Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Possibly True Hollywood Story: My Dad's Stories About His Grandfather

This is Buster Crabbe.
Public domain image within the United States
The Old Hollywood movie star isn't exactly a household name today, but he was an Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal in 1932, and he played Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon in movie serials in the 1930s.

Public domain image
My dad claims that somewhere, he possesses a photo of Buster Crabbe posing with my great-grandfather Bill. Bill and Buster were supposedly drinking buddies. Although my great-grandfather was born and lived most of his life in Colorado (my grandfather, also named Bill, was born in Fort Collins), he did live for a time in Los Angeles

Family legend has long held that my grandfather ended up in the Navy and at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 - he was 17 years old - because, as a juvenile delinquent running around L.A., a judge sentenced him to either prison or military service. Now I know another little bit, at least according to my dad (also named Bill):

Great-grandpa Bill, possibly still married to Wife #2 (Grandpa Bill's mother, Anna Wien, was Wife #1), went to L.A. to pursue the future Wife #3 (at least common-law wife; the woman my dad called Grandma had the last name of Suttlemeyer. She may have been an immigrant from Germany), who worked as a seamstress on one of the movie studio lots. (At various times, Buster Crabbe worked for Universal, Paramount and smaller studios. The Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers series were from Universal.)  His relationship with Ms. Seamstress was how Great-Grandpa Bill came to be friends with Buster Crabbe.


Great-grandpa Bill, like Dad Bill, was a police officer. I think this was in L.A., but it may have been/also have been in Colorado. He went on a burglary call at a bar one day. He caught the thief in the act, and the thief swung an iron pipe at Great-Grandpa Bill. In self defense, Great-Grandpa Bill shot the burglar and killed him. Although the burglar was over six feet tall and looked like an adult, Great-Grandpa Bill found out the thief was only fourteen years old. Great-Grandpa Bill was very distraught over this and was never able to work as a police officer again. 

Great-Grandpa Bill later became a truck driver. He drove the tanker trucks that deliver gasoline to service stations. As a child, my dad was able to go with his grandpa on some of these deliveries. Dad and Great-Grandpa Bill got along much better than Dad and Great-Grandpa Wade. My grandma's dad was the archetypal crotchety old man, and he's the one who came to live with my grandparents when my dad, aunt and uncle were growing up. Great-Grandpa Bill bought a ranch in Colorado and lived there until he died. 

That's all I know about my family's possible connection to old Hollywood. If, some day, I come across that picture, I will make copies and share them everywhere. 

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