Photo provided
Noblesville High School 1963 graduate Gary Crask produced and directed the movie, “The Spirits of St. Paul,” (above promotion) which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, available free to Prime members, numbering 112 million subscribers around the globe.
Photo provided Noblesville High School 1963 graduate Gary Crask produced and directed the movie, “The Spirits of St. Paul,” (above promotion) which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, available free to Prime members, numbering 112 million subscribers around the globe.
It isn’t often that you can turn on your television and find a movie that is directed and produced by a Noblesville High School graduate.
But right now, you can. On Amazon Prime Video.
The movie is “The Spirits of St. Paul” and the 1963 NHS grad is Gary Crask, who is elated with the exposure he’s receiving for a feature film that he wrote, and co-produced and co-directed with his son, Brian Crask.
This is the same Gary Crask who during his senior year was Student Body and Student Council president and who was also named to All-State in football.
And the same Gary Crask who sold his car for plane fare and moved to Hollywood just after college to try to make his break into the acting business. He tried out for “Gunsmoke,” met Bob Hope on an airplane and auditioned with David Hasselhoff (who was cast) for the role of Dr. Snapper Foster on CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” daytime soap opera, among the many cool moments that he recalled.
Crask later married his wife, Kathy, and had a family, and moved to Minneapolis, where he kept busy doing print modeling, television commercials and industrial films.
Crack has led a fascinating life, and it’s still getting better as his movie is currently on Amazon Prime Video, which I was able to watch on my own smart TV. Crask’s film, “The Spirits of St. Paul” is “an award-winning drama,” which “depicts The Gangster Era in St. Paul, Minn., in the 1920s and ‘30s in St. Paul, Minn. John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly and most notably, Ma Barker’s Barker-Karpis Gang (one of the longest-lived criminal gangs during the Depression Era) and many others were given safe haven by corrupt cops in exchange for their promise to not commit any crimes inside the city limits of St. Paul.”
In Crask’s movie, he cast himself in a supporting role as St. Paul Police Chief O’Brien, a composite character with a fictitious name. However, he used the real names of all of the gangsters in the movie, which was accurate in its portrayal, “with some poetic license,” with much research done at the Minnesota History Center before he started writing.
The 2012 film is now available free to Amazon Prime Video members, numbering 112 million subscribers around the globe.
The film is also available to watch free on TUBI (Fox), which has more than 20 million monthly active users, and will soon be available on Xumo (Comcast), which has 24 million monthly users, and Pluto (CBS), with more than 28 million subscribers, all done through a movie distributor.
The Crasks are paid each time the movie is streamed. Gary Crask is hoping the film will run “quite a while” on the streaming platforms.
“This is kind of a big deal. It doesn’t happen often to unknown movies like ours,” Crask said.
So how did they get their independent movie on these streaming websites?
“I would not have been able to have gotten our movie on any of these platforms without a distributer. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to do. You need a distributor, and good luck getting one of those,” he said. Most of these streaming services began as independents, he said, then got bought out by the “big boys.” TUBI was purchased by Fox, Xumo was purchased by Comcast, Pluto was purchased by CBS but Prime has always been owned by Amazon, he noted. “I get the impression they are attempting to upgrade their library of films, making it much more difficult to be selected. We feel very fortunate,” Gary Crask said.
Gary Crask said his son was “the little genius behind the scenes, behind the camera, co-writing, co-producing, editing ... sound, lighting and everything technical.” The idea for the film, as well as the title, came from his son.
Together, they have put in 7,000 to 8,000 hours in the making of the movie, which had a budget of $35,000, financed by the senior Crask, who professed that the movie was one of the most complicated and difficult tasks that he has ever taken on, a project he refers to as “Two Men and a Camera.” They advertised on online casting sites and got an overwhelming response. And they found lots of old cars for the movie by going around to car shows and talking to car owners when they saw a car they liked. For the sets, they scouted out good locations.
While the father-and-son duo watched every piece of the project come together, “watching it in a theater full of people for the first time was quite a rush,” he said of the debut, which was at the St. Anthony Main Theatre in downtown Minneapolis in 2012. The movie ran for a week and broke all attendance records for a week for that theater, Crask said.
The film won the Manhattan Film Festival’s “Best Period Film” and the Iowa Independent Film Festival’s “Orson Welles” award for producing a high-quality film on a small budget.
