I KNOW NOTHING

HOGAN’S HEROES was a weekly prime sitcom consisting of 168 episodes running from 1965 until 1971. Set in a German POW camp, it’s humor revolved around an inventive group of Allied POW’s outwitting the inept group of German overseers. It scripts and cast continue to amuse us even today on cable.

This reblog is from 2014. While it doesn’t deal with the TV show directly, it hits on my experience of the show’s acceptance on 2 former POWs and also a time Leonard Nimoy asked a question..,and was sorry he did..

One reason for the reblog is the excellent work being done by John Holton in his blog The Sound of One Hand Clapping. After a post on the Allied characters/actors, and another on the German characters/actors, John is writing a complete synopsis of each of the 168 episodes. Fine, entertaining writing, whether or not you are familiar with the show or not.

https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com/hogans-heroes-episode-index/

-Schultz-hogans-heroes-I Know Nooothing

On Memorial day weekend (2014) I read an angry letter posted on the web. The writer, a young (?) Politically Correct activist was railing out against the fact the old TV comedy, HOGAN’S HEROES, was still being shown on cable TV. She felt it was a great disservice to all those who were POW’s of the Germans in WWII. She wanted the series to be hidden away like the old AMOS & ANDY SHOW. In a way I could see her point; but… (It was the first TV show where Black actors had main roles along with the White actors.)

Two of my favorite coworkers at the Guthrie Theatre spent a large part of WWII as prisoners of war in German camps. Chuck Wallen, an American, was a stagehand and set carpenter at the Guthrie. Michael Langham, an Englishman, was the Artistic Director of the theatre. They were in different camps but they both had similar experiences during their years as prisoners.

Chuck, an Air Corps navigator, was on his first bombing run when the plane was shot down. He parachuted out, landed in a cow pasture and broke his back. A village doctor set Chuck’s back as best he could, but the setting would have left Chuck unable to ever stand straight again. A German doctor, seeing the problem, fought red tape and got Chuck to a hospital where the doctor rebroke the back and set it correctly. Chuck spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany, but at least he could stand straight.

Growing up, Michael Langham’s hero was the Duke of Wellington. Because of this, Michael  went to Officers’ Training School where he received an officer’s commission just in time to take part in the final days of the Battle of Dunkirk, namely the retreat to the beach. When the Miracle of Dunkirk was accomplished, Michael was not one of the lucky ones that were transported back to England. He was in the group that missed the boats and were captured by the Germans and placed in a POW camp, where he spent the duration of the war that he really never got to know first hand.

It was the camp where the Great Escape took place, although the tunnel was in a different barracks and Michael was not involved or even aware of what was going on. To kill time in the camp, Michael joined the theatrical group. Sometimes Michael acted, sometimes Michael directed. By the time the camp was liberated, Michael no longer thought of himself as the next Duke of Wellington. Instead, he pursued a career in the theatre, substituting Tyrone Guthrie for the Duke of Wellington as a role model.

It was the years of HOGAN’S HEROES in prime time. The day after each new episode aired, Michael would make his way down to the shop where he and Chuck would spend about a half hour or so going over the episode, laughing and comparing characters on both sides of camp to people in their camps. Since I was working the show the nights the series aired I never got to see it until years later in reruns. Sometimes though when I was working during a day when Chuck and Michael got together, I was privileged to listen to those two reminisce.

So, now when I find myself laughing at the antics of Hogan and the gang, I don’t feel any guilt. After all, two members of the Greatest Generation, who had first hand experience in POW camps laughed at the same antics many years ago.

On the other hand, another favorite acquaintance, Jim Daly, who survived the Bataan Death March and the ensuing years in a POW camp in the Philippines, would not have found anything funny during his hell on earth.

  

We doing a week of VINCENT in Scottsdale, Arizona about nine months after Bob Crane, Hogan of HOGAN’S HEROES, was murdered in this posh city of many rich retirees. Mr. ‘Just Call Me Bob’ Herberger, founder of the Herberger’s department store chain put on a big fete for us at his house. He had enjoyed the play and especially liked the fact that it came from the Guthrie in his home state of Minnesota. I think he spent more time talking with another Minnesota native, namely me, as he did hobnobbing with Leonard Nimoy, the star of VINCENT. It was a fun time with only one slight bump in the road.

