Col. Robert Hogan led a group of prisoners of war during World War II from within a German army prison, conducting special operations against Col. Klink and Hans Schultz, who ran the facilities.
If this sounds like a historical narrative to you, you’ve probably never heard of Hogan’s Heroes, the sitcom that aired from 1965 to 1971. What’s more, you probably are surprised to find out, the show with themes like war and prison is actually a comedy! Here are some more facts about the popular television series that will make you say “I know nothing!”
Bob Crane Starred As Col. Robert E. Hogan
Bob Crane was an actor who was seen in a number of sitcoms during the first 20-some years of television. But he wasn’t just a TV star — he was also a disc jockey and a drummer. As the titular Robert E. Hogan, he was indeed a very importat part of Hogan’s Heroes.
Crane went on to perform in roles beyond his most famous one, appearing in other sitcoms including Love, American Style and his own program The Bob Crane Show. In 1978, however, tragedy struck — Crane was discovered dead in a hotel room in Arizona.
Bob Crane Consulted With Veterans Before Agreeing To Take On The Role
Bob Crane, who played the show’s man character Robert Hogan, was a legitimate veteran of the United States Air Force. He felt a special connection between the show and the role he was playing. Because of that connection, he wanted real-life members of the military or veterans to be a part of the show too.
Crane was also a bit concerned about the show itself. Let’s be honest: there’s some pretty heavy themes in the background of the program, juxtaposed with comedic elements. Before agreeing to do the show, Crane showed the trailer to other veterans to make sure they liked it, too.
Jewish Actors Played Roles Of Some German Officers On The Show
The German soldiers on the show were, of course, symbolic of the structured military system that was within Nazi Germany of the 1940s. Again, given the strong themes involved in the show, it’s a wonder that it was ever made, just two decades after the end of World War II.
Interestingly, the four main German leaders on the program, including Col. Klink and Hans Schultz, were played by Jewish actors Werner Klemperer and John Banner, respectively. As mentioned previously, actor Robert Clay, who played a French colonel in Hogan’s unit, also survived a Jewish concentration camp when he was younger.
Werner Klemperer As The Bumbling Col. Wilhelm Klink
German-American actor Werner Klemperer appeared on Hogan’s Heroes as the bumbling, humorous, and super-gullible Col. Wilhelm Klink, the German officer who oversaw the prisoner of war camp that Robert Hogan and his team of misfits were a part of. Klemperer did an amazing job with the role, becoming a favorite in American households (despite him being the antagonist of the program).
Klemperer went on to play roles in a number of programs for decades after Hogan’s Heroes. He appeared on Love Boat, Law & Order, and even The Simpsons. Unknown to many was that Klemperer was also a composer! In fact, his father was a famous composer named Otto Klemperer, so the gift ran in the family.
Klink Couldn’t Play, But Klemperer Could
Werner Klemperer, portraying Col. Klink, had a running gag on the show where he would play the violin in a very bad way. It was comedic gold, and often made whoever was in the room listening to him play it want to leave immediately.
In actuality, Klemperer was an accomplished musician, who played piano and the violin quite excellently. Music ran in Klemperer’s blood — he was a composer of music, just like his father, Otto Klemperer, was. Playing the violin that badly on the show was hilarious, but probably doubly-funny for Klemperer (and an inside joke for himself), who actually could play it quite well!
Klemperer Had A Special Rule For Col. Klink That Producers Agreed To
Werner Klemperer played the role of the Nazi Col. Klink, a portrayal that probably had some difficulty for him to do. Klemperer, a German with Jewish heritage, likely saw many painful images from the era of World War II, including what the Nazi regime did to people who held his same religious beliefs and background.
There was one rule that Klemperer gave to the producers of Hogan’s Heroes if he was to be on the show: he wanted to ensure that Col. Klink, the Nazi commander of the prison, would NEVER succeed in his schemes. And thus, he never did.
Ivan Dixon / Sgt. James ‘Kinch’ Kinchloe
Ivan Dixon performed the role of Sgt. James “Kinch” Kinchloe on Hogan’s Heroes. His role was somewhat of an important one for television in general — as the head of communications for the crew of prisoners under Hogan’s command, “Kinch” was second-in-command to Robert Hogan, a position of authority that wasn’t typically seen in media at the time for African American men to take on.
Dixon went on to have an amazing career beyond Hogan’s Heroes, as an actor, director, and producer. He had roles in The A-Team as well as Magnum P.I. He even went on to win an Emmy for his role in The Final War of Olly Winter.