When the film was playing at the Manhattan festival on Broadway, Crask said, “I emailed our cast and said, ‘Many of you have hoped or dreamed of making it on Broadway. Well, you are now playing on Broadway.’”
Crask, who has a great sense of humor, was born in Noblesville and grew up in Riverwood, a small unincorporated community on the White River in Noblesville Township. “I lived in Riverwood during my Tom Sawyer-Huckleberry Finn years, from age 4 to 11,” Crask said. “It was a fantastic place for a kid that age with the river and the kid friendly community.”
On the opening credits of “The Spirits of St. Paul,” the name “Riverwood Pictures” is prominent. Crask used the name, due to personal significance, “and it sounds cool,” he said.
Growing up in Riverwood, he wanted to be a cowboy like the ones he watched on his new black-and-white TV. But when he learned that the cowboys were actors, that was even better. So he got an idea (probably because he’d seen his grandfather perform on stage in minstrel shows) to put on a puppet show for 10 cents admission at his house. That was his first acting gig, and he was hooked. But how could a boy from Riverwood get to the movies? In high school, his thespian club girlfriend talked him into auditioning for “The Mousetrap” an Agatha Christie murder-mystery play. After that, he kept dreaming about being an actor but pretty much kept those thoughts to himself. Then as a sophomore at Ball State University, he competed with his fraternity in the school’s All Greek Variety Show, and they won. Then after college, he sold his 1958 Oldsmobile convertible to his parents for $350 and bought a half-price stand-by plane ticket to Los Angeles. Crask, who was friends with former Miss Indiana and second runner-up Miss America Elaine Smith, made quite a few connections in Hollywood, where he had the opportunity to meet Ken Curtis, who played Festus on “Gunsmoke,” and got an audition for the show; as well as had dinner at Wink Martindale’s home (Wink had a daytime show called “Dream Girl ‘67”) and met Louie Shurr, who got Crask a test at 20th Century Fox (and who was the talent agent for Bob Hope, whom Crask happened to meet on an airplane (despite Crask’s fear of flying.))
Crask wrote about his fascinating life in his colorful and entertaining book, “Stories from Riverwood,” published in 2011. While he originally wrote the book for his grandkids and future generations, he was encouraged to publish the book and did so.
Crask, who never intended to become an author (but was inspired when he sat next to Noblesville author Susan Crandall at an author’s faire) most recently published his fourth book, “From the Other Side of the Track,” which was placed somewhere in the Top 100 books out of hundreds and won Top Shelf Magazine’s award.
Does he share his book ideas before publishing? “No, I never tell anyone what I’m writing until it’s done, including my wife,” Crask said.
His books are available at garycrask.com, Amazon and locally at the Linden Tree, where he usually has book signings, except for this year, due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic.
But before he was an author, remember, he wanted to be an actor. After returning home from Los Angeles, in the late 1970s, he got involved with The Belfry Theatre in Noblesville.
He played Biff, opposite John Kyle’s, Willy Lowman in “Death of a Salesman” and directed by Betty Lou Kyle in 1976 at The Belfry. The play won three Encore Awards; one for Best Drama, John won Best Leading Actor and Gary won Best Supporting Actor.
In the winter in 1977, Crask opened a dinner theater in Noblesville, The Forest Park Inn Dinner Theater in Forest Park. Bob Wilson provided the meals, “fried chicken, of course, and I produced the plays,” said Crask, who did two plays that winter. The first play was “A Thousand Clowns.” Crask played Murray Burns, the lead, and Belfry regular, Jim Bray, directed. That summer, he also opened a summer theater at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan called the Mackinac Island Summer Playhouse. In the first production, “Butterflies Are Free,” Crask used the entire cast from The Belfry production with Jim Bray in the lead role, and Jim directed. He said the second production was “Four Poster” with a two-person cast that Crask directed and played the male lead.
“Both were experiments to see if I wanted to pursue and grow those two theaters. I decided, for many reasons, that I did not want to go that route,” Crask said.
“Instead, we moved to Minneapolis that next summer of 1978 so (wife) Kathy could finish her degree. The plan was to move on from there in three years or so to New York or L.A. so I could pursue acting. That was 42 years ago,” Crask said. “Well-laid plans sometimes, often, have to change, and mine did.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com