Former Talk Show Hoat Les Crane Dies
'60s show challenged Carson
Former talk-show host Les Crane, perhaps the first to challenge the late-night hegemony of Johnny Carson, died July 13 of natural causes at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California. He was 74.
Crane began his entertainment career in radio, at a station in New Orleans, where he had graduated from Tulane University. He later returned to his birthplace, San Francisco, where he became a popular, occasionally controversial host at radio station KGO, the signal of which reached the entire West Coast.
He also hosted the radio show Crane at the hungry i before moving into television as host of talk shows on ABC, most notably The Les Crane Show (later ABC’s Nightlife) in 1964-65, where some of his exclusive guests included the Rolling Stones on their first American television appearance, Bob Dylan, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy. He was also the first television host to interview an openly gay person, Randy Wicker.
Unlike Carson’s Tonight Show format, Crane’s show positioned the audience around the set, which allowed him the freedom to walk into the group to seek comments about the opinions of his guests. For all of its innovations, however, Crane’s show did not make inroads in the ratings, and by the late 1960s he had returned to radio.
Crane also had a brief acting career, which included an appearance in the 1966 film An American Dream, and he is mentioned in that year’s Phil Ochs song “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.”
In 1971 Crane won a Grammy Award for spoken-word recording for his reading of the poem “Desiderata,” which reached No. 8 on the Billboard charts.
Crane eventually left broadcasting and became a successful technology entrepreneur with the software company Toolworks.
Crane was married for five years to actress Tina Louise. Their daughter, Caprice Crane, became a film and television writer-producer and author. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his second wife, Ginger Crane.