Buster Crabbe – Serial King

Day 276 of Colourisation Project – February 7

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born Clarence Linden ‘Buster’ Crabbe II on this day, February 7, in 1908, he was better known as Buster Crabbe, Olympian bronze medal winner in 1928 for the 1,500 meters freestyle, and gold medal winner in 1932 for the 400 meters freestyle in swimming.  Like his Olympic predecessor a decade before him, Johnny Weismuller, he made the transition into movies and is today remembered as one of the original action heroes of 1930s and 1940s cinema.

Buster Crabbe Bef & Aft

Publicity Still ~  Buster Crabbe – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Now I hate to break it to you, but there was more than one Tarzan! What else do you do with an Olympic Swimmer turned actor?  Crabbe who appeared in over 100 movies and almost as many TV programs, started out in 1933 playing Tarzan in the 12 chapter film serial, known as Tarzan the Fearless.

To avoid confusion with MGM’s Tarzan played by Weismuller, the character of Jane was not written into this serial. Instead, Mary Brooks who is in search of her missing father, (who has been captured by “worshippers of Zar, god of the Emerald Fingers”) is Tarzan’s love interest.

This was the only time he played Tarzan but Crabbe did go on to play other Tarzan-like characters in the  King of the Jungle (1933), Jungle Man (1941), and the serial, King of the Congo (1952).

But it is perhaps a series of space and adventure films, the ever popular Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers pictures, that he is best remembered for. Buck Rogers was a 12-part serial film produced in 1939.  Flash Gordon, a 1936 science fiction film serial, told in 13 installments, was followed by two sequels released by Universal in 1938 and 1940 and later shown extensively on American television throughout the 1950s and 60s, then edited for release on home video.  “He fought well, the Earth man.

Crabbe was no fish out of water when it came to acting. He starred in several popular mainstream films, including The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933) opposite Betty Grable, Search for Beauty (1934) with Ida Lupino and the comedy hit Million Dollar Legs (1939) also with Betty Grable. He was an all-rounder. Crabbe also played a Western folk-hero, Billy the Kid, in a series of 36 films. In the mid 1950s he also played the title role in Captain Gallant of the French Foreign Legion, a half-hour black-and-white television series about the French Foreign Legion, that ran for 65 episodes. It is not surprising then, that he came to be known as the ‘King of Serials.’

Not a bad effort for someone who had no acting lessons.

In 1971, Crabbe broke the world swimming record for the over sixties in the 400 meters free style.

Buster Crabbe died on April 23, 1983 of a heart attack after tripping over a wastebasket in his Scottsdale, Arizona home, at the age of 75

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.


“I was never one to think that because you are in the picture business, because you’re an actor, you’re a special person. Not at all, and I have little regard for any people who act that way. If you’re lucky, you bring a little excitement to the world. If you’re really lucky, you lend your fame to worthwhile causes — as I was recently privileged to do raising money for the 1984 Olympics, or promoting healthy activities. Apart from that, you’re just another human being, trying to make a living, doing it the best way you possibly can. That’s the way I’ve always operated, and I will continue to do so, just doing the best I can.”     ~  Buster Crabbe

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