Hogan’s Heroes: Overview and The Heroes

We’re just about a week away from starting my episode-by-episode look at the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, a sitcom that ran from 1965 to 1971 (and has been rerun countless times in syndication, including currently on MeTV with back-to-back episodes at 10 PM ET weeknights). It’s about an espionage and sabotage unit that operates out of Stalag 13, a Luftwaffe POW camp in Germany during World War II. A third task of the heroes is to assist POW’s who have escaped from other stalags to get out of Germany and back to their units.

Stalag 13’s kommandant is Col. Wilhelm Klink, a vain and incompetent career officer in the Luftwaffe. He’s from an aristocratic Prussian family and fancies himself a great violinist and a suave and debonair ladies’ man who bemoans the fact that he is so attractive to women. He will tell everyone he meets that "there has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13!" never realizing that’s because Hogan doesn’t allow it. His obese and lazy Sergeant of the Guard is Hans Schultz, who was a decorated soldier during World War I who then started the Schatzi Toy Company and was perfectly happy making toys when the Third Reich took over his factory and reinducted him into the service. Schultz will often catch glimpses of Hogan’s extracurricular activities and threaten to report them to Klink, only to be convinced by Hogan that doing so will result in nothing but trouble for him (Schultz), at which point Schultz will begin to parrot his catchphrase, "I know NOTHING!" We’ll talk more about Klink, Schultz, and the other Germans in the next installment.

Col. Robert Hogan, USAAF (played by Bob Crane) is the senior POW officer at Stalag 13. I did a detailed character sketch of Hogan a few years ago, and that will give you a lot of background on him and some information about the others. So, let’s talk about the other members of the crew.

  • Corporal Louis LeBeau (played by Robert Clary) was with the Free French Air Force when he was captured. Short in stature but fiercely patriotic, LeBeau is a gourmet chef who is often pressed into service by Klink to prepare meals for his dinner parties when he’s looking to impress some German general. LeBeau goes along, knowing that other members of the crew are rifling through the generals’ briefcases for intelligence that can be passed on to Allied headquarters in London. Schultz loves LeBeau’s cooking, which keeps him in the kitchen with LeBeau during these parties (and thus occupied while the others are busy elsewhere). LeBeau has trained the guard dogs to be friendly to the prisoners and their "visitors," and uses a tunnel built under their kennel to admit the visitors. The tunnel system will be discussed in a future segment.

  • Corporal Peter Newkirk, RAF (played by Richard Dawson) is, among other things, a conman, safe cracker, forger, pickpocket, lock picker, and card sharp, all of which come in handy at one point or another. He’s also an expert tailor and makes the German uniforms that he and the other crew members wear on some of their missions. He’s a master of disguise, and frequently dresses as an elderly woman to carry out a mission. He also does expert imitations of German officers’ voices.

  • Staff Sergeant James "Kinch" Kinchloe, USAAF (played by Ivan Dixon) is the crew’s radioman and electronics expert. Kinch operates the radio and communicates by voice and Morse code with the Underground and Allied command. He also has wired Klink’s office and set up a speaker in the coffeepot in Col. Hogan’s quarters, and has set up a switchboard through which calls from Klink’s office are diverted. Since he’s Black (Dixon was one of the first Black series regulars on TV), he doesn’t usually leave the camp disguised as a German soldier (though it has happened), but there have been times where his race was an advantage. Dixon left the series after Season 5 and was replaced by Kenneth Washington as Sgt. Richard Baker. It was never explained what happened to Kinch.

  • Technical Sergeant Andrew Carter, USAAF (played by Larry Hovis) is an explosives and demolition expert who had been a bombardier when he was captured. Carter really likes to make things blow up and has a lab in the tunnel in which he concocts explosive materials. Carter is affable and a bit naïve: he comes from a small town and worked in a drug store before he joined the Army. There are times when some of the smaller details of life need to be explained to him. Carter is the member of the crew most likely to be found in a German uniform, usually that of a general or field marshall, one time even posing as Adolf Hitler, to whom he bears a resemblance.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the German regulars. See you then!

25 thoughts on “Hogan’s Heroes: Overview and The Heroes

  1. John, I looked for this yesterday and still missed it….I watched the first two episodes so far so I’m ready…I love the quick humor and the way Crane delivers the lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I vaguely remember a few episodes of this show from childhood and just a few months ago ws wondering about it – and you answered my questions already with this post
    🙂 I am not sure I would want to watch the series but now I have more context and best wishes with your blog posts about it – they will be interesting

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  3. This is a great show that my mom hated because they always said “Germans” instead of Nazis. She was German and fought against her own countrymen when she joined the resistance. I only found that out in the last 10 years to be honest. She was called a Nazi and spat upon and she hated the fact that if you were German you were a Nazi. Ok now, that being said…I loved this show!! Werner Klemperer, John Banner and Robert Clary were all Jewish and thought the great way to fight Nazism is through humour. Look at Mel Brooks and his “Springtime for Hitler” song. Robert Clary is still alive and I would love to see an interview about his experiences in a concentration camp.

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    1. Leon Askin (General Burkhalter) was Jewish as well. He was a sergeant in the Army Air Force, as was John Banner. Werner Klemperer was in the Army’s Special Services unit and went around entertaining the troops. Howard Caine (Major Hochstetter) was also Jewish and grew up in Tennessee. He spent the war in the Navy.

      I noticed that about the Germans not being referred to as Nazis. I think they felt that calling them Germans would have less of a negative impact. Which was great, unless you were German, I guess.

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  4. Great show! Great cast! To critics who say POW’s didn’t think it was funny, I know two who did. Michael Langham, Artistic Director at the Guthrie Theater, was captured at Dunkirk. Chuck, head set builder, was captured when his plane was shot down shortly after D Day. The days after an episode was aired, the two would get together to laugh about it. They loved it.

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  5. “I know nothing!” That classic Shultz line was often repeated among my brothers and me as we joked around. We played a game called look out based in part on that show. I have some very fond memories.

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  6. Have always loved Hogan’s Heroes- if only more Nazi had been like Klink and Shultz! Looking forward to watching the episodes again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Notice they’re always the Germans, and never the Nazis. Klink talk about the “glorious Third Reich” and rarely says Hitler’s name, at most calling him “the Führer.” A lot of that was by design: Werner Klemperer said that if he was ever given a script where he beat Hogan, he’d walk off the set.

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  7. I loved that show.

    After you describe the characters, are you planning to talk about the actors? Very interesting back story for most of them.

    And what about the guy who replaced Kinchloe?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I will probably talk about the actors themselves, particularly the ones who play Germans. All of the main ones (Klemperer, Banner, Askin, and Caine) were Jewish and all fought for the US in WWII.

      I did mention that Kenneth Washington replaced Ivan Dixon in the last season. The thing was that they cut his character down to just “the Black guy who handles the radio,” which was a shame. He was much younger than the rest of the cast, which might have been part of it. I’ll probably talk more about him when I cover Season 6.

      Liked by 1 person

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