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Harry Crane; Creator of TV’s ‘Honeymooners’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Harry Crane, legendary comedy writer best remembered for creating and writing Jackie Gleason’s indelible “Honeymooners,” has died. He was 85.

Crane died Monday night of cancer in his Beverly Hills home, his publicist and son-in-law Warren Cowan said Tuesday.

Crane’s sketch known as “The Honeymooners” featuring Gleason as New York bus driver Ralph Kramden first appeared in 1951 as part of the early DuMont television network’s series “Cavalcade of Stars.” The popular segment moved to CBS the next year as part of “The Jackie Gleason Show,” became a half-hour situation comedy in 1955-1956 and has run in syndication every decade since.

As a principal comedy writer for the Gleason variety show, Crane also created several of Gleason’s other memorable characters.

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During his half-century career, Crane wrote gags and sketches for the most renowned comedians of the day--Jimmy Durante, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers, Milton Berle, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Danny Thomas, Joey Bishop, Red Skelton and Henny Youngman.

He also wrote material for other entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Dinah Shore, Liberace and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

Crane befriended and wrote television specials for Berle, Shore, Lawrence and Gorme, Alan King and Perry Como, and in the 1970s helped write Martin’s “Celebrity Roast” series. Crane, who encouraged and boosted the careers of younger contemporaries such as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon, was even asked to write humorous material for national politicians, including New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Frequently nominated for Emmys, Crane had a long record of scripting award presentation shows--among them the Academy Awards in 1957 and 1959, the Golden Globes of 1968 and the Emmy Awards in 1968, 1971, 1973 and 1974. He also wrote a special Oscar tribute to Gleason for the Academy Awards presentation in 1987.

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Cowan said Crane continued to provide gags and one-liners to Hollywood’s funniest until his death.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the innately witty Crane became a stand-up comic in the Borscht Belt by the age of 19. He was soon recruited by MGM to write Hollywood films, earning his first credit in 1943 for “Air Raid Wardens.”

Among his other screenplays were “The Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury in 1946 and “Song of the Thin Man” in 1947, starring Myrna Loy and William Powell, for which he contributed additional dialogue.

Crane is survived by his wife, Lillian; two daughters, Barbara Gilbert Cowan and Stephanie Crane Hirsh; three grandchildren, actresses Melissa and Sara Gilbert and Jonathan Gilbert, and four great-grandchildren.

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Services are planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 5955 Forest Lawn Drive.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the John Wayne Cancer Institute or to the Creative Arts Temple.


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