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Frames of Time...

082_04 - The Original Flash Gordon...
The first celebrity I ever met in person was Larry "Buster" Crabbe. He was appearing as guest at the 1970 Multi-Con in Oklahoma City. It was also my first major convention.

Multi-Con was an annual comic convention that rotated between Houston (Texas), Dallas (Texas), and Oklahoma City (Oklahoma). At the time, there was not considered a big enough fan base to support multiple conventions in the area. The conventions rotated for several years until Houston decided to run their own major Summer convention, effectively breaking up the organization, and several friendships.

In 1969, I lived in Farmer's Branch, Texas. I had just begun seriously collecting comics and was thrilled to find a convention in the same state. My parents allowed me to fly down for one day. I spent my entire time, and funds in the dealer's room. In less than an hour, I'd spent most of my $25. Of course, with old comics ranging from 10-25 cents, with a few of the "older" ones selling upwards of a $1, I got quite a few.

Shortly after the Houston con, I began getting involved with Dallas comic fandom including Larry Herndon, Tom Reamy, Buddy Saunders and Joe Bob Williams. I began making plans to attend the entire Oklahoma con. I got a ride up with Buddy Saunders. Once there, I was astounded by the number of collectors as well as comics, pulps, big little books, movie posters and toys on display.

One of the most exciting elements was their guest, Buster Crabbe. A 1932 Olympic swimming star, Crabbe had segued into films. Never a major player, Crabbe had the fortune to appear in several classic serials and starring as the first Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. His co-stars included W.C. Fields, Jean Rogers, Judy Canova, Charles Middleton, Betty Grable, Donald O'Connor, Al "Fuzzy" St. John and more. He also starred in dozens of b-movies, mostly westerns and action films. All rose to a higher level thanks to Crabbe's easy going nature.

When I got to see Crabbe, first at his official segment, and later wandering the dealer's room (where this photo was taken), he exuded the same easy-going nature. Crabbe had also kept fit over the years. Even though he was at the time in 60s, he was physically fit and mentally sharp. I later discovered that he had continued his regular swimming regiment to that day.

At the presentation, they showed the first chapter of Flash Gordon. He then discussed a bit about his life and then held a lively question and answer session. He spoke humbly of his film career, and attributed a lot of it to luck. He also attributed his smoking to films. As he put it, a director had Crabbe take up smoking so that the actor would have something to do with his hands. Surprisingly he admitted he was not proud of still smoking.

I even got to ask a question. Having just seen the Flash Gordon chapter where he fought off Ming's evil soldiers in a sword fight, I asked how much training and rehearsing had gone into the scene. He laughed and said, "None!" This was followed by a comical tale of just trying to not hit and not get hit by the others. The audience roared with laughter at the tale and at his antics showing some of the silliness.

After his talk, he spent the rest of the day wandering the dealers room. Though constantly being stopped for autographs, photos and anecdotes, he never gave the impression of being tired, or bored. He seemed to be having as much fun as the fans. Of course, at this time, fandom was not the machine it is today. Crabbe was no doubt pleased to be remembered at all, and to be remembered so well.

Crabbe became a somewhat regular at conventions after Multi-Con, but I never had the pleasure for another meeting. I saw him in the late 1970s on TV doing commercials. Later, a friend mentioned they had been on the same plane with Crabbe, and related how "pleased" Crabbe had been about being recognized. Crabbe asked my friend to sit next to him during the flight and they chatted about films of old. In 1983, Larry "Buster" Crabbe died of a heart attack, allegedly while working on his swimming routine.

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