By Alex Tresniowski
November 04, 2002 12:00 PM

When your father is the star of Hogan’s Heroes—and an insatiable sex addict—life can get a bit surreal. Scotty Crane remembers a day in the mid-’70s when his father, Bob Crane, invited a neighbor, Carroll O’Connor, down to the basement to watch porn films that Crane himself had shot. “Imagine that,” says Scotty, now 31. “You’ve got Colonel Hogan and Archie Bunker sitting around watching stag films.”

Life is still plenty strange for Scotty, who is engaged in a bizarre feud with his half-brother Robert David Crane, 52, over the legacy of their libidinous dad. The latest exchange of insults and accusations accompanies the Oct. 18 release of Auto Focus, which stars Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane and tells the story of Crane’s dark sexual obsession and his violent, unsolved 1978 murder. “There’s a lot of bad blood there,” says Paul Schrader, the film’s director, of the feud. “They say quite strong things about each other.”

Indeed Scott, who objects to the movie’s depiction of Crane as an oversexed predator, says Robert sold out his dad by consulting on the movie and did so “as the ultimate form of revenge” against a father who cut him out of his will. Robert, meanwhile, rips Scotty for running a Web site that features some of Crane’s smutty photos and films and accuses Scotty’s mother, Patricia, 67—the actor’s second wife—of playing a role in Crane’s murder. “To be honest,” says Robert, “I think she is a prime suspect.”

Not your typical family spat, but the Cranes were hardly a typical family. Born in Water-bury, Conn., Bob Crane first found fame as a popular morning disc jockey in Los Angeles. In 1965 his all-American good looks helped him land the role of the wisecracking Colonel Hogan in Hogan’s Heroes, a now-classic sitcom about a prison camp run by bumbling Nazis. By then Crane was married to high school sweetheart Ann Terzian, with whom he had son Robert and daughters Debbie and Karen.

Crane’s celebrity, however, only fueled his serial philandering, an addiction that drove him to strip bars, sex clubs and endless hotel rooms, where he filmed and later videotaped his conquests. Crane’s swinging ways led to the end of his first marriage in 1970; later that year he married actress Patricia Olson, and the two had a son, Scotty (they later adopted a daughter, Ana Marie). None of that dimmed his passion for sex and porn, which he regarded as a hobby. “He was naive and didn’t see anything wrong with it,” says Scotty, who runs a successful sound-recording studio in Seattle. “It certainly wasn’t a dark secret. Everyone in Hollywood knew about it.”

After Heroes went off the air in 1971, Crane hit the dinner-theater circuit, giving him steady access to star-struck women. On June 29, 1978, he was asleep in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel room when someone bashed in his skull with a camera tripod. Police suspected John Carpenter, a video-equipment expert who for years was Crane’s sidekick in sexual escapades. The case languished due to a lack of evidence until 1992, when police found overlooked photos that showed blood and possibly brain matter in Carpenter’s car. He was charged with murder but acquitted at a 1994 trial and died four years later. Maricopa County District Attorney Rick Romley, who prosecuted the case, says, “I am convinced John Carpenter murdered Bob Crane.”

Robert Crane, a freelance magazine writer, isn’t so sure. He says that “nobody got a dime out of [the murder] except for one person,” alluding to a will that excluded him, his mother and his sisters but benefitted Crane’s second wife. Patricia Crane declined to comment for this article, but her lawyer, Lee Blackman, insists “the police found there was no way that she could have committed the crime.” Says Romley of Robert’s accusations: “We never characterized Patty as a suspect.”

Tensions between the Cranes flared anew when Schrader announced plans to film Auto Focus. Scotty heard about the movie’s slant on Crane—that he was a pervert who sometimes filmed women without their consent—and demanded Schrader make changes, to no avail. “You don’t have to add a bunch of lies to make my dad’s life interesting,” he says. “He was not a dark character. He just liked sex.”

Robert had no problems with the script and even took a small role in the movie. “All the dirty laundry is already out there,” he says. What infuriates him is the for-profit Web site Scotty launched in 2001, featuring explicit photos and films of Crane having sex. “He claims the movie is an injustice to Dad,” says Robert. “Meanwhile he’s selling his X-rated porno to make a buck?” Scotty claims the site only breaks even and says the photos prove that women knew Crane was recording them. The site also includes sound files of Crane telling jokes and playing drums. “My dad spent his whole life trying to be upbeat,” he says. “He would hate this movie.”

So deep is the rift between them that Robert, who is married to his second wife, and the recently wed Scotty had not seen each other in 24 years before crossing paths at an Auto Focus screening in July. About the only thing they agree on is that their father was trying to change his lascivious ways at the time of his murder. “He realized that maybe he’d gone too far with this hobby of his,” says Scotty. “It became too creepy for him.”

Or maybe not. “I think Dad would have liked this movie,” says Robert. “And after seeing it I think he’d go out to a strip club.”

Alex Tresniowski

Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles