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New book looks at life and films of Buster Crabbe

Buster Crabbe

Buster Crabbe: A Biofilmography


Buster Crabbe won an Olympic medal for swimming at the 1932 games, and was soon hustled into a movie career. While most films capitalized on his athletic prowess ("King of the Jungle") others gave him little to do other than act as the juvenile (the W.C. Fields vehicle "You're Telling Me"). In "Buster Crabbe: A Biofilmography", author Jerry Vermilye looks at all of Crabbe's movies, and gives us a very vast and interesting portrait of a non-actor who enjoyed a long, productive career in Hollywood.

Crabbe is often best known for series films, especially two popular chapter plays he did in the 1930s: the Flash Gordon serials and Buck Rogers. He is also noted as being the worst movie Tarzan, his serial (and later feature film) "Tarzan the Fearless" among the cheapest and most dismissible entries in the series. Finally, many know Crabbe for the series of B westerns he starred in for Producers Releasing Corporation. Playing Billy "the Kid" Carson, Crabbe benefited from having veteran slapstick comedian Al "Fuzzy" St. John as his sidekick, still possessing the amazing ability for stunt work he'd exhibited 20 years earlier in Keystone comedies.

Crabbe later became something of a laughingstock in that he was merely an athlete who was shunted into B movies rather than an accomplished actor plying his trade. Even an episode of television's "All in the Family" makes such a reference when the character Maude (Bea Arthur) states, "in an era filled with Clark Gables and Spencer Tracys you used to take Edith to see Buster Crabbe," whereupon Archie (Carroll O'Connor) replies, "You're damn right, a hell of an actor!" This use of Crabbe to make a point about Archie Bunker's ignorance is amusing enough, but generally unfair. As Vermilye's book points out, Crabbe was competent and hard working, never really rising above B movies, but the second-features in which he appeared were unpretentious and enjoyable. His serials were quite popular, as were his B westerns, and they remained so when later revived on television. As late as 1980 when a new Flash Gordon feature was produced, Crabbe was contacted to assist with publicity, appearing on "The Tonight Show" and other TV programs. When television revived "Buck Rogers" as a network series, Crabbe did a well publicized cameo.

Buster Crabbe represents the type of solid B movie performer that films of the 30s and 40s would boast for solid entertainment. Vermilye's book is a respectful, thorough, interesting and enjoyable chronicle of this veteran movie performer's career. Recommended to film buffs, libraries, and research centers.