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Hogans Heroes Cast Was a Unique Blend of Ethnicities

Cheryl enjoys researching and sharing little known facts about celebrities with her readers

Hogan and his heroes

Hogan and his heroes

A diverse set of characters

Hogans Heroes premiered on CBS in September of 1965 and immediately became a top 10 hit. The series star was Bob Crane (whose sir name is Irish) as the American Air Force Colonel Robert Hogan who was the leader of a group of POWs (Prisoners of War) who were stationed at German prison camp Stalag 13. His band of merry men consisted of Ivan Dixon as United States Army Air Corps Staff Sergeant James "Kinch" Kinchloe, Richard Dawson as United Kingdom Royal Air Force Corporal Peter Newkirk, Robert Clary as Corporal Louis LeBeau of the Free French Air Force, and Larry Hovis as United States Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant Andrew J. Carter. Dixon left the series at the end of season five and was replaced by Kenneth Washington. Instead of being recast as Kinchlow Washington portrayed a different character, African American Sergeant Richard Baker. Clary was Jewish and had spent time in a concentration camp during the Holocaust but this did not stop him from joining the cast of the show. Hogan and his "Heroes" represented America, Black America, France, and England.

Helga

Helga

Helga and Hilda

The character of Fräulein Helga was German but was portrayed by Cynthia Lynn who was born in Latvia and fled to America as a child with her mother. Lynn was only in the role during the first season as the secretary of Colonel Klink. She left the show and was replaced during seasons 2-6 with American actress Sigrid Valdis who portrayed Fraulein Hilda and the actress ater married Bob Crane.

Hilda

Hilda

Sargent Shultz

John Banner an Austrian Jew was asked about portraying Sargent Hans Shultz how he could do such a thing. He replied that he saw his character as being a good guy. Viewers loved Shultz who turned a blind eye to the schemes of Hogan and his Heroes with his signature line "I know nothing, I know nothing." There were a few people who protested the series during the first season but once Banner stood up for his role and how the show brought humor out of the tragedy of the Holocaust the protesters ceased.

Gestapo officer General Hochestter

Gestapo officer General Hochestter

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The Jewish Germans

Robert Clary was not the only Jewish actor on the show as four other cast members were Jews and yet they portrayed Natzi Germans. Werner Klemperer portrayed Corporal Klink, John Banner was Sergeant Schultz, Leon Askin played General Burkhalter, and Howard Caine was General Hochstetter. Caine was the only one of the actors who had not fled the Nazis during WWII. When Klemperer was asked about being Jewish and a German who served Hitler he replied "I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi." He pointed out that Hogan always won over those who held him in captivity. Clary who portrayed Lebeau said the following about the sitcom: "We are actors," "Are we going to say no to a part that gives us money every week, especially if the part is good? It's a tough business." This mirrors similar sentiment by African American actors who at one time could only obtain acting jobs as maids, butlers, nannies or slaves. People do what they have to do in order to survive and unless we have walked in their shoes there should be no judgment.

Burkhalter and Klink

Burkhalter and Klink

Diversity when ti was not cool

Today the varied ethnicities of the Hogan's Heroes cast would be no big deal but in 1965 there were no television shows that were as diverse until Star Trek in 1966. Five cast members of Jewish heritage, one Latvian, one African American, and one of Irish descent as the main characters was quite a breakthrough for the 1960s. The comradery and chemistry between them all was very strong. Unfortunately, Ivan Dixon who portrayed Kinchloe left the series before the final season. The reason he gave was that his talents were not really utilized and he did not feel challenged as a black actor. Even so, Hogan's Heroes offered diversity in television before it was the right thing to do.

Sgt. Shultz

Sgt. Shultz

The Holocaust factor

Hogan's Heroes was a hit in spite of the fact that Hitler was mentioned often and swastikas were displayed. Surprisingly there was no outcry from the Jewish community or anyone else. The Holocaust took place between 1933 and 1945 during the time of World War II and over 6 million Jews were killed along with homosexuals and people with disabilities. Obviously, those who enjoyed the CBS sitcom saw it for what it was which is entertainment. In Germany, swastikas are now banned but in America Hogan's Heroes including the swastika and Hitler still airs and fans continue to love it. Crane and the other actors portrayed their characters in such hilarious manners that their performances and the storylines overpowered the fact that Adolph Hitler exterminated close to 10 million people if the reports of 5 million in addition to the Jews were killed. Anyone who is uncomfortable with this should consider something important. If the five Jewish cast members did not have a problem then neither should the rest of us.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Cheryl E Preston

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