Today, it’s difficult imagining a sitcom mining humor from outwitting Nazis, let alone in 1965 when Hogan’s Heroes made its debut, considering that World War II and the horror of the Holocaust had only been two decades earlier. Yet mine it the powers that were did. And to great effect, the show lasting for six seasons and 168 episodes, elevating the Hogan’s Heroes cast, including Bob Crane and Richard Dawson, to superstar status.
The series was about a group of Allied soldiers being held at a German Prisoner of War (POW) camp during World War II, carrying out missions of subterfuge from within, outsmarting the Nazis who believe they’re in command. Crane is Colonel Robert Hogan, senior ranking officer there; Werner Klemperer is Colonel Wilhelm Klink, commandant of the camp; John Banner is Sergeant Hans Schultz, the proverbial “Nazi with a heart of gold;” Ivan Dixon as Sergeant James Kinchloe, an aircrew radioman keeping contact open with the underground; Robert Clary as Corporal Louis LeBeau, a Frenchman who is a gourmet chef and patriot; Larry Hovis as Sergeant Andrew Carter, an expert in chemistry and explosives; and Dawson as British Corporal Perter Newkirk, resident con man and safe cracker.
One of the show’s saving graces, according to Crane’s son, Robert, was the fact that it was a prisoner of war camp rather than a concentration camp. “That’s where allied prisoners were being held,” Robert tells Womans World, “and any viewer of Hogan’s Heroes will know that the Allies have a secret base there. Everybody had a good vibe about the show even before it debuted; the CBS executives loved it, the sponsors loved it, they were getting good vibes from the writers visiting the set, and there was just an overall feeling it was going to go.”
Which it did. Big time. And below you can take a look at the cast that proved the Nazis to be dolts on a weekly basis.
Bob Crane as Colonel Robert Hogan
Leading the Hogan’s Heroes cast, and born July 13, 1928 in Waterbury, Connecticut, is actor Bob Crane, who had a wide-ranging career that started with him playing drums while in middle school, becoming part of the orchestra, jazz and marching bands, and even graduating to the Connecticut and Norwalk Symphony Orchestras as part of their youth orchestra program. Following a stint in the Connecticut Army National Guard, he married high school sweetheart Anne Erzian.
In 1950 he became a radio dee-jay and did so at several stations, including Connecticut’s CBS outlet, KNX, where he brought a great deal of innovation to morning radio with music and comedy bits. From there he made the shift to acting, scoring roles on The Twilight Zone and The Dick Van Dyke Show before being cast in a recurring part on The Donna Reed Show.
His casting on Hogan’s Heroes was next in 1965, and was a huge success that put the actor on the TV map in the same way his broadcast shows had on radio. After its six season run in 1971, Crane believed he would just move on to another success, but that wasn’t the case. He made a number of guest appearances and four years later was cast in The Bob Crane Show, from Mary Tyler Moore‘s MTM production company, which was a flop.
Dinner Theater was next, and it turned out to be fairly lucrative for him. One show in particular saw him traveling the country: Beginner’s Luck, about a cheating husband, which had more than a little sense of irony to it given that Crane was not a faithful husband. In fact, he got obsessed with burgeoning video technology and took to asking women he’d meet to strip and perform in front of the camera.
Crane got mixed up with the wrong people, and while there was no conviction in the crime, what’s known is that he was staying at the Winfield Place Apartments in Scottsdale while performing in Beginner’s Luck when, on June 28, 1978, he was bludgeoned to death (believed to be by a video camera tripod) in his sleep, and was found with an electric cord tied around his neck.
“My family was not prepared for it,” the actor’s son, Robert, reflects of the day he learned the news, “and it was the worst time of my life up to then. We were a pretty simple, non-Hollywood family, and it was a shock. I went to Phoenix to see my dad’s body and they also let me walk through the crime scene where I was actually touching stuff.”
“This is before DNA evidence, so the police were letting me look at things. And then the next morning I saw my dad at the morgue,” Robert continues. “I volunteered to go. You see these things on the news and it’s always somebody else. Those days were in the aftermath of Vietnam and seeing the soldiers who are going through hell and their families and all that, but that’s, again, somebody else. That’s not our family. But now it does happen to our family, and it’s murder and we weren’t prepared at all.”
For much more on Bob Crane, who was married twice and had five children, check out Robert’s book (co-written with Christopher Fryer), titled Crane: Sex, Celebrity and My Father’s Unsolved Murder.
Werner Kemperer as Colonel Wilheim Klink
You cannot talk about Werener Klemperer’s role as Colonel Wilheim Klink as part of the Hogan’s Heroes cast without bringing up the irony that he’s actually Jewish. Not realizing the role was comedic, when told about the part by his agent, he said, “I had one qualification when I took the job: If they ever wrote a segment whereby Colonel Klink would come out the hero, I would leave the show.” They never did.
Born March 22, 1920 in Cologne, Germany, the family immigrated to the United States in 1933 and decided on Los Angeles as the place to live. Acting in plays while in high school, Werner took acting courses at the Pasadena Playhouse prior to serving in the U.S. Army’s Special Services unit during World War II. He made his film debut in 1956’s Flight to Hong Kong and would appear in a total of 16 between that and 1991’s The Cabinet of Dr. Remirez. He achieved critical acclaim for his role as Emil Hahn in 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg.
Television embraced him in 1951 for an appearance on the Goodyear Television Playhouse, which would be followed by dozens of other appearances over the years, though Hogan’s Heroes would represent his only starring role on a series. His final performance would be voicing the role of “Homer’s Guardian Angel as Colonel Klink” on a 1993 episode of The Simpsons.
