My life was entirely changed because of one-tenth of a second. Nothing was ever the same again." Clarence Linden Crabbe repeated these words or variations of them hundreds of times in the 51 years he lived after the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. That fateful split second occurred during those Games; to be more precise, it ticked away around 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 when Crabbe made a desperate lunge over the final half-meter of a 400-meter freestyle swimming race to touch the pool wall just before Jean Taris of France did. Thus, Crabbe won a gold medal, and instead of becoming a lawyer called Clarence with a job in a law firm in Hawaii, he became a movie star named Buster who bleached his hair and gave the world Flash Gordon in 40 episodes that played in God only knows how many Bijous and Roxies on God only knows how many Saturday afternoons.
When Crabbe died, at 75, of a heart attack on April 23, 1983, obituary writers dug into their files and came up with a sampling of the B movies he'd been in: King of the Jungle, Man of the Forest, Sweetheart of Sigma Chi, Hold 'em Yale' They also listed some of the numerous roles he'd played: Kaspa the Lion Man, Tarzan, Thunda the Jungle Man, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Captain Gallant, Billy the Kid. They also reminded their readers that Crabbe had once been known as the King of the Serials.
If the '32 Games had been held in any other city—Rome, Paris, Chicago, Philadelphia, anywhere normal—Crabbe's life surely wouldn't have turned out as it did. But given the tinseled surrealism that prevailed in L.A. in the 1930s, Crabbe's life almost had to unfold the way it did.
Although the first freeway had yet to be built, the population of Los Angeles in '32 was already 1,300,000, and it was growing explosively. Each week it attracted thousands of newcomers, many of whom brought with them visions of instant immortality. Of course, Hollywood, which was then in the middle of a golden era that would extend into the late '40s, was the magnet for those dreamers. The city worshiped the movie stars, treating them as royalty. With Hollywood as a backdrop, these Olympics were infused with a dazzle and glamour that didn't exist anywhere else.
Stars—or luminaries, as the papers called them—were everywhere. Tom Mix, Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers, Tallulah Bankhead, Fay Wray, Joe E. Brown, Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Amelia Earhart, Bing Crosby, Spanky McFarland and the entire Our Gang cast, including Pete, the dog with the "monocle" painted around one eye, all were seen at Olympic events. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, the acknowledged king and queen of film society, gave a party for 200 Olympic officials at their mansion, Pickfair, and a writer for the Los Angeles Times burbled that guests felt as if they had been "admitted to some inner paradisiacal temple" and that the food served "reeked of epicurean superiority."
Whenever movie stars and Olympians met, the occasion was reported in loving detail. A visit by Fairbanks to the headquarters of the Italian team was described by the Times: " 'Doag-oh-lass!' howled the Italians excitedly. 'Oh! Doag-oh-lass!' They came running from all sides. Practically every one of the 106 members of Benito Mussolini's team bore down on him. Cameras, autograph-albums and pictures showered from everywhere.... Picture after picture was snapped. Gaudini, the six-foot six-inch fencer was in every one, peering excitedly above the crowd. So was a hairy-chested, bull-necked weight lifter, who crouched at Doug's feet, grinning broadly. Fairbanks declared he had never been mobbed quite so enthusiastically in his career, but he grinned delightedly throughout."
The Games themselves were a lavish spectacle that set the standard by which subsequent Olympics would be measured—one which, ironically, the organizers of the relatively austere '84 L.A. Games are trying to avoid. The opening ceremonies in the enlarged and renovated Coliseum, with its "thirty miles of seats," drew a sell-out crowd of 105,000. The onlookers saw 1,980 athletes from 39 countries parade around the new crushed-peat track. A white-robed choir belted out The Star-Spangled Banner, and the day's festivities were capped by the release of 2,000 white "doves of peace" that flapped into the bright blue sky. The U.S. may have been in the pits of the Depression—only two days before the Games began, police and troops in Washington, D.C. had fought rioting World War I veterans demanding an immediate cash payment of a bonus due them—but the Olympic pageantry went on as if the bad times were occurring on another planet.
