Science fiction serials were once very popular and Buster Crabbe was one of the original superheroes to hit the screen. These sci-fi serials were like comic books on steroids. The closest thing we have today to these sci-fi serials of old are the super hero movies being cranked out by Marvel and DC Comics. Some television series could be compared but they aren't on the same epic level as something like the old Flash Gordon movies from the 1930's and 40's. In the 1950's, television took over and everything seemed to shrink.
This brings us to an actor that is slowly being forgotten: Buster Crabbe (1908-1983). Some of you may have heard the name but are thinking, “Isn't he a cowboy actor?” Buster did perform in some westerns but the rest of his life was very interesting.
Before he was Buster Crabbe, he was known as Clarence Linden Crabbe II and he was an Olympic swimmer. He won gold in 1932 for the 400 meter freestyle event and bronze in 1928 for the 1500 meter freestyle.
After graduating from USC, he gave himself a year to make it as an actor. If he failed, he planned to become a lawyer. His first picture was the 1933 Tarzan serial, Tarzan the Fearless. He went on to play several other “jungle man” roles. In 1936, he became Flash Gordon. The Flash Gordon serial was very successful and continued to live on television in the 50's and 60's. In between Flash Gordon movies he also starred as Buck Rogers. He is the only actor to portray Trazan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Later on television in the 50's, he starred as Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion.
During the 1940's he portrayed Billy the Kid and “Billy Carson” in 36 episodes of the Billy the Kid serials. This and his appearances on the The Gabby Hayes show in the 50's, lend to the memories of him as an actor in westerns only.
One of my favorite memories is of Buster appearing in an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In this episode, he plays a retired fighter pilot named “Brigadier Gordon” in honor of Flash Gordon. When Rogers (Gil Gerard) comments on Brigadier Gordon's flying, he says "I've been doing that sort of thing since before you were born." This easter egg of sorts alluded to the fact that Crabbe had been playing Buck Rogers well before Gerard was born.
Buster was one of the original action heroes of 1930's and 40's and even had two comic book series published in his name. Buster Crabbe comics ran from 1951 to 1953 and The Amazing Adventures of Buster Crabbe ran four issues in 1954. He continued to compete in swimming events and even set a world record in 1971 for his age group.
Flash, a-ah! Savior of the Universe. He'll save every one of us!