1 9 6 5 – 1 9 7 1 (USA)
168 x 30 minute episodes
By 1967 CBS believed that enough years had passed to diminish the memory of many of the horrors of World War II, which had ended 22 years earlier. The network felt that a situation comedy set in a Prisoner of War (POW) camp during the war would, by that time, be acceptable to the viewing public.
They were right, and Hogan’s Heroes became a hit and aired for six seasons.
Produced by Bing Crosby’s production company, the series was based on the Broadway hit play Stalag 17 but because the producers never acknowledged the connection, the writers of the play filed a lawsuit.
Set in Stalag 13 – a Luftwaffe POW camp outside of Hammelburg, Germany, in the middle of World War II – the premise of this series was that American prisoners of war would have no desire to escape from a German prison camp if they could use their superior intelligence to aid other allies in escaping from the camp while making their surroundings as comfortable as a luxury resort.
Naturally, in order to accomplish all this, the Germans running the camp – including the Kommandant, Luftwaffe Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer), and his main prison guard, Sergeant Schultz (John Banner) – would have to be fairly incompetent, inept and somewhat stupid.
Since the depiction of these befuddled officers bore little resemblance to the way real-life Nazis behaved, this TV show has always been surrounded in controversy.
Ever since it first aired, many objections were raised over the fact that the German soldiers on this series acted like lovable buffoons – “I know nothing, I see nothing” – rather than barbaric, evil mass murderers and torturers of innocent people.
In spite of the people who found this sitcom to be offensive, Hogan’s Heroes enjoyed a lengthy network run in the late 1960s and is constantly re-run around the world.
Much of the show’s popularity had to do with the appealing quality of the American soldiers, particularly the suave, coolly intelligent US Army Air Force Colonel Robert Hogan (Bob Crane), who led his multi-ethnic band of men on a never-ending series of comic capers, all of which had the purpose of defeating and humiliating the enemy in the most ingenious ways possible.
Peter Newkirk (Richard Dawson), the British RAF prisoner, was a master pickpocket and expert tailor with a talent for impersonation. Andrew Carter (Larry Hovis) was an explosives expert.
Louis LeBeau (Robert Clary), the French POW, was a jack-of-all-trades. James Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon) was a former Golden Gloves boxer. He and Richard Baker (Kenneth Washington) ran the underground communications centre
Helga (Cynthia Lynn) was Klink’s first secretary, eventually replaced by Hilda (Sigrid Valdis).
The real villains were stern Gestapo agent General Alfred Burkhalter (Leon Askin) and Major Wolfgang Hochstetter (Howard Caine) who was devoted to Hitler’s cause.
Much of the show’s humour was dependent on the idiocy of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz who, in spite of their relentless bravado, were putty in Hogan’s hands.
Werner Klemperer and John Banner who play the chief Germans were, in fact, both Jewish.
Klemperer – son of noted conductor Otto Klemperer, head of the Berlin State Opera – had to flee Nazi Germany, while Vienna-born John Banner was driven out of Europe when the Nazis took over Austria. His entire family was wiped out and he went on to serve in the US military during the war.
Robert Clary (LeBeau) was imprisoned during WWII in the Ottmuth, Blechhammer, Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald concentration camps as a child. His prison number, tattooed on his left forearm, was A-5714.
Bob Crane, who allegedly had a predilection for “naughty” pictures, was found bludgeoned to death in a motel room in Scottsdale, Arizona on 29 June 1978. He was appearing in an Arizona dinner theatre production of Beginner’s Luck at the time. Apparently, he had been murdered in his sleep.
In 1994, a jury acquitted Crane’s friend and former manager, John Carpenter, whom police had charged with the murder in 1992.
Colonel Robert Hogan
Colonel Wilhelm Klink
Sergeant Hans Schultz
Corporal Louis Le Beau
Corporal Peter Newkirk
Sergeant James Kinchloe
Sergeant Andrew Carter
Sergeant Richard Baker
General Alfred Burkhalter