Almost all of Mr. Herberger’s invitees were, like him, enjoying their retirement in the land of the sun. There wasn’t a Ford or a Chevy mixed in with the Rolls and Caddies, and although the it was Arizona casual dress, it wasn’t the casual dress wear that came off the rack at a Herberger’s Department Store.

There was one group of men that seemed to hang together. They looked like they could have been extras in THE GODFATHER. Maybe one of them brought the cannoli to the party. A couple of them were more interested in talking to Leonard about Dr. (sic) Spock than about Van Gogh, something that always irritated Leonard; but he remained a gentleman and answered their questions about Spock and STAR TREK as the old timers wanted.

Then Leonard asked them a question. ‘You know, Bob Crane and I use to be friends back in the days we were auditioning for jobs, and then when we both were in hit shows. Hadn’t seen him years though. Now,’ Leonard said in a quiet voice, ‘What’s the real skinny on Crane’s murder?’

You don’t yell fire in a theater, and you don’t ask these old men about murder. Their silence was deafening. They didn’t have to talk. They just gave Nimoy  – the look. Finally one of them spoke up in a raspy whisper. ‘Don’t ask about that guy again around here. You don’t want to know! Understand?’ Leonard nodded and the subject was dropped. He smiled at the group of men and left to get a refill on his Beefeater’s martini.

In the words of Sergeant Schultz, ‘I know nothing.

40 thoughts on “I KNOW NOTHING

  1. A great post and of course the I know nothing is still a joke in our family. I loved the series and appreciate your background stories of friends who experienced that era. I wonder if anyone now is looking into that murder. Thanks for the info.

  2. Another intruiging story. I can just picture that scene. And I enjoyed jumping over to John Holtons blog. Funny thing, just yesterday I put a copy of the book, The Great Escape, in the charity pile.

  3. I watched that show every week, and we loved it. My uncle was in a Japanese POW camp from 1942, and badly damaged physically and psychologically by the experience. But he also sat and laughed at Hogan’s Heroes. Did you ever see this film based on Bob Crane’s later life? It is well-made, with excellent casting.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_Focus
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. As Paul Harvey would have said, “The rest of the story….”

    If you can’t find good humor, you’re not looking hard enough…

    Cheers, Don! Thanks for your memories….Tom

    >

  5. As usual Don your life stories bring so much detail to otherwise unknown subjects, about Show business, you are a superb storyteller, with plenty to tell, we appreciate it.
    Thank you Don.

  6. I wasn’t a regular watcher of Hogan’s Heroes, but in general, I found the “sitcoms” of those days a lot more fun than today’s fare. Thanks for this interesting post.

  7. Nimoy asking The Godfather look-alikes about what really happened in Bob Crane’s murder – priceless!

    Don, your post was a pleasure to read. How you describe the stories in your life has me glued. Always. You are a master storyteller and writer. Those fellas you worked with at the Guthrie were probably like many WWll veterans, laughing at Hogan’s Heroes because humor is medicine for the soul. So, how some people find the show offensive is a puzzle to me. Comedy has always been poking fun at ourselves, so that we can laugh at ourselves.

      • Don, your stories are the meat and potatoes of life, told through a shining lens. If I can hold a candle to that, we’ll that’s as good as it gets. So, thank you very much. -Jennie-

  8. I gotta tell ya Don, I was shocked when this show came out. It seemed all too fresh for me. I just couldn’t believe they could make a comedy outta that. I don’t know if my Dad watched it or not – he had fought among the blood and killing over there.
    I tried though. Gave it a watch or two. Crazy enough the thing that really turned me away was Richard Dawson’s horrific English accent. My mother was English – a War Bride. So I know what an English accent is about – all of them. I thought “Geez! they can’t find a real Englishman for that role?”
    That was it for me. O well …

  9. Gosh, JC, Richard Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm on November 20, 1932 in Gosport, Hampshire, England. Served in the English Merchant Marine. Did not migrate to the US unