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The Adventures of Sigmund Freud's Younger Brother

Martin Crane was a young officer on the Seattle police force who looked up one day from the chalk outline of a body to find himself face to face with the love of his life. The time was the mid-1950's. Martin was a very basic guy whose interests were largely confined to sports, beer and hanging out with his buddies on the force, so no one was more surprised than Martin's friends when he fell hard for a well-read, well-educated female doctor -- except perhaps Martin himself when she returned the favor. Hester was a self-possessed young psychiatric resident more interested in forensics than in traditional psychiatry. As a woman she had pursued her medical education against long odds, and by the time Hester met Martin she had spent a number of years learning to function in a thoroughly male world. Her interest in abnormal psychology led her to police work and she continued her work until Frasier was born in 1955. Though Hester was cool and reserved, the marriage endured for 40 years and produced two exceptional offspring.

Niles was born in Seattle on April 3, 1957, the second of the two Crane boys. Though few specifics are known about Niles's early life, the snippets which occasionally surface paint a revealing picture. Precocious and brilliant like his older brother, Niles grew up in a home dominated by his mother's chilly influence. With Martin working long hours to support the family it fell to Hester to see to the boys' education, and see to it she did. From classical music to summer camps, from prep schools to Yale and Harvard, Hester made sure her sons lacked for no opportunity. The Crane boys took second place to no one in their intellectual and cultural attainments.

"Mom always said, a handshake's as good as a hug."
- Niles

But if Niles and Frasier acquired polished manners and a feel for the nuances of fine dining, Hester was much less successful at teaching her sons to function with anyone other than sophisticated adults. She placed no importance on popular music, dancing or social skills, and Niles and Frasier grew up awkward and ill at ease with other children their own age. Martin was usually working and when he wasn't, could find no common ground with his sons. He must have found himself at a total loss when confronted with sons who preferred classic literature and classical music to sports and popular culture. When they reached adolescence Martin was startled to notice the boys' complete lack of dating skills, but by then it was far too late. During high school both Frasier and Niles were hopeless wallflowers who spent their time at required social events in agonies of embarrassment. Girls shunned them, other boys ridiculed and tortured them, and few people of any age could keep pace with their active minds, so the brothers were most often left with only one another for company.

Their enforced companionship only increased their natural competitiveness. On the one hand Frasier found strength in the respectful gaze of his younger brother, and passive Niles evaded the risks of initiative by deferring to Frasier's age and experience. But as their father would point out in later years, they couldn't really get along. Niles was rarely content with second place and constantly looked for ways to outshine his older brother. Frasier was insecure and felt threatened by Niles's efforts; even in adulthood he would take every opportunity to knock Niles down a peg or two.

The two brothers also shared a mutual love and loyalty for one another that even their intense rivalry could not erase. They were rarely apart from youngest childhood to Frasier's departure for Harvard in 1977, though by high school their paths had begun to diverge. During their teen years Frasier would embark on a clandestine and passionate love affair with his piano teacher that presaged his later career as a would-be ladies' man. Niles was warier of rejection, and with good reason. His slight build and precise manners made him even more of an object of ridicule than his brother. He cut his losses by retreating into his books and music and steering clear of girls entirely for a number of years.

Neither Niles's education at Yale and Cambridge nor his post-graduate summer in Paris seems to have contributed more toward his maturity than perfecting his French accent and gourmet's palate. The isolation he endured was intense and the sexual longing nearly unendurable. With the unerring radar of the lifelong observer, after graduation Niles found a substitute for Frasier and his mother in the person of a young and haughty member of Seattle's elite.

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