Les Crane: TV host and 'Desiderata' narrator

Friday 25 July 2008 00:00
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Although Les Crane had a long career in the United States as a confrontational radio and television host, he won international fame for his smooth-voiced, highly sentimental narration of "Desiderata" in 1971, a New Age anthem that he grew to hate. He preferred the parody of his record, "Deteriorata", voiced by Norman Rose for a National Lampoon album.

The poem "Go Placidly Amid the Noise and the Haste" was first published by the US lawyer Max Ehrmann in 1906. After Ehrmann's death, the poem was given a new title, "Desiderata" (meaning "things most needed"), by his widow in a collection in 1948.

In 1970, the rock group King Crimson used the poem to advertise their album Lizard. A record producer, Fred Werner, saw the advertisement and devised a musical setting for Les Crane, with a gospel choir intoning "You are a child of the universe". The record was an international hit and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording of 1971. In the UK, it reached No 7 and was in the charts for four months. An album, also called Desiderata, and a follow-up single, "Children Learn What They Live", did not make much impression and Crane's record success was over.

He was born Leslie Stein in New York in 1933 and graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, before becoming a jet pilot in the US air force. As Les Crane, he became a radio presenter for KGO in San Francisco in the early 1960s. The studio was set up in the hungry i nightclub and Crane and his celebrity guests would often insult the callers. He took occasional acting roles in the television series The Virginian and Burke's Law and appeared in the film An American Dream (1966).

From 1963 onwards, he hosted The Les Crane Show for ABC-TV in New York, at first screened at 1am. The show became known for a controversial appearance by the racist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, and the first US interview with the Rolling Stones. Its success led to an earlier time slot, 11.30pm, and guests including Martin Luther King, Richard Burton, Bob Dylan and the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald. With increasingly liberal views, Crane was the first TV host to have an openly gay guest, Randy Wicker, and he was satirised in the Phil Ochs song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" (1966). However, it was the ratings that mattered and after losing to Johnny Carson, in 1967 Crane was replaced by Joey Bishop.

In the 1980s, he became the chairman of the computer software publishing company Software Toolworks.

Spencer Leigh

Leslie Stein (Les Crane), television presenter: born New York 3 December 1933; five times married (one daughter); died Greenbrae, California 13 July 2008.

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