code film serial starring Buster Crabbe in his only appearance as Tarzan. It was also released as a 61-minute film which consisted of the first four chapters edited together, and which was intended to be followed by the last eight chapters in episode format, but which was often exhibited as a stand-alone feature film. Actress Jacqueline Wells co-starred; she later changed her name to Julie Bishop. The serial was produced by Sol Lesser, written by Basil Dickey, George Plympton and Walter Anthony (based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs), and directed by Robert F. Hill. The film was released in both formats on August 11, 1933.

The Lawless Eighties

The Lawless Eighties is a 1957 American Western film directed by Joseph Kane and written by Kenneth Gamet. The film stars Buster Crabbe, John Smith, Marilyn Saris, Ted de Corsia, Anthony Caruso and John Doucette. The film was released on May 31, 1957, by Republic Pictures.

The Sea Hound (serial)

The Sea Hound is a 1947 Columbia 15-chapter movie serial starring Buster Crabbe based on the radio show The Sea Hound. It was the 34th of the 57 serials produced by Columbia Pictures. Buster Crabbe starred as Capt. Silver, master of the Sea Hound, and Ralph Hodges played his faithful sidekick Jerry. Pamela Blake played the captain's love interest, Ann Whitney.

The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (film)

The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi is a 1933 American comedy film directed by Edwin L. Marin and written by Luther Reed and Albert DeMond. The film stars Mary Carlisle, Buster Crabbe, Charles Starrett, Florence Lake, Eddie Tamblyn and Sally Starr. The film was released on October 26, 1933, by Monogram Pictures.

The Thundering Herd (1933 film)

The Thundering Herd is a 1933 American pre-Code Western film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Randolph Scott, Judith Allen, Buster Crabbe, Noah Beery, Sr. and Harry Carey. Based on the novel The Thundering Herd by Zane Grey, the film is about two buffalo hunters (portrayed by Randolph Scott and Harry Carey) who face dangers with the Indians and a gang of outlaws. The Thundering Herd is a remake of the 1925 film The Thundering Herd. Both Noah Beery, Sr. and Raymond Hatton, Wallace Beery's frequent screen comedy partner during the late 1920s, reprised their roles. The film is now in the public domain and also known as Buffalo Stampede, the title Favorite Films used in their 1950 reissue of the film. Hathaway directed much of the same cast (Scott, Beery, Carey and Crabbe) that same year in another Zane Grey story, Man of the Forest.


Thun'da is a fictional character created by artist and conceptualist Frank Frazetta for comic-book publisher Magazine Enterprises. The character debuted in Thun'da #1 (1952), with writer Gardner Fox scripting. After only a few issues the title was discontinued in 1953. The character, played by Buster Crabbe, was the main character in the 1952 Columbia Pictures serial King of the Congo.

Tip-Off Girls

Tip-Off Girls is a 1938 American crime film directed by Louis King, written by Maxwell Shane, Robert Yost and Stuart Anthony, and starring Mary Carlisle, Lloyd Nolan, Roscoe Karns, Buster Crabbe, J. Carrol Naish, Evelyn Brent and Anthony Quinn. It was released on April 1, 1938, by Paramount Pictures.

To the Last Man (1933 film)

To the Last Man is a 1933 American Pre-Code Western film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Randolph Scott and Esther Ralston. The screenplay by Jack Cunningham was based on a story by Zane Grey. The Paramount property was previously made as a silent film, Victor Fleming's 1923 film version of the same title. The supporting cast of Hathaway's version features Jack La Rue, Buster Crabbe, Barton MacLane, Noah Beery, Sr., Shirley Temple, Fuzzy Knight, Gail Patrick and John Carradine. Child actors Delmar Watson and Shirley Temple were praised by Variety (Edwards, 41).

The film was reissued under the title Law of Vengeance.

Wildcat (film)

Wildcat is a 1942 American drama film directed by Frank McDonald and written by Richard Murphy and Maxwell Shane. The film stars Richard Arlen, Arline Judge, William Frawley, Buster Crabbe, Arthur Hunnicutt, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Ralph Sanford. The film was released on September 3, 1942, by Paramount Pictures.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.