Robert Clary played French Cpl. Louis LeBeau
Robert Clary had an amazing life before becoming an actor. He lived in France and was a musician before coming to the United States. But even before he moved overseas, Clary, during the 1940s, was actually imprisoned within a Nazi concentration camp due to his Jewish heritage, and was liberated in April of 1945, living within the camp for about three years.
Clary played Cpl. Louis LeBeau, a member of the French Air Force who would often call the German characters on the program “pigs.” Very few probably realized that his role wasn’t too far away from his true life experiences.
Richard Dawson, Cpl. Peter Newkirk
Richard Dawson appeared on Hogan’s Heroes as Cpl. Peter Newkirk, a rambunctious and silly character who was a jack of all trades. Newkirk was a safecracker, a pickpocket, a tailor, and even a magician on the program. He sometimes wore women’s clothing as well to confuse the German soldiers on the show, and impersonated famous figures from the 1940s, like Hitler and Winston Churchill.
Richard Dawson, however, is probably better known to American audiences not for his role on this show, but for hosting Family Feud for a number of years. He also was in the 1987 film Running Man.
Richard Dawson’s Accent
Richard Dawson is an actor who was born in Britain. It sometimes helped and hurt him in different ways when he was auditioning for roles. Originally, Dawson auditioned to be Robert Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, but the producers felt he didn’t come off as an American because of his accent.
Later, he was given the role of Peter Newkirk on the program. For this role, he felt he could pull off a Liverpoolian accent, but it turned out that wasn’t going to work either — it was said that no one could understand what he was saying. The network encouraged him to use a Cockney accent instead, and that’s how the character remained for the rest of the series’ run.
John Banner Portrayed Sgt. Hans Schultz
Another favorite on the program — and again, a German soldier who was technically an “enemy” of the Americans — was Sergeant Hans Schultz, played by actor John Banner during the run of the show. Schultz was the Sergeant of the Guard at Stalag 13, and was considered a good-natured German soldier by viewers of Hogan’s Heroes.
That adoration is probably because he was always ready to look the other way when the prisoners were up to their hijinks (especially if there was a bribe involved). But when it was apparent that something was afoot, and Hans knew about it, he would ring out with his classic catchphrase: “I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know knothing!”
The Show Was Almost About An American Prison
The idea for the protagonists in Hogan’s Heroes to appear in a German prisoner of war camp in the 1940s wasn’t always the choice of series creator Albert S. Ruddy. Originally, he had wanted to produce a comedic series based inside an American prison. However, Ruddy discovered that a program developed by NBC called Campo 44 had a similar concept, and was set to take place inside an Italian prison.
That led Ruddy back to the drawing board. Although Hogan’s Heroes still takes place in a prison of sorts, the changes are substantially different when you really think about it (a prisoner of war setting versus an American prison).
The Theme Song
A lot of television shows are remembered not only for their characters, but also for their catchy theme songs. Many of the more popular theme songs had lyrics, like All In The Family, but some were without lyrics, like The Addams Family (although, everyone who listened to that song knew exactly when to snap their fingers!). Hogan’s Heroes, however, is not well-remembered for having a theme song that is sung to this day. Still, for your benefit, here are the lyrics to the show’s theme:
“Heroes, heroes, husky men of war, Sons of all the heroes, of the war before. We’re all heroes up to our ear-o’s You ask questions, We make suggestions, That’s what we’re heroes for”
A Rejected Tagline
For a comedic show to take place in such a serious setting, it was a challenge not to cross the lines at times. When the show was first starting out, for example, some at the network wanted to include a tagline along with it to make it even more funny. One of the actors of the show, however, objected strongly to it.
The proposed tagline would have read, “If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hogan’s Heroes!” While sticking with the comedic motiff, this was a bit darker than some liked. Bob Crane, who played Robert Hogan in the show, rejected it outright, saying, “No, let’s not say that, no.”
The Show Could Have Been Steamy…
When television series talk about things getting steamy, they usually mean there’s a romantic aspect to it. For Hogan’s Heroes, however, they meant literal steam. It was pitched that the show could have used actual steam. The German soldiers at Stalag 13 wanted to make life miserable for the POWs, so writers and producers briefly considered creating a “steam room” for the show’s characters to enjoy. But the idea was quickly abandoned, as the producers worried fans wouldn’t get the joke, and that it would be too outlandish, even for a show based on a troupe of prisoners outsmarting their captors.
A Rural Purge
For those who are not familiar, the term “jumping the shark” refers to a television series that has grown stagnant after a singular episode where something outlandish and beyond acceptability happens. It originated from the show Happy Days, when Arthur Fonzarelli ski-jumped over a shark in a tank during a beach episode. Yes. That happened.