The '32 Games featured the first Olympic Village, a flower-bedecked settlement of 550 pink and white portable bungalows in Baldwin Hills. The Village was for men only (the women athletes were put up in the Chapman Park Hotel), and Damon Runyon described it as follows: "Naked young men are sprawled out here and there on the turf, all of them tanned the color of an old saddle. It is difficult to distinguish the Americans from the Argentines, Japanese or Filipinos. The California sun has painted them all alike." Two days after Runyon's story appeared, a young woman climbed the 10-foot barbed-wire fence and roamed the Village, presumably looking for Olympians wearing only a California paint job. She was finally rounded up by a posse of mounted security guards who were decked out in cowboy getups. They made her climb back over the fence.
Crabbe had a room in the Olympic Village that he shared with one other athlete, but he was also a pre-law student at Southern Cal and stayed in a local rooming house. He spent much of his time there because he was under a good deal of pressure, and he didn't like hanging around the men he would swim against. He was America's best hope in his two events, for in the 1928 Games in Amsterdam he'd gotten a bronze medal in the 1,500 and finished fourth in the 400. Before his competitive swimming career was over in 1932, Buster would set one world record and win four indoor and 11 outdoor national titles.
At the 1932 Olympics, the 24-year-old Crabbe was a strapping 6'1", 188 pounds. He had the body-beautiful of the surfer and rough-water swimmer he'd been in Hawaii. Despite his dashing looks, Crabbe wasn't one of the starry-eyed who had come to L.A. to seek fame and fortune in the movies. He was a sober young man who was preparing himself for a career in law. His family had no money to speak of, and Crabbe had been working his way through USC by putting price tags on stock in the basement of Silverwood's, a men's store. His pay came to $8 a week. His fiancé, Adah Virginia Held of Beverly Hills, who was to marry him in 1933 and remain his wife until his death, recalls their college dates. "We used to have long conversations about the way the world should be," she says. "He was very idealistic, very serious. He was modest, a quiet man. I thought he was perfect."
She'd first glimpsed Crabbe in 1929, when she was aboard a cruise ship in Honolulu harbor. "There were Buster and his brother, Edward, in the water," she says, "two gorgeous blond creatures, diving for coins with all the black-haired little Kanaka. Later I met him face to face in the hotel where he was drumming up prospects for surfing lessons."
The Crabbe family tree is rooted deep in the Hawaiian islands. One forefather was a ship captain named Crabbe. In 1821 he made port in Honolulu and married a native woman—a union that made Buster Crabbe one thirty-second Polynesian. Their son, Horace, was born in Philadelphia but returned to the islands in 1847, and he eventually served as chamberlain to King Lunalilo of Hawaii from 1873-74. Buster's grandfather, Clarence, was for many years the Honolulu port superintendent and served from 1902-04 as president of the territorial senate. He has been called the father of the Republican Party in Hawaii. But there was always a certain amount of moving to and from the mainland in the family. Buster's father, Edward, was born in Carson City, Nev., his mother, Agnes, was from Bakersfield, Calif., and Buster himself was born in Oakland, on Feb. 7, 1908. Before he was two, his father had taken a job as luna (overseer) on a pineapple plantation and moved his family back to Hawaii. The elder Crabbe later became a U.S. revenue agent during Prohibition, then ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of Honolulu and got into real estate, but he never was very successful at anything. He did teach his son to swim by the time Buster was four, however. The boy became a powerful swimmer and a superb surfer in the days when the boards were redwood slabs that often weighed more than the surfers who rode them. Buster also became a skillful horseback rider and boxed some, and when he attended Honolulu's famed Punahou School, he won three varsity letters in swimming and was eventually inducted into the school's hall of fame.
During Crabbe's boyhood, the No. 1 Hawaiian sports hero was the legendary swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku, who won his first Olympic gold medal in the 100 free at the 1912 Stockholm Games. He got two more golds, in the 100 free and the 4 X 200 relay at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, and added a silver in 1924 in Paris. Crabbe knew Kahanamoku well and adored him. "Duke was the first really major Olympic swimmer in the world," Crabbe said in an interview several years ago. "People wouldn't believe the times he was swimming until he won in Stockholm. Duke was my god. He was a great sport. In Hawaii, he wouldn't embarrass local champions. He could beat all of them by the length of the pool, but he'd always make it look close."