With the conclusion of Hogan’s Heroes in 1971, Klemperer more frequently embraced stage work, including a 1987 revival of Cabaret on Broadway, where he found himself nominated for a Tony Award in the category of Best Featured Actor for his portrayal of Herr Schultz.
Married three times, he had two children. Klemperer died on December 6, 2000 from cancer at age 80.
John Banner as Sergeant Hans Schultz
Some of the biggest laughs generated by the Hogan’s Heroes cast came from Sgt. Hans Schultz, number two at Stalag 13, as played by John Banner. One wouldn’t want to use the word “lovable” in association with a Nazi, but Schultz is about as close as you can get to that term.
Born January 28, 1910 in Stanislau, Austria-Hungary, Banner studied for a law degree, but decided to switch to acting. However, in 1938 when Hitler annexed Austria to Nazi Germany, he emigrated to the United States and quickly learned English. From 1942 to 1945 he served in the United States Army Air Corps, becoming a supply sergeant. Sadly, it was reported that he lost much of his family during the Holocaust.
He made three appearances on Broadway and appeared in more than 40 films between an uncredited role in 1940’s Spring Parade and 1970’s Togetherness. He made his small screen debut on a 1950 episode of The Lone Ranger and appeared on a wide variety of shows up to a 1972 episode of The Partridge Family.
From 1964 to 1965 he appeared in five episodes of The Baileys of Balboa, playing the character Hans, and in 1971 played inept gangster Uncle Latzi in 13 episodes of The Chicago Teddy Bears. Married once, he died on January 28, 1973 at age 63 following a burst abdominal aortic aneurysm hemorrhage.
Robert Clary as Corporal Louis LeBeau
Playing Frenchman chef and patriot Corporal Louis LaBeau was a natural for Robert Clary, who was born March 1, 1926 in Paris, France. The youngest of 14 children, he lost 10 of his siblings during the Holocaust. His career — as a singer — began at age 12 when he started performing on a French radio station. In 1942, due to the fact he was Jewish, he found himself deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth, later sent to Buchenwald. There he actually sang for an audience of SS soldiers every other Sunday while accompanied by an accordionist.
“Singing, entertaining, and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was very immature and young and not really fully realizing what situation I was involved with. I don’t know if I would have survived if I really knew that.”
After the war, he went back to singing, recording popular songs in both France and America. Although he moved into acting, he only appeared in five films between 1951’s Ten Tall Men and 1975’s The Hindenburg. His TV debut was in Hogan’s Heroes, though during its run he also starred in the television Western The High Chaparral from 1966 to 1971, with recurring roles on the soap operas The Young and the Restless between 1973 and 1974, and The Bold and the Beautiful between 1990 and 1992. His only other credit was an episode of Fantasy Island in 1978.
Also a painter, he spoke frequently about the Holocaust. Clary was married to Natalie Cantor, daughter of singer Eddie Cantor, from 1965 until her death in 1997. He died on November 16, 2022 at the age of 96.
Richard Dawson as Corporal Peter Newkirk
Like Robert Clary, Richard Dawson’s background came in handy as part of the Hogan’s Heroes cast: similar to the British Newkirk, he was born in England (on November 20, 1932). At age 14 he ran away from home and lied about his age to join the British Merchant Navy, where he successfully pursued a career in boxing. Eventually arriving in New York City, he became as successful stand up comedian there as he had been in England, changing his name to Richard Dawson along the way. As an actor on the big screen, he would appear in nine films between an uncredited role in 1962’s The Longest Day and 1987’s The Running Man.
Prior to Hogan’s Heroes he made a total of four TV guest appearances, and after the show he appeared on 58 episodes of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, was a panelist on 1,279 episodes of the 1973 to 1978 version of the game show Match Game, seven episodes of The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1973 to 1974) and served as host of 2,334 episodes of Family Feud between 1976 and 1985 and 1994 and 1995.
Dawson was married twice (having met his second wife when she was a contestant on Family Feud) and is the father of three. He died on June 2, 2012 at 79 of complications from esophageal cancer.
Ivan Dixon as Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe
Born April 6, 1931 in New York City, Ivan Nathaniel Dixon III started his career on stage in a 1957 Broadway production of The Cave Dwellers, followed two years later with A Raisin in the Sun. His film debut was in 1957’s Something of Value, which was followed by eight others, the final one being 1976’s Car Wash.
He made 15 TV guest appearances before Hogan’s Heroes, and afterwards worked largely as a director, having served that role on the films Trouble Man (1972) and The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973). He recurred as director on the shows Nichols (four episodes), The Waltons (seven episodes), The Rockford Files (nine episodes), The Greatest American Hero (six episodes), Magnum, P.I. (13 episodes) and the miniseries Amerika (which consisted of seven parts).
Dixon, the only Hogan’s Heroes cast member who didn’t stay through the whole run of the show (he left following Season 5), married Berlie Ray Dixon in 1954 and they had four children. He died on March 16, 2008 at age 76 of complications from kidney failure.
Larry Hovis as Technical Sergeant Andrew Carter
The Hogan’s Heroes cast is rounded out by Larry Hovis. Born February 20, 1936 in Wapato, Washington, he began his career as a singer, appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and singing a recording contract with Capitol Records, his strongest-selling song being “We Could Have Lots of Fun.”
In 1966 he wrote the screenplay for the film, Out of Sight, after which he began acting, appearing in local theater productions. In 1959 he moved to New York, appearing on Broadway in the musical and comedy review, From A to Z. A move to California followed in 1963 with him making guest appearances on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and The Andy Griffith Show prior to Hogan’s Heroes.
Following the series he made a few more guest appearances, toured in the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and co-produced a number of TV game shows. He was married to Ann Corrigan from 1955 until her death in 1995, and they had four children. Hovis died on September 9, 2003 at age 67 of esophageal cancer.