British Columbia

Family remembers former CBC documentarian and cinematographer Bob Crone, dead at 90

Former CBC journalist and renowned cinematographer Bob Crone, who travelled across the world and earned multiple lifetime achievement awards, died last week, his family said. He was 90.

Crone introduced Steadicam to Canadian TV and film; earned numerous awards throughout his career

A man holds camera equipment in a stadium, wearing a black jacket and smiling.
Bob Crone, pictured here during the height of his storied cinematography career, died in West Vancouver last week, his family said. (Submitted by the Crone family)

Former CBC journalist and renowned cinematographer Bob Crone, who travelled across the world and earned multiple lifetime achievement awards, died last week, his family said. He was 90.

Family and filmmakers are remembering Crone for his genial attitude and innovation. The cinematographer was an honorary member of numerous industry bodies, and mentored filmmakers from Toronto to Vancouver.

Crone was the first to introduce Steadicams — a camera mount technology that enabled more stable, mobile shots — to the Canadian TV industry, and had his own plane to support his globetrotting adventures — starting in the 1950s with early CBC stalwart Larry Henderson, and continuing to travel well into the 1980s.

He went on to a freelancing career, continuing to file for programs like CBC's The Fifth Estate and other stations like CTV, and was friends with larger-than-life politicians like Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau in Toronto.

A black-and-white picture of a cameraman reaching a mic across a table, with a seated person in general's uniform and a a smiling man.
Bob Crone, seen here adjusting the set for an interview featuring King Hussein of Jordan, travelled around the world from the 1950s to the 1980s. (Submitted by the Crone family)

Crone's cinematographic legacy doesn't just tower over the Canadian TV and film industries — it also extends to his family. His son, David, and grandson, Rob, are both cinematographers in their own right.

"I did all the bookings for Bob and David and … they thought that Bob and David were brothers," said Vi Crone, Bob's wife of over 75 years. "They'd call up from LA or New York.

"And I said, well, the younger brother was taught by the older brother," she said, laughing. "Isn't that a riot?"

Vi, also an accomplished filmmaker, accompanied her husband on many of his travels and co-founded a studio in Toronto out of their basement.

A sepia-toned picture of a man and woman adjusting makeup on a seated man in an office.
Bob and Vi Crone getting then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau ready for a speech to the nation in 1982. (Submitted by the Crone family)

"It was 25 rooms when Bob bought it," Vi said. "I don't think I had the kitchen before the studio downstairs."

Asked what her husband's lasting legacy would be, the 88-year-old was quick to answer.

"His wonderful spirit and attitude and his loving kindness," she said. "His reassurance that all is well. He never complained."

Three smiling white men carrying camera equipment.
Bob Crone created a legacy of filmmaking within his own family. His son David, left, and grandson Rob, right, are both cinematographers and camerapersons. (Submitted by the Crone family)

Bob Crone was born in Toronto on Aug. 7, 1932, where he lived for many decades between travelling the world — to pre-war Vietnam and Cuba, and destinations across Europe and Africa.

In 1957, his film on the Doukhobor community — a group of Russians who settled in Western Canada — on CBC's Close Up won him a Best Documentary Award from Ohio State University.

He would later move to Vancouver as the city became Hollywood North. In the 1980s, he helped operate the Steadicam for numerous feature films, including a Friday the 13th sequel.

A man holds a camera rig while seated on the perch of an aircraft.
Crone was the first to introduce Steadicams to Canadian TV and film, according to his family. He went on to teach the operation of the equipment to dozens of aspiring filmmakers and camera operators. (Submitted by the Crone family)

He went on to mentor and teach on Steadicam and cinematography. He's won five Genie Awards, now known as the Canadian Screen Awards, throughout his career.

Crone was also an active member of his local Presbyterian church.

He died in West Vancouver on Jan. 12. He is survived by his wife, Vi, son, David, three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Nicknamed 'Smiley'

Rob Crone, named after his grandfather, said it wasn't the achievements and honours that would define Bob, but how good of a person he was.

"They gave him the nickname 'Smiley' because he … always had a smile on his face no matter what," he said. "Everyone always said he got through everything with the smile, with a really pleasant attitude."

David Crone says he'll remember his father as an innovator. According to the 68-year-old, Bob struck a deal with what was then Pan American Airways to promote their brand in his documentaries.

In return, David said, the airline would fly around supplies for all of Bob's transcontinental shoots.

A black-and-white picture of a man with a camera boarding a plane labelled 'PAA'. A woman is in the centre, with a man carrying a newspaper to the right.
Bob Crone, left, is seen boarding a Pan American Airways flight with CBC newsman Larry Henderson, right, in 1957. Bob's son David said his father used product placements for the airline in return for production assistance. (Submitted by the Crone family)

"I hope that his legacy continues as a very proud Canadian," David said. "A man of great qualities and innovation, of terrific loyalty, of great talent, energy, nerve, guts and courage."

David said his father got a pilot's license after a bad crash injured him and Vi in Pennsylvania in 1963.

Among his numerous escapades on his own plane, David recalls they once had to land on a highway outside Edmonton after technical issues.

"They came out and fuelled the aircraft and the RCMP closed off the highway so we could take off," he said, laughing.

A man wearing a traditional Arabic head wrap perches on the back of a donkey, in a desert, while carrying a camera.
Crone travelled the world, producing documentaries for CBC, CTV and NBC among other networks. (Submitted by the Crone family)

David says the family will now fund a scholarship program at Capilano University in Bob's name for the film course — something he and his dad had talked about over the years.

Vi says her husband's absence will be most felt in the filmmaking community.

"He always had time for teaching people or going out on movie productions," she said. "Managers used to call and say … 'I'm having trouble with the crew on my set. Could Bob come out and see what's wrong with it and tell us a few jokes?'

"And he did … Bob never griped."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Akshay Kulkarni

Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

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