Local Obituaries

Obituary: Newspaperman Ted Crail, 85, interviewed celebrities, advocated for wildlife

Ted Crail, a newspaper veteran and prolific writer who schmoozed with entertainment legends and advocated for wildlife protection, died April 16 of various health ailments, his family said. He was 85.

Mr. Crail lived in northwestern Montana after more than three decades in Sacramento as an animal-rights activist and author. He was a former vice president and spokesman for the Animal Protection Institute, now known as Born Free USA.

Besides raising funds to help protect endangered species, he made a well-received documentary about the history of animal-rights campaigns, “The Ninth Crusade,” that was narrated by actor Beau Bridges. He also wrote a book, “Apetalk and Whalespeak: The Quest for Interspecies Communication.”

An avid reader, he opened the Lively Arts Bookstore Gallery on J Street in the mid-1990s to house and sell his personal collection of books on a variety of subjects. A cheerful man who enjoyed engaging with people, he outfitted the store with 19th-century furniture and a restored stagecoach.

“He was a major book collector with thousands of rare and wonderful books,” his daughter Charr Crail Goslow said. “He could tell you when it was printed, whether it was a first edition and how many times he had come across it in all his travels.”

Mr. Crail was an old-school newspaperman who started in high school as a stringer for United Press International and a $10-a-week columnist and editor for the Flathead Monitor, a Montana weekly. As a college freshman, he wrote a compelling story about the harmful impact of Hungry Horse Dam on Kalispell that was published in the Saturday Evening Post.

His first job after graduating from the University of Washington was covering murders, bootlegging, racism and small-town politics at the Dunn Daily Record in North Carolina. He worked as a reporter, editor and photographer at various newspapers before settling down as an editor and columnist at the Miami Beach Sun in Florida. He also wrote for TV Guide and was editor of a Miami regional magazine.

His columns at the Sun opened a window on the world of celebrities who flocked to Miami Beach in the 1960s, including the Beatles, Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liberace, Liza Minelli, Rita Moreno, Don Rickles and Mickey Spillane. He transitioned into public relations and was a personal spokesman and ghostwriter for Jackie Gleason.

Ted Lee Crail was born Sept. 16, 1928, in Wolf Point, Mont. He grew up in Kalispell, Mont. – which he considered “the center of the Earth,” his daughter said – and returned to live there in 2006.

He was married for 42 years to the former Lee Polivan, a journalist and writer. They were together until her death in 1998.

Mr. Crail loved reminiscing about the A-list entertainers that he interviewed and photographed. In a 1995 story in The Sacramento Bee, he recalled literally rolling on the floor in laughter with Phyllis Diller as they read her collection of jokes. He told the Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Kalispell that Jennifer Jones was “the most beautiful creature on planet Earth,” and he said Eartha Kitt was his favorite interview.

“No one in the world could talk like Eartha Kitt, except for maybe Orson Welles,” he said. “Everything she said was eloquent, gifted and true.”

In addition to his daughter from his first marriage, Mr. Crail is survived by his second wife, Maria Arnold; a sister, Peggy Byrne; and a brother, Donn. No service is planned.