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C Entries
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  Buster Crabbe
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  Peter Cushing
(Clarence Linden Crabbe 1907–1983). American actor.

Acted in: King of the Jungle (Bruce Humberstone and Max Marcin 1933); Tarzan the Fearless (Robert F. Hill 1933); You're Telling Me (Erle C. KENTON 1934); Flash Gordon (serial) (Frederick Stephani 1936); Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (serial) (Ford BEEBE and Robert F. Hill 1938); Buck Rogers (serial) (Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind 1939); Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (serial) (Beebe and Ray Taylor 1940); Jungle Man (Harry L. Fraser 1941); Jungle Siren (Sam Newfield 1942); Nabonga (Newfield 1943); Captive Girl (serial) (Beebe 1950); King of the Congo (serial) (Spencer Gordon Bennet and Wallace Grissell) (1952); "Planet of the Slave Girls" (1979), "A Blast for Buck" (1980), episodes of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century; The Alien Dead (Fred Olen RAY 1979).
As another Olympic swimming champion who looked good in a loincloth, Buster Crabbe entered the Hollywood scene as the poor man's Johnny Weissmuller. While continuing to spend a lot of time strolling through studio jungles and gaping at stock-footage elephants, he then was increasingly asked to appear mostly in very low-budget westerns as a sort of poor man's John Wayne. In only one field did he reign supreme—science fiction—and one might say it was because, during his heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, there was almost no competition. But Crabbe should not be underestimated; in a curious way, he more than earned his preeminence.

Conventional commentaries on Crabbe's performances in Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe would miss the mark, for it requires no critical acumen to recognize that he was an absolutely terrible actor. However, it might be more apt to observe that, in stories that were relentlessly childish, Crabbe was appealingly childlike, offering a pleasurable experience comparable to watching your kid in a fourth-grade school pageant. Call it the charming ineptness of a nice guy trying to do his very best to provide a credible performance but invariably failing to do so. Later producers of Flash Gordon films and television series have oversimplified the challenge of finding a suitable replacement for Crabbe: hey, they have thought, all we need is another handsome hunk who can't act. But while Steve Holland, Sam Jones, and Eric Holland all fit that bill, they couldn't match the appealing, naked sincerity of Crabbe's overt inadequacies. In sum, there was a reason why Crabbe remains the only Flash Gordon who was asked to play the role again, while the others only lasted for one film, or one television season.

While rarely appreciated as such, the switch to Buck Rogers in 1939 did represent an effort to offer a somewhat more mature take on science fiction, and Crabbe endeavored (unsuccessfully, of course) to respond appropriately, but the serial did not receive an enthusiastic response, and after one more Flash Gordon adventure, executives decided that science fiction was now passé, forcing Crabbe back into the humdrum worlds of repetitive westerns and jungle adventures that would occasionally tiptoe into fantasy. Eventually, all of this grew so wearisome for the poor actor that he retreated to his first love, swimming, and focused most of his energies on selling swimming pools and running a summer camp for aspiring swimmers while still appearing in occasional westerns.

Much later, when he was briefly lured back to science fiction in his seventies by nostalgic producers, Fred Olen RAY did him no favors by starring him in the risible The Alien Dead, but one of the few clever touches Glen A. LARSON brought to his generally lame revival of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century was to offer Crabbe a cameo role in one episode as "Brigadier Gordon," an older version of Flash Gordon. Perhaps he should have been asked to linger on the set to provide the bland actor who had inherited the role of Buck Rogers, Gil Gerard, with an unusual service: some helpful non-acting lessons. For Buster Crabbe teaches us that bad acting, like good acting, is an art form in itself.

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