A different phenomenon happened to Hogan’s Heroes. Rather than “jumping the shark” (a term that didn’t exist yet), the show got the “rural purge.” Shows that featured rural communities (The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, and Green Acres, to name a few) became popular, whereas programs about war — even comical ones like Hogan’s Heroes — were left in the dust.
Richard Dawson Didn’t Like Being In Public
Richard Dawson eventually became something of a recluse years after he gained fame and notoriety. Living in Beverly Hills, he was rarely seen in public for years at a time, likely due to the celebrity status he garnered from Family Feud more so than Hogan’s Heroes. The program was an instant hit, and is still running today, although it’s had a number of hosts since that time that have tried to fill in for Dawson’s memorable line, “Survey Says!”
It’s not unusual for celebrities to “go into hiding” once they become famous. Whether it’s the paparazzi, or the constant demands from belligerent fans, for some reason or another, some celebrities don’t like to go out and about unless it’s for their work.
Actresses On Hogan’s Heroes
As the show was about a World War II prisoner of war camp, it’d be unusual to see a female presence on Hogan’s Heroes, simply for historical reasons (there were no female soldiers in that time period, for example). Still, there were a few female actresses who made it into the show.
Nita Talbot portrayed a “White Russian” spy, and received an Emmy Award nomination in the category for Best Supporting Actress in a comedy for her role. Arlene Martel played a French resistance contact, who was also a love interest of Robert Hogan. Martel’s character was rescued by Hogan from the Gestapo twice on the show.
Popular In Germany
The show Hogan’s Heroes took a comedic approach to a very sensitive subject — World War II, and particularly German prisoner of war camps. That’s a difficult thing to pull off, but the show did it well, without crossing lines that were deemed inappropriate.
The show did this so well that it gained a large audience following in an unexpected place: Germany itself. For years, the German people had lived with the stigma of the war, and to see it put on television in a comedic fashion seemed to be a positive outcome of the show in that nation. They did change the title of the program, however: from Hogan’s Heros to Ein Käfig voller Helden (“A Cage Full of Heroes”)
A Comic Book?
It’s not unusual for television shows to be based on comic books. In the 1960s, that’s how the Batman TV series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, came into being. More modern programs, like Agents of Shield or The Defenders, are also examples of how comic books have come to life on the small screen.
Hogan’s Heroes was the opposite, however: the show inspired a comic book run of its own, rather than the other way around. The comic book was published between 1969 and 1973, during the Silver Age of comic books. If you happen to have a copy, they’re worth a bit of coin if they’re in mint condition, with some copies selling on eBay for as much as $20.
Larry Hovis As Sgt. Andrew Carter
Larry Hovis was the actor who portrayed Andrew Carter. The United States Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant played a critical role in the program — as a bomb-maker and mixer of other chemicals for Hogan’s team. At the same time, Carter wasn’t exactly the most responsible of chemical mixers, often forgetting what he had put together, which caused many mishaps for the character on Hogan’s Heroes.
Hovis acted up until his death in 2003. His last role, in 2002, was as a doctor in Lone Star State of Mind. It’s somewhat fitting, as both that role and his character on Hogan’s Heroes were intrigued by science.
Kenneth Washington As Sgt. Richard Baker
Kenneth Washington joined the series in the last season, after Ivan Dixon left the show. Another African American, Washington played the character of Sergeant Richard Baker, who was a trusted member of Col. Hogan’s crew, and a radio communications expert. He was also a younger actor on the program — whereas Bob Crane was born in 1928, Washington was born 18 years later.
Washington holds another important distinction for actors on Hogan’s Heroes: besides Robert Clary, as of 2019 Washington is the only other cast member from the program who is still alive to this day. He continued acting well up to 1989.
Burkhalter’s Mercedes — Only Three Existed When The Show Was Filmed
General Burkhalter was known for driving around the prisoner’s camp in a convertible Mercedes-Benz W31. Interestingly, the car was rare when it was first produced. Only 57 of the model were ever created. After World War II came about, 54 of those 57 vehicles were destroyed. The other two in existence have interesting stories as well: one became a fire engine, and the other is owned by Spanish royalty.
The vehicle itself is historically significant: it was primarily used by high-ranking members of the Nazi party for parades. For regular use, the vehicles were just too expensive.
The Hogan’s Heroes Album
We already discussed how the show inspired a comic book, but did you know that the cast of Hogan’s Heroes also put out a music album? The album features singing from cast members Clary (who was a singer before he became an actor), Dawson, Carter, and Kinchloe. Songs on the album were not contemporary to the 1960s, but rather featured popular tunes from the 1940s wartime era. And in the liner notes, a derivative of the pitched (but rejected) tagline from the show: “Would you believe World War II was funny?”
It might seem odd that a TV show would put out an album, but this wasn’t actually uncommon. In fact, Dennis the Menace did the same thing, featuring Jay North on that show’s music album.
Sigrid Valdis And Bob Crane Get Married
Patricia Olson, who went by the stage name of Sigrid Valdis, played Col. Klink’s secretary Hilda for several seasons on Hogan’s Heroes. While performing on the show, she also met her future husband there — the man playing Robert Hogan himself, Bob Crane.
The two got married in October of 1970 (it was Crane’s second marriage). They even had the ceremony on the set of the show. However, tragedy would strike their relationship eight years later, after Crane was murdered in Arizona. Valdis moved away from Los Angeles, returning to be a part of her son’s radio show in 1998. She died in 2007.
The Show’s Set Exploded
If you’re hoping to someday go to the set of where Hogan’s Heroes was filmed, be prepared to do some furniture shopping. That’s because the original set exploded in 1974, when the exploitation film Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, was filmed.
The explosion didn’t bother the Hogan’s Heroes producers much, however — allowing it to happen meant they didn’t have to pay for demolition. After the movie was filmed, the set became home to a furniture store, a gym, and the headquarters for Beats by Dre. Which, we’re guessing the Hogan’s Hero album sounds amazing on while listening with those brand’s headphones!
It’s Always Snowy
If you pay enough attention to Hogan’s Heroes, you’ll notice something somewhat peculiar: it’s never spring, summer, or even autumn in the show. It’s as though the program takes place in perpetual winter.
The producers and creators of the show agreed from the beginning to do things this way. There would always be snow or other wintry scenery in the background, ensuring that the episodes could be watched in any order. This was difficult at times for the actors, however, as they had to wear scarves, jackets, and other accessories in the summer heat when they filmed!
You Can Visit Hogan’s Jacket
Television actors, while portraying characters, are sometimes well-known for their outerwear just as much as they are for their acting chops. The Fonz, for example, wore a memorable leather jacket on Happy Days.
Bob Crane’s character Robert Hogan also wore an iconic jacket throughout the entire series of Hogan’s Heroes. Besides Crane, however, other actors have worn it as well. Frank Sinatra wore the jacket during the filming of Von Ryan’s Express, which was filmed and released before Hogan’s Heroes. And Greg Kinnear wore the jacket for the 2002 film Auto Focus. Today, the jacket can be seen at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio.
Klink’s And Schultz’s “Histories”
Fictional characters, like people in real life, actually have a history behind them. We don’t often think about it because, well, they’re fictional characters, and we enjoy watching them in movies or on television at that particular time in history. But some of the backgrounds of Hogan Heroe’s characters are actually known to us.
Sergeant Schultz, for instance, was the president of a toy company called Shatze Toy before World War II broke out, according to the show. Meanwhile, Col. Klink led a less exciting life — he was a bookkeeper, and for some time he was also a parking lot attendant.
Larry Hovis’ Wedding Ring
Larry Hovis, who played Sergeant Andrew Carter, on Hogan’s Heroes was apparently deeply devoted to his wife. Hovis refused to remove his wedding ring from his finger during filming of the show, even though his character wasn’t married. To conceal the fact that he was wearing a wedding ring, Hovis wore gloves during the show and took other measures to ensure it wasn’t ever filmed. That’s a deep devotion — especially considering some of the scenes were filmed in the summertime!
Hovis and his wife, Anne Corrigan, remained married up to her death in 1995. Hovis himself passed away in 2003.
Night Shots, During The Day
A lot of the night shots for Hogan’s Heroes were actually produced during the day time. In modern Hollywood, that’s not a big feat, but in the 1960s, filming in the daytime — while outside, many times — and making it look like night — was a special effect performed by something called a “Day for Night” filter that was part of the camera. If you look at the scenes where it had been used, you can’t even tell that the show was filmed during the daytime! It saves on costs, too, as nighttime shots typically require more spending to accommodate the crew and cast members on a show.
One Actor Left The Show After Finding Out It Was A Comedy
Not everyone was on board with the whole ‘let’s make a comedy about Nazi Germany POW camps’ thing. One actor, who was part of the pilot episode of the show, left Hogan’s Heroes after he found out it was supposed to be a comedy. Russian actor Leonid Kinskey, who played Sascha in the classic 1942 film Casablanca, was apparently “uncomfortable playing let’s-pretend with people in Nazi garb,” according to a snippet from an A.V. Club article.
That didn’t end his acting career, however. Kinskey went on to perform in other TV shows, including Mayberry R.F.D. Kinskey passed away in 1998.
Two Actors Appeared In Every Episode
Only two of the series’ regular actors appeared in all 168 episodes of Hogan’s Heroes during its run, and they’re exactly the two you might be thinking of.
Bob Crane, who played the titular Col. Robert Hogan, and Werner Klemperer, who played the bumbling Colonel Klink, were the only members of the cast who made it into every single episode of the show. This made a lot of sense, actually: the two were the main characters, the protagonist and the antagonist respectively, and if they weren’t a part of the program, a lot of fans would have likely missed them.
The Germans Soldiers Had The Wrong Gun
Even though the producers for the show went out of their way to strive for authenticity when it came to vehicles driven on the show, they didn’t always get it right. Astute historians will notice that Sergeant Hans Schultz (as well as other German guards on the show) were holding a Krag Jorgensen rifle — which was a U.S. military issued weapon. German soldiers carried a Mauser K98 instead.
Most fans didn’t notice, however, and it probably saved the studio a lot of time and money. Finding U.S. issued weaponry is much easier to do in military surplus stores than finding German issued ones from a war 20 years prior to the show’s filming.
Snow On The Set
As mentioned before, the set of Hogan’s Heroes was made to look like it was perpetually winter. How did they do it? In the first three seasons of the show, producers used salt to mimic the look of snow on the ground or on the buildings on set. That wasn’t a very cost-effective solution to be sure, so by the time the fourth season came around they started painting the rooftops and the ground white where it was appropriate to do so. It’s not a very noticeable difference, if you look for it yourself, though it likely saved the studio a lot of bucks in the long run.
Bob Crane’s Drums
Remember how we discussed the theme song to the show previously? Listen again closely to the theme song of Hogan’s Heroes, and you’ll hear something interesting. The show starts out with a drum beat, repeated a few times over. That drum cadence was performed and recorded by none other than Bob Crane himself.
Crane was actually a very talented drummer, and his skills were demonstrated several times in other episodes of the program as well. It was a hobby that Crane loved to do wherever he went — even bringing the drums with him on promotional tours of the show.
Full Names For Two Characters
For the most part, characters on the show were referred to by their first names or their last names, or sometimes by their nicknames, when they weren’t being formally introduced. Two characters on the show, however, always had their full names pronounced by the other characters whenever possible.
Sergeant Richard Baker (played by Kenneth Washington) and James “Kinch” Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon) were the two characters who always had their full names read out loud. For Washington, the honor only lasted for the last season of the series, as he joined the show later. Washington left before Hogan’s Heroes final season.
LeBeau’s Many (Fake) Jobs
Corporal Louis LeBeau, the French member of Hogan’s team of misfits, made several claims about his life prior to being in the prison camp on the show. He did this in order to confuse his German captors.
Among the many jobs and skills he claimed to have, LeBeau said he was a chemist, a dress designer, an art student, and even a dance instructor. He even suggested he worked on a rail line. Any one of those things in LeBeau’s life would have made him interesting, but the character’s real past life was impressive as well: he was apparently a chef before the war, the show revealed.
A M*A*S*H Connection
There’s a small connection between Hogan’s Heroes and the other wartime “dramedy,” M*A*S*H, which depicted soldiers’ lives at a medical encampment during the Korean War. It’s a subtle connection, to be sure, and you might only have caught it if you watched both shows’ German translations.
The shows had to be dubbed using German voice actors, of course, so that Germans watching the syndicated series could understand what the actors were saying. For Hogan’s Heroes and M*A*S*H, the same German voice actors were used on both shows. We’re guessing that, even if they had the same voice actors, people probably didn’t confuse Robert Hogan for “Hawkeye” Pierce, as the two protagonists had very different demeanors.
The Hogan’s Heroes Book
There’s been a comic book and a musical album mentioned in this list of interesting facts so far about Hogan’s Heroes. But in 2013, there was also a tell-all book published about the show, written by author Brenda Scott Royce. The book, titled Hogan’s Heroes: Behind the Scenes at Stalag 13, describes a lot of the information we already touched upon, plus a lot more.
“If your fondest TV memories involve the POWs of Stalag 13 cleverly outwitting their captors, Schultz stammering ‘I know nothing!’ and Hochstetter threatening to send everyone to the Russian front, then this is the book for you,” the book’s jacket reads. Die-hard fans of the show can purchase the book online, if they want to learn more about this show. And if you get the book, you can no longer claim to “know nothing” about the program!