Gene Crane, 99, of Bala Cynwyd, a legendary Philadelphia radio and TV broadcaster, died Monday, Aug. 26, of complications from an earlier fall in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, his retirement home.
In 1946, Mr. Crane moved to Philadelphia and became an announcer for WCAU radio at a salary of $44 a week.
At that time, television was in its infancy. In 1948, when WCAU-TV went on the air in Philadelphia, Mr. Crane embraced the new medium. From the late 1940s through the 1950s, he conducted “Man on the Street” interviews and hosted three children’s shows as well as a daily talk show, NBC reported in an Aug. 28 online obituary.
During the early days of live TV, he did almost everything, said his son, David: “He was an announcer. He was a newsman.”
Mr. Crane starred as a carnival barker on M&M’s Candy Carnival, a children’s TV show in which Ed McMahon, who became Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show sidekick, was one of the clowns.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mr. Crane rode a horse at the beginning of every episode of Grand Chance Roundup, a locally produced, daily Western program aimed at children.
From 1953 to 1957, he and his wife, Joan — they married in 1947 — hosted the nation’s first husband-and-wife morning show, called Mr. & Mrs., for 90 minutes each weekday.
“I picked up on him when my family got our first black-and-white TV,” said former Inquirer and Daily News entertainment writer Jonathan Takiff. “Super congenial Gene, and his pretty, charming wife, Joan, co-hosted Philly’s first local morning show, which included his news reports as well as sports with Bill Campbell, and cooking and music segments.
“Best for a little kid like me, Gene interacted convincingly on the morning show with a clown named Carney C. Carney and the overgrown sock puppet, Willie the Worm, who’d lost his own show but was rescued by the Cranes.”
Mr. Crane served as a WCAU-TV news anchor, weatherman, science reporter, and sportscaster. “He remained a class act to the end as a resonant voice of ‘WCAU-TV, Philadelphia,’ ” Takiff said.
During the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Crane starred in commercials for Acme, Gulden’s Mustard, Welch’s Grape Juice, Bumble Bee Tuna, and Mogen David Wine. Mr. Crane could even act, his son said. In 1982, he played the mayor of Philadelphia in the film Rocky III.
Mr. Crane was inducted into the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers’ Hall of Fame in 1995 and was named the broadcast group’s 2003 Person of the Year.
He continued to work part-time at WCAU into his 80s, filming news segments that focused on the concerns of seniors. He retired in 1994 and moved to San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico.
Born in 1920 in New York, Mr. Crane got his first taste of broadcasting in 1941 as an announcer at WJTN radio in Jamestown, N.Y., while attending Syracuse University.
After graduating, Mr. Crane took a job at WAGE radio in Leesburg, Va., where he worked as a news reporter until the outbreak of World War II. From 1942 to 1946, he served in the Army infantry. He was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant.
Mr. Crane stood out for his warmth and exuberance. “He always had a twinkle in his eye,” his son said. “His charm and wit will be remembered, as well as his generosity and booming laugh.”
Mr. Crane passed down his enthusiasm for television to his son, one of the creators of the hit comedy Friends.
Mr. Crane and his first wife, Joan, divorced in 1974. She died in 2017. He married Marlyn Rosen, who died in 2004. His third wife, Jean Winterhalder, whom he married in 2005, survives.
Besides his wife Jean, and son, David, he is survived by stepchildren Susan Lerner Heckles and Eric Lerner; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.
At Mr. Crane’s request, there will be no funeral services.