In 1924, when Kahanamoku and other Hawaiian swimmers left Honolulu on a ship en route to the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Crabbe, age 16, waved goodby from the dock and swore that he'd be on the boat headed for the next Olympics. And he was. But the '28 Games in Amsterdam weren't entirely satisfying for him. The transatlantic voyage was extraordinarily rough and, along with most everyone else on the U.S. team, Crabbe was very sick. He lost 10 pounds and was weak and dispirited when he arrived in the Netherlands. The training conditions there were less than ideal "For some reason we couldn't practice in the Olympic pool and had to go to Utrecht," he would recall. "There were little fish in the pool there, and they got in our suits. I think the water was pumped right out of the canals." Though fish-free, the Olympic pool itself was no bargain. It was located next to a railroad track, so the swimmers constantly were subjected to the clank of passing rolling stock and the shriek of train whistles. And if the wind was blowing wrong, a fine mist of soot would descend on the pool, which also had a large crack in its bottom. Water had to be constantly added to maintain the level in the pool.
Crabbe's bronze-medal and fourth-place finishes in Amsterdam weren't that bad, but he was disappointed, and he became grimly dedicated to winning at Los Angeles in '32. In the meantime, he briefly attended Yale, then the University of Hawaii and USC, from which he graduated with a B.A. in political science in '32. "His college years weren't happy, I'm afraid," says Virginia. "He had to work so hard. His scholarship was just tuition, and he had jobs. He even washed dishes at the Sigma Chi house in exchange for meals. He trained every day. He had no real coach, so he made up his own regimen, swimming at least an hour a day. As the Games approached, early in the morning he'd sometimes climb the fence at the Olympic pool, which had been built near the campus that year, so he could get in an extra hour or so of training. Everything was aimed at the Olympics."
There was, of course, no guarantee that Crabbe would win a gold medal, but there was much in his favor. He was competing in his own backyard. He was the only American swimmer who had also participated in the '28 Games, and the U.S. had dominated world swimming since 1920 with the likes of Kahanamoku and the fabled Johnny Weissmuller.
However, by 1932 the U.S. was no longer supreme. Japan hadn't been noted for the prowess of its swimmers until 1928, when Yoshiyuki Tsuruta won the gold medal in the 200 breaststroke. Then in 1931, a U.S. team went to Tokyo for a dual meet and, to its surprise, wound up being decisively beaten by the Japanese. Crabbe, the captain of the U.S. squad, finished fourth in the 400, fifth in the 800 and fifth in the 1,500.
The Tokyo meet was a taste of what would occur in L.A. In the six Olympic men's events, the Japanese won five gold, three silver and three bronze medals. And their incredible youth, even by today's standards, made this performance even more amazing; there were 11 teenagers on Japan's 17-man team. The gold medal in the 1,500 free was won by Kusuo Kitamura (see pages 132-133), 14. The silver in that event was taken by 17-year-old Shozo Makino. Yasuji Miyazaki, 15, won the 100 free, finishing a split second ahead of Tatsugo Kawaishi, 20. Masaji Kiyokawa (see pages 120-121), 19, was first in the 100 backstroke, followed by Toshio Irie, 20, in second place, and Kentaro Kawatsu, 17, in third. Then Tsuruta, the team ancient at 28, got the gold medal in the 200 breast with Reizo Koike, 16, second. The Japanese also won the 4 X 200 relay in a world-record 8:58.4. That was 12.1 better than the clocking of the runnerup U.S. and 37.8 seconds better than the Olympic record set by a Weismuller-led American team in 1928.
For swimming insiders, that Japan won big in the '32 Olympics was somewhat surprising. But for ordinary spectators and for sportswriters who rarely reported the sport, the attainments and youth of the Japanese men were stunning. After Japan swept the 100 backstroke, an awed Runyon wrote, "They must teach swimming in infancy in the Land of the Rising Sun. We have little Japanese boys, at an age when our own kids are still balking at spinach, breaking Olympic records and outsplashing the greatest swimmers in the world." Braven Dyer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "When these kids get their full growth they'll probably have to carry anchors to give their foes a chance." Newspaper headlines described the Japanese as if they were Martians: AQUATIC WORLD BOWS TO NIPPONESE PADDLERS, headlined the L.A. Times, LITTLE BROWN MEN CINCH TO WIN 100 METERS FINAL TODAY, read the subhead.
Sportswriters expounded many theories to explain Japan's success. One wrote, with the authority of total ignorance, "Having shorter legs than most swimmers, the Japanese need not put their heads down so far for balance as do the longer-limbed Americans: This enables them to swim higher in the water which promotes far more speed." One of the U.S. coaches had another theory, only slightly less ludicrous. "This fellow was convinced the Japanese were doped," Crabbe said later, "that they were getting some kind of stimulation from drugs, because when they got out of the pool, they'd have these bright red marks on their faces. This is what made him so suspicious. But do you know what it was? They'd been sniffing oxygen before the race, and the marks were from their oxygen masks—legal as hell."
What really caused this tidal wave of Japanese triumphs? A variety of things. For starters, swimming was hardly a minor sport in that island nation. As far back as the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868), when Japan was fractured into many fiefdoms, each feudal lord had his own samurai, who were trained to fight—and swim. As Kiyokawa, the gold-medal backstroker who's now a spry 71, says: "Swimming was virtually a martial art in Japan then. The samurai approached it like a military science." Indeed, those warriors practiced swimming in full armor to enhance endurance, and developed a more powerful sidestroke by swimming for miles with a bow, sword or, later, a rifle held aloft in one hand.
Although samurai swimming had little direct bearing on the Japanese triumphs at the 1932 Games, the English-language Japan Times ran a post-Olympic article saying that people shouldn't be surprised at the victories in Los Angeles, any more than "those who are acquainted with 'Bushido' [martial arts] are surprised at Japanese victories in modern warfare. The emergence of Japan as a great swimming nation at the Tenth Olympiad is paralleled in a way by the rise of Japan as a great power." A year before the Olympics in Los Angeles, the Japanese had invaded and taken over Manchuria, and the imperial forces would soon move on China, the Netherlands East Indies and Fiji as the empire expanded throughout the South Pacific.
Kitamura, now 66 and a lawyer, denies any connection between the swimming miracle and 1930s Japanese militarism. "It was a time of political expansionism that grew out of economic depression—not just in Japan," he says. "The government felt that to improve the economy Japan must expand overseas. That tied in with the pride in our international success in the Olympics. In that sense, I suppose, the government tried to use our victory. But there was no talk of such things among the athletes."
The manager of the swimming team, Norio Nomura, now 84, says that U.S. swimmers were responsible for the Japanese victories, and he recalls seeing American swimming manuals around pools in Japan as early as 1918. "After 1932 everyone was talking about the Japanese crawl," says Nomura, "but actually our techniques came from watching Johnny Weissmuller."
That's an over-simplification, because the Japanese had more than the U.S. example going for them. They were probably in better condition than swimmers from other countries; as a result of Japan's shortage of indoor pools, they'd undertaken a lot of out-of-the-water conditioning including aerobic exercises and stretching, which wasn't widely done in those days. The use of oxygen, another Japanese innovation, was of some help, mainly in shorter races. And the Japanese had some fairly radical things going for them once they got in the pool. In Forbes Carlile on Swimming, the Australian coach says this about the Japanese swimmers in Los Angeles: "Because of the generally small stature of the Japanese, with rounded shoulders and short legs with well-developed calves, the stroke they evolved has probably, with good reason, been called a 'masterpiece of adaptation.' Japanese swimmers endeavored to aid the pull of the arm stroke by the very strong beating of the legs. They have flexible ankles which gives them a lot of propulsion from their kicks without much effort. The arm recovery became quickened and shortened, the hand entering only a short distance in front of the shoulder followed by a long underwater glide forward.... During the arm recovery and arm drive, a continuous and powerful leg beat drove the body forward over the leading hand.... With this stroke, considerable body roll was introduced for the first time among modern champions."
Buck Dawson, director of the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, adds: "They were using a straight-arm crawl while Americans were using a bent-arm crawl. They moved their arms much faster and in a windmill, going in just in front of the head, straight under the body and coming out at the hips. The fact that they had shorter arms probably made this technique work better for them than it would for most Americans."
Despite the youth and talent of its team, Japan's domination of swimming didn't last long. The Japanese did all right in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning three gold medals, but in the nine Games held since then, Japan has had only two men's swimming victories. Says Kiyokawa, now 71, "We didn't actually fall apart; the rest of the world just caught up with us. As a defeated nation after World War II, we were barred from the  London Games, and the isolation hurt us. We didn't know what the others were doing. We lost touch."
Only Crabbe's 400 broke the string of Japanese victories in 1932. His strongest event was supposedly the 1,500 free, but he finished fifth. By that time he had already won the 400. Oddly enough, the man he beat by scant inches wasn't Japanese, but the Frenchman, Taris.
When the 400 began, Crabbe wasn't all that worried about Taris. He believed his strongest challengers would be the three young Japanese in the race, particularly Tsutomu Oyokota, 19. Through the heats, Crabbe had watched Taris closely and had determined that, perhaps because Taris set a furious pace for the first 300 meters, he tended to fade toward the end. Crabbe figured Taris didn't have the stamina to win, and Crabbe decided that he would pace his race by staying close to the Japanese.
A crowd of about 10,000 filled the bleachers at the Olylmpic pool, basking in shirtsleeves beneath a flawless sky. The spectators were cheering for Crabbe, except for a contingent of local Nisei who enthusiastically favored the Japanese swimmers, whom they fed and feted during the Games.
Crabbe was in Lane 6, close to the Japanese, while Taris was across the pool in Lane 1. As expected, Taris took the lead, using his distinctive flailing, roundhouse stroke to churn farther and farther ahead until, halfway through the race, he was a full three lengths in front of his nearest pursuer, Crabbe. To that point, Crabbe stuck to his strategy of staying close to the Japanese. "I glimpsed Taris from time to time," he later told Virginia, "and I wasn't worried. I could see the splashing he made across the pool. But then I saw he wasn't fading. Suddenly, I realized he had probably been faking it in the trial heats. So I changed my tempo and my tactics—fast—and I took off after him."
Crabbe quickly chewed up Taris' lead. By the time Crabbe pushed off the wall for the final lap, he was about a length behind, but he'd used up a lot of energy in the process. "Suddenly I was hit by the conviction that I had lost," Crabbe recalled. "I was maybe 30 seconds from the finish, and I was completely spent. I wanted to stop. The only thing that kept me going was the tremendous noise of the crowd. Everyone was screaming. I figured that meant either that I must still be gaining on him or that I'd caught him. I didn't take a breath or raise my head those last 10 yards, and the instant I hit the wall I looked over at his lane. I saw his head bob, which meant he'd just touched the wall. I knew I'd won. The whole place went wild." The time was 4:48.4 for Crabbe, 4:48.5 for Taris. The Japanese finished third, fourth and fifth. Oyokota, who came in third, later told teammates that he had been suffering from diarrhea caused by consuming too much fresh milk and honeydew melon served him by the adoring local Nisei.
Crabbe's father was in the crowd, and he shoved his way through a platoon of guards, rushed to the pool and kissed his son square on the mouth before Buster had even pulled himself out of the water. Virginia was in the crowd, too, and she recalls, "The minute he touched the wall, I couldn't think of anything but to rush to a phone and call my mother. It didn't really make that much of an impression on Mother, and later, when Buster joined us in the stands, he was a little irritated at me. The first thing he said was, 'Where were you?' "
Crabbe wasn't the biggest American hero of the Games—that distinction belonged to Babe Didrikson, who won two gold medals and a silver in the three track and field events she was allowed to compete in (SI, Oct. 6, 1975 et seq.)—but he probably profited the most from them.
Even before the Olympics had begun, Paramount Pictures had sent scouts into the Village to seek handsome young men for a screen test that was intended to uncover a new jungle king to compete with MGM's Tarzan, Weissmuller. About 20 Americans, including Crabbe, put on what he called G-strings and had themselves filmed in action—running, grinning, throwing a javelin, pretending to heft and heave a huge papier-m√¢ché boulder that weighed about five pounds.
"I did it as a big lark," Crabbe later told a New York paper. "Acting had never entered my head. I always thought there was something a little odd about the kids in school who went out for plays."
A few days after the Olympics, Crabbe and half a dozen others were retested and Crabbe was picked. Was this because of latent acting talent? Because some mogul saw dollar signs on Crabbe's big brown eyes? Hardly. Crabbe became an instant star because 25 studio secretaries, who assuredly were well aware of his heroics and who easily recognized him because his face had been on the front page of all the major L.A. papers, were assembled one afternoon to watch a second series of screen tests. They picked Crabbe, 24 to one.
He started work immediately, at $100 a week, on a feature film, King of the Jungle. The first day on the lot, his assignment was to pose for still photos with a real lion. The photographer had Crabbe toss bits of meat to the animal. He accidentally dropped a tidbit, and the lion, evidently irritated, leaped and sank its teeth into Crabbe's thigh, causing a wound so deep and so bloody that when a doctor attempted to cauterize the wound, the photographer fainted. King of the Jungle was released in March 1933 and got a near rave review from The New York Times: "Endowed with a refreshing sense of humor lacking in other films of the type, 'King of the Jungle'...is an unusually good picture, one that will appeal to cinema patrons of all ages." TIME magazine was less impressed, calling the film "an obvious inversion of the Tarzan formula." The magazine was more enthusiastic about Crabbe, who played Kaspa, a young man who'd been raised by lions. "From the neck down," said TIME, "Crabbe easily equals Weissmuller as an attraction to female audiences; from the neck up he is a vast improvement."
Crabbe next made a brainless beefcake flick called Search for Beauty ("Venus-like Girls! Tarzan-like Men!"), which Virginia succinctly labels "a stinker." But the studio raised his pay to $200 a week, and he stayed on—and on. In the end, he made some 192 movies, including eight serials of at least 12 episodes each. He played Buck Rogers 12 times, Tarzan once, and possibly made more Zane Grey Westerns than anyone else. He may have become accustomed to being called the King of the Serials, but he didn't like it. He said later, "I never thought I belonged. The book about my movie career I have in mind would be called something like From the Outside Looking In. They pigeonholed me as a lifeguard or something. You know, the guy who strips pretty well. I never got any help from a good director. Just because I was a swimmer doesn't mean I was a dummy. I could have learned to be a good actor."
Crabbe remained a man of serious mien throughout his life. Dawson, who knew Crabbe for years, says: "He was a no-nonsense guy. He didn't have that happy-go-lucky attitude that other swimmers like Weissmuller or Stubby Kreuger had. Buster knew that Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon weren't Hamlet, but he took his acting very seriously. He was a man who valued his dignity."
Crabbe's son, Cullen, 38, known as Cuffy, a Phoenix real-estate man, who, as a 10-year-old in the mid-1950s, co-starred with his father in a TV series called Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, sees his father as a man who was an honest craftsman above all else. "Flash Gordon was far-out stuff in the 1930s when my dad made it," says Cuffy. "It had a kind of tongue-in-cheek quality to it for most people. But the old man played it straight. He gave it serious, honest effort, and because of that, I think, that serial has survived as...well, as a piece of American history." Fittingly enough, one of Buster's most treasured possessions was an autographed picture of David Scott, an astronaut on two of the Apollo moon missions. The inscription reads: MANY THANKS FOR LEADING THE WAY!
Crabbe never gave up swimming and he did as much as two miles a day right up until the end of his life. He stopped competing after 1932, but he was a member of the water polo team selected to represent the U.S. at the 1936 Olympics. He didn't go to the Berlin Games, however, because the U.S. Olympic Committee chased him off the team for having appeared in advertisements for the Bulova Watch Company.
Crabbe performed in Billy Rose's Aquacades at the 1940 New York World's Fair, and he owned his own touring water show, called Aqua-parade, from 1945 until it went broke in Europe in the winter of '50. Crabbe was foundering then, but he didn't sink. He subsequently hosted what may have been TV's first calisthenics-for-housewives program on WOR-TV in New York, did a kiddies' Western show on the same station, ran a boys' camp in the Adirondacks, was the ceremonial "director of water sports" at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills and did countless ads and personal appearances for swimming-pool makers. He was even a stockbroker for a time. In his last decade he made good money on the lecture circuit discussing physical fitness and was a regular attraction at conventions of movie trivia fans.
Crabbe didn't make a fortune, but he lived well, stayed married to the same woman, had seven grandchildren, moved to Scottsdale, Ariz. when he was 65 and was recognized wherever he went. However, that tenth of a second must have given him pause from time to time. "He wasn't a natural as an entertainer," says his daughter, Susan, 46, a psychologist. "I think he always saw himself as a professional swimmer, as a man who made his living from that instead of from being a professional actor."
Virginia Crabbe adds pensively: "Well, after all, Buster was a legend in his own time. But I don't think he would ever have chosen to be an actor if all these things hadn't happened to push him into it. I think he was never really completely fulfilled after the Olympics. He had that one moment when he absolutely hit the top. He had a good life after that, and he enjoyed it. But I'm not sure Buster ever felt that he reached his full potential again."