Called King of the Serials, he starred in nine, Crabbe first came to the public's attention for his 1932 Olympic Gold Medal victory in swimming. Wanting to earn money for law school he decided to parlay his Olympic fame into film work. His first official film was a Tarzan inspired movie about a man raised in the jungle by lions, "King of the Jungle", for Paramount.
The next year he was loaned out to independent Principal Pictures to play the real thing in the serial "Tarzan the Fearless" (1933). Through twelve chapters Crabbe, as Tarzan, had to save a scientist father and the man's pretty daughter from Arab raiders and an angry tribe out to recover jewels stolen from their sacred idol by a pair of crooked guides. He spent the next few years in supporting roles in films, like W. C. Fields' "Your Telling Me" (1934), when he was offered the lead role in the serial that he would forever be identified with, Universal's "Flash Gordon" (1936). Dying his hair blond Crabbe fought to save both the earth and his true love, Dale Arden, from the machinations of Ming the Merciless. It is considered by many to be the best serial ever made. So successful was it that Crabbe reprised the role in "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars" (1938). Flash and Friends had to save the earth from both Ming and his ally Martian Queen Azura. They were destroying our planet by stealing nitrogen from the atmosphere.
That same year he also starred in the comic strip adaptation of "Red Barry" (1938) as a cop in Chinatown on the trail of stolen bonds. Then it was back to outer space for "Buck Rogers" (1939) with Crabbe playing a twentieth century pilot put in suspended animation for five hundred years. When thawed out he fights to save Earth from gangster Killer Kane with some help from the planet Saturn.
Crabbe's last serial for Universal was "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" (1940), in which Ming develops a purple death dust to destroy the Earth. Crabbe spent most of the forties making Billy the Kid westerns for PRC. He also appeared in "Swamp Fire"(1946) with fellow swimming Olympic Gold Medallist Johnny Weismuller.
He returned to serials with Columbia's "The Sea Hound" (1947). It was based on a popular radio show about dashing Captain Silver who battles the villainous Admiral in a search for hidden Spanish treasure. Columbia next cast Crabbe in the similar "Pirates of the High Seas" (1950), his only serial not based on a character from the comics or radio, where he once again searched for buried treasure.
Crabbe's last serial was "King of the Congo" (1952) about a pilot chasing fifth columnist spies who crash lands in the jungle and becomes a lost tribe's champion, Thunda. Crabbe then moved to TV for "Captain Gallant", a show set in the French foreign Legion that featured Crabbe's own son, Cuffy. Crabbe invested in a hotel during the sixties and became it's athletic director.
He continued to act periodically, appearing in "The Comeback Trail" (1971) and making a much publicized appearance in the 1980 TV series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" starring Gil Gerard. His last film was "The Alien Dead" in 1981.