Talk show host Les Crane passed on July 13 at the age of 74.
Crane was born on December 3, 1933, although it is unclear where he was born. By some reports he was born in New York City, but according to an American Broadcasting Company biography he was born in Long Island. The New York Daily News claims he was born in the Bronx, while IMDB and other websites claim he was born in San Francisco. He was born Lesley Stein. Regardless, he graduated from Tulane University and served four years in the Air Force as a pilot. He first rose to prominence at KKYA in San Francisco as a rock'n'roll DJ. He then moved to KKGO in San Francisco, where station manager Don Curran gave him the last name of "Crane." KKGO could be received as far as Seattle, Washington. When the late night talk show Crane hosted became a hit, he was then known in several states. Crane was often known for being brusque with callers to his show, even violating usual standards of politeness by hanging up on them. His style was open and forthright.
It was in 1964 that ABC hired him to host ABC's Nightlife (also known as The Les Crane Show, the first late night talk show to challenge Johnny Carson. Crane's show relied on spontaneity and Crane showed no respect for the traditions of TV talk shows. The New York Times referred to Crane as "the bad boy of late night television," He interviewed celebrities such as Richard Burton and Shelley Winters, as well as more important individuals such as Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and even controversial Governor of Alabama George Wallace. The Rolling Stones had their first interview on American television on Crane's show. Unfortunately, although the show was well received by critics, it never seriously challenged Carson. As ABC's Nightlife the show only lasted from November 1964 to February 1965. Revived as The Les Crane Show, it only managed to last from June 1965 to November 1965.
Following the cancellation of The Les Crane Show, Crane hosted another talk show on WNEW in New York. This one also lasted briefly. He also had a small acting career. Crane guest starred on such shows as Burke's Law, The Virginian, and It Takes a Thief. He also appeared in the failed television pilot, I Love a Mystery and the film An American Dream.
In 1971 Crane had a hit with a spoken word record, his interpretation of the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann. He won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording. In 1980 Les Crane expanded into the software market, becoming the CEO of Software Toolworks. Among other programmes the company manufactured were the Chessmaster series and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.
Les Crane was a true innovator in his field. His outrageous antics pre-dated those of similar hosts such as David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. In some respects, he could be considered a forerunner of shock jocks, except that he tended to quite a bit more polite. Although his show on ABC only lasted briefly. Crane would have a lasting impact on late night talk shows.