Los Angeles Times
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Buster Crabbe, swimming hero of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, was later a hero of scores of Hollywood B-movies and adventure serials.
Crabbe was perhaps best known as Flash Gordon, but he also starred as Tarzan, Buck Rogers and various other derring-do characters in the cheap second-billed films of the 1930s and '40s.
Crabbe was sardonic about the industry and self-deprecating about his own acting talents.
"Some say," he once commented, "that my acting rose to the point of incompetence and then leveled off."
But he was a superb athlete, with dashing good looks and a natural flair for melodramatic physical gestures — all of which made him the John Barrymore (or Marlon Brando) of B-pictures.
Crabbe competed in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam but failed to win either gold medals or much notice.
In 1932, Crabbe took time off from his job as a stock clerk in a clothing store to compete in the Olympics and set a record in winning the 400-meter freestyle gold medal.
"It was then they [the publicity-conscious Hollywood film moguls] discovered latent histrionic abilities in me," he said in a 1977 interview.
Crabbe's first movie role was as Lion Man in an epic called "King of the Jungle." All told, he made at least 175 movies, including nine Saturday-morning serials of 13 chapters each.
He also made 65 westerns, starred in the Billy Rose Aquacade swimming extravaganza at the 1940 World's Fair and later toured for five years with his own show called Buster Crabbe's Aquacade.
Crabbe appeared on television, hosted a radio show about health, wrote a book about physical fitness for older people and worked as an executive of Cascade Industries, which built "Buster Crabbe" swimming pools.
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