Buster Crabbe

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Buster Crabbe

Buster Crabbe (February 7, 1908 – April 23, 1983) was an American athlete turned actor, who starred in a number of popular film serials in the 1930s and 1940s.


He was born as Clarence Linden Crabbe II to Lucy Agnes McNamara (1885-1959) and Edward Clinton Simmons Crabbe I (1882-?) in Oakland, California. His father was born in Nevada and his paternal grandfather, Clarence Linden Crabbe I (1861-1941), was born in Hawaii. Buster had a brother, Edward Clinton Simmons Crabbe II (1909-1972), who was known as "Buddy". In 1910 the family was living in a boarding house in Oakland and Edward senior was working as a real estate broker. Like many Hollywood stars there is a conflict between the birthdate 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" and that will be used here. The Encyclopædia Britannica uses an incorrect birthdate based on his Hollywood publicity biography.

Hawaii and Olympics

Raised in Hawaii, he graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu. He excelled as a swimmer and participated in two Olympic Games: 1928, where he won the bronze medal for the 1,500 meter freestyle, and 1932, where he won the gold medal for the 400 meter freestyle.

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. In 1933 he married his college sweetheart Adah Virginia Held, and gave himself one year to either make it as an actor or start law school at USC. Buster and Virginia remained together until Buster's death in 1983. They had two daughters, Sande and Susan and a son, Cullen. Sande died of anorexia.

Time magazine wrote on April 11, 1932: "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."

Buster Crabbe as "Tarzan"

Crabbe also starred at the Billy Rose Aquacade at the New York World's Fair in its second year of 1940, replacing Johnny Weismuller.

Main article: Billie Rose


Crabbe's role in the 1933 Tarzan serial Tarzan the Fearless (also issued as a full length movie) launched a successful career in which he starred in over one hundred movies. It would be the only movie in which Crabbe starred as Tarzan. (The serial was re-edited into a made-for-TV feature in 1964.) In the 1933's King of the Jungle, 1941's Jungle Man, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo he played generic "jungle man" roles in the Tarzan mode. He also starred in the first international film Search for Beauty (1934), and his next major role was in 1936 as Flash Gordon in the popular Flash Gordon serial, which he reprised in two sequels, released by Universal in 1938 and 1940). The three serials were later shown extensively on American television during the 1950s, then edited for release on home video. Other characters he portrayed included Western hero Billy the Kid, Buck Rogers, and a brother of his real-life fraternity in the movie musical The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. In some of his movies he is credited as Larry Crabbe. His sidekick in most of his westerns was {Fatty Arbuckle's nephew, Al St. John


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 made regular television appearances, including one on an episode of the 1979 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, where 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?" to which Gordon replies "Young man, I know so!" Crabbe had, in fact, been playing "hot pilots" 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 30's", Crabbe even owned a Southern California swimming pool building company in later years.

In the mid-1950s, Crabbe purchased the campus of a small defunct prep school near the hamlet of Onchiota, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. Renamed Buster Crabbe's Meenahga Lodge the camp advertised itself as swim camp for youngsters age 8-14, with at least one swim instructor from Hawaii. Using the school's auditorium, along with professionally made costuming and scenery, a couple of musical plays were staged by the campers during the summer under the guidance of several counselors with drama training. Although scheduled to make at least one appearance at the camp each summer, while filming Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, he supposedly needed an emergency appendectomy which prevented him attending.

Though he followed other pursuits, he never stopped acting. From the 1950s forward he appeared in numerous lower budget films. In fact, he appeared in the 1982 feature film, The Comeback Trail one year before his death.

Despite his numerous film and television appearances, he is best remembered today as one of the original action heroes of 1930s and 1940s cinema.


He died on April 23, 1983, aged 75, from a heart attack in Scottsdale, Arizona and was buried in the Green Acres Memorial Gardens Cemetery.


  • 1908 Birth of "Clarence Linden Crabbe" in Oakland, California
  • 1928 Olympics
  • 1931 graduated from the University of Southern California
  • 1932 Olympics, won gold medal in 400 meter freestyle
  • 1933 Tarzan
  • 1936 played the title role of Flash Gordon
  • 1938 played the title role in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars
  • 1940 played the title role in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
  • 1955 Start of Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion
  • 1957 End of Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion
  • 1983 Death of Buster Crabbe in Scottsdale, Arizona at age 75


  • Crabbe worked with six year old American actor David Holt in Holt's capacity as the uncredited human double for Cheeta's chimpanzee predecessor in Tarzan the Fearless, the 1933 film staring Crabbe.
  • Crabbe is the only actor who has played Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers — the top three pulp fiction heroes of the 1930s.
  • Crabbe is the grandfather of Nick Holt, defensive coordinator of the University of Southern California Trojans football team and former head coach of the University of Idaho.

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