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Ex-TV Host Scores With Computer Game : Les Crane, Once a Rival to Johnny Carson, Is a Hit in Software

April 21, 1987|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

Crane, however, blames pressures from sponsors and network affiliates who disliked the show's controversial guests.

Crane later married actress Tina Louise, best known as Ginger on the television show "Gilligan's Island" in 1966. The two have since divorced.

Crane also acted in a few television shows and movies, among them "An American Dream" with Janet Leigh and one he describes as an "el cheapo Italian Western" that he said he can't remember the title of today.

"It was an easy way to get a couple of weeks in Rome," said Crane. "Basically, I was what you could call a pretend actor."

Crane's career enjoyed a brief reprieve in 1971 with the release of the hit record Desiderata, in which he recited such sugary phrases as "go placidly amid the noise and haste" and "listen to others, even the dull and ignorant" while a gospel-like chorus sang "you are a child of the universe" in the background.

Earned a Grammy

"I can't listen to it now without gagging," said Crane, who professes he's more fond of a National Lampoon parody called Deteriorata that urges listeners to "rotate your tires" and "know what to kiss and when to kiss it."

Still, Desiderata earned Crane a Grammy award for best spoken-word song. Crane saw the words on a poster, which said the words were discovered in a Baltimore church in 1693. Instead, he later found that they were written in 1927 by Chicago poet Max Ehrmann. As a result, Crane had to share the royalties with the late Ehrmann's family.

After Desiderata, Crane flirted with the idea of becoming a doctor, even attending medical school in Mexico for two years. He returned to the United States, where he ran communications seminars for corporations.

To help him in his consulting business, Crane bought a personal computer and started to develop an interest in software. Then in 1983, convinced he wanted to be in the software business, he says he started a company, which later became Software Toolworks, working on his dining room table.

His first product was a software version of I Ching, an ancient Chinese work that is part of the canon of Confucianism that was popular in the counterculture days of the late 1960s.

Next came Golden Oldies, which is to computer software what K-Tel records are to classic rock and roll. The program, which sells for about $15, is a compilation of some of the early, best-selling video games such as Pong, Eliza and Life.

A Best-Seller

But Chessmaster was Crane's big breakthrough. Victor Alhadeef, president of Egghead Discount Software, a Bothell, Wash.-based company that is the nation's largest independent chain of software stores, said it consistently is among the chain's top-selling entertainment software packages and ranked first in February.

"I have a 9-year-old kid who is glued to it on his Macintosh for hours each day," he said.

But Crane knows that the public eventually tires of one product, with the exception of "The Tonight Show," so he is about to introduce another software program. This one will teach typing and will display a pair of hands on the computer screen to guide students.

Crane said he doesn't miss television. "I found it very frustrating because television is an anti-intellectual medium. It is a machine constructed for entertainment," he said.

Nor is he interested in seeing his old show again, which he believes doesn't even exist on tape anymore. "I think the network taped some game shows over it," he said.

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