On the Original Harry Crane

While it’s true that Sara Gilbert of Roseanne and The Connors, and Melissa Gilbert and Jonathan Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie, are important in television history, their grandfather, though not nearly as well known, may possess the bigger legend. Harry Crane (Harry Kravitsky, 1914-1999) was one of the great comedy writers of the early days of TV. I’d lay even money Matthew Weiner and his team named the Mad Men character played by Rich Sommer in his honor (if not, it’s a beautiful coincidence).

The real Crane was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who started out performing stand-up in the Catskills. He was hired as a staff writer for MGM when still in his early ’20s. Crane had a hand in some notable classic comedy screenplays: Laurel and Hardy’s Air Raid Wardens (1943), Abbott and Costello’s Lost in a Harem (1944), Groucho’s Double Dynamite (1951) and musicals like Ziegfeld Follies (1945), The Harvey Girls (1946), and Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949). In the early ’50s, he became a staff writer on Jackie Gleason’s tv variety show, and this is where he helped develop the concept that became The Honeymooners, which was originally a series of sketches, later a sitcom. Gilbert also wrote for Martin and Lewis on the Colgate Comedy Hour and later for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on their own individual shows after they split up — it was Crane who devised the idea of Martin’s Celebrity Roasts. He also wrote for Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Danny Thomas, Joey Bishop, Jim Backus, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Steve and Eydie, Alan King, Perry Como, et al. He wrote for several editions of the Oscar ceremonies, as well as several of the Emmys.

Harry’s daughter Barbara married actor/performer Paul Gilbert, and through them we get to the famous child actors.

For more on entertainment history, including TV variety please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.