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OBITUARIES : Fred Crane, 1918 - 2008

Actor wooed Scarlett in 'Gone With the Wind'

August 23, 2008|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Fred Crane, a former longtime Los Angeles classical music radio announcer who achieved a slice of film immortality when he played one of the handsome Tarleton twins in the 1939 movie classic "Gone With the Wind," has died. He was 90.

Crane, who had been hospitalized for a few weeks with complications related to diabetes, died of a blood clot in his lung Thursday in a hospital near Atlanta, said his wife, Terry.

Crane was said to be the oldest surviving adult male cast member of "Gone With the Wind," producer David O. Selznick's epic production of the Margaret Mitchell novel starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

"I'm just a small shard in a grand mosaic," he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2007.

As Brent Tarleton, one of Scarlett O'Hara's young suitors, Crane spoke the opening lines in the film in a scene on the front porch of Tara with Leigh as Scarlett and George Reeves as his twin, Stuart.

"What do we care if we were expelled from college, Scarlett?" he says. "The war is gonna start any day now, so we would have left school anyhow."

After Brent and Stuart express their excitement over the prospect of a fight with the Yankees, Scarlett replies: "Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war. This war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream."

When he was cast in "Gone With the Wind," the 20-year-old Crane hadn't read Mitchell's bestselling novel and wasn't even looking for a role in the film.

"It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time," Crane later said.

A New Orleans native, Crane attended Tulane University and Loyola University in New Orleans and acted in local theater productions.

In 1938, his mother decided that he should give Hollywood a try, and she gave him $50 and a one-way train ticket.

After arriving in Hollywood, Crane contacted his cousin, former silent film actress Leatrice Joy, who took him along with her to the Selznick studio, where her daughter was auditioning for the role of Scarlett's sister Suellen.

Evelyn Keyes wound up playing Suellen, but Crane's Southern accent caught the attention of the casting director, who called director George Cukor, and together they took Crane to meet Selznick.

"I read the opening scene right then and there with Vivien Leigh, and I got the job," Crane told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 1999. He was put under a 13-week contract for $50 a week, which was "more money than I thought there was in the world."

Although he played Brent Tarleton in the film, the screen credits mistakenly list Crane as playing Stuart Tarleton, said Crane's son David.

The film's first scene was remade three times, the first time after the Tarleton twins' dyed red hair was deemed too curly.

The second time came when the film's Southern technical advisor objected to Scarlett's low-cut dress in the scene, saying that a girl her age would not be showing so much "bosom" that early in the day.

Crane also appeared in four other scenes in the movie, including the smoking-room scene where Rhett Butler (Gable) lectures the men about the South's poor odds in fighting a war with the North. To which Crane's character responds, "What difference does that make, sir, to a gentleman?"

In making the film, Crane and Reeves became good friends, and Reeves served as Crane's best man at his first wedding in 1940. Years after Reeves, who gained fame as TV's "Superman," died in 1959 from a gunshot wound that was ruled a suicide, Crane said he believed "someone shot him to death."

Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett's sister Carreen, told The Times on Friday that Crane and Reeves "did not look exactly alike, but they were both gorgeous as young men. They were extremely attractive."

Crane was born in New Orleans on March 22, 1918, and became a part-time announcer at Los Angeles classical radio station KFAC in 1946. He continued to act, mostly in television, until the mid-1960s, when he began working full time at KFAC.

Crane, who also became program director of the AM side of the station in the '70s in addition to hosting his own shows, was among the station's Old Guard who were fired in 1987 by the station's new owners. He and the others later won an age-discrimination suit, said Crane's son.

In 2000, Crane and his fifth wife, Terry, bought an antebellum mansion in Barnesville, a town south of Atlanta. After making renovations, they turned it into a bed-and-breakfast, complete with a "Gone With the Wind" museum with artifacts from the film.

In 2007, primarily due to Crane's medical problems, the couple auctioned off the home and its memorabilia.

In addition to his wife and his son David, he is survived by children Haydee Crane, Terry Lynn Smith, Shelley Bruehl and Jason Crane; eight grandchildren; and one great grandchild.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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