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!

New Writing Project!

Not long ago, Max started a writing project where he would do synopses of all of the Twilight Zone episodes, which are excellent and if you don’t follow his blog, you really should. He inspired Hans, another excellent blogger who you should be reading, to do the same with episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and his synopses are excellent as well (and he just started).

Well, they’ve inspired me to take one of my favorite TV series and write synopses of those episodes…

Hogan’s Heroes ran for six seasons, from 1965 to 1971, and was one of the shows axed in CBS’s "rural purge," where shows with a country theme (e.g. The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction etc.) were taken off the schedule to make room for shows like All In The Family. While Hogan didn’t have a country theme, CBS wanted younger viewers, in the age group 25 to 54, and the viewers for Hogan were by this time in their 40’s and 50’s and likely veterans of World War II and Korea.

MeTV, one of the nostalgia TV networks in the US, runs two episodes of the show every weeknight at 10 PM Eastern Time. The network will run the last two episodes of Season 5 tomorrow night and start showing the Season 6 episodes (24) on Tuesday night. Once they finish those, they’ll start showing the series from the first episode, which I estimate will be June 24. That will be my target date to start the episode descriptions. Up until then, I’ll be posting background information about the show and the actors.

I’m looking forward to this exercise!