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Hawaii Olympic Swimmer and Actor

He grew up in Hawaii and was graduated from the famous Punahou School (Barack Obama’s alma mater).

A swimmer with skills beyond those of any of his contemporaries, he was graduated from the University of Southern California, where he was the school’s first All-American swimmer and a 1931 NCAA freestyle titlist in 1931. He participated in two Olympic games. He won the bronze medal for the 1,500 meter freestyle in 1928, and 1932 he won the gold medal for the 400 meter freestyle.

After marrying his college sweetheart, he gave himself one year to either make it as an actor or start law school at USC. His role in the 1933 Tarzan serial “Tarzan the Fearless” (also issued as a full length movie) launched a successful career during which he starred in more than 100 movies. (“Fearless” would be the only movie in which he starred as Tarzan.) He also starred in the first international film “Search for Beauty” (1934), and his next major role was in 1936 as Flash Gordon in the popular “Flash Gordon” serial, which he reprised in two sequels, released by Universal in 1938 and 1940. The three serials were later shown extensively on American television during the 1950s and 60s, then edited for release on home video. Other characters he portrayed included Western hero Billy the Kid, Buck Rogers, and a brother in his real-life fraternity in the movie musical “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.”

He remains the only actor who portrayed Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers — the top three comic strip heroes of the 1930s.

His name? Buster Crabbe.

But if you want to speak of Crabbe in conversations of Olympic heroes, swimming greats from Hawaii or Hawaii people who made significant contributions to popular culture, it’ll be hard to do in Hawaii. Most of us don’t know even what you just read.

We’ll talk with you about Duke Kahanamoku all day and night. He was Hawaii’s greatest athlete. There’s a statue of him on Waikiki Beach. One of Waikiki’s most popular restaurants and party places is a virtual shrine to Duke Kahanamoku. We even celebrate his birth date (August 24, 1890).

There is no commemoration of Buster Crabbe, no trace at all — even in most of our memories.

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny on Mar 23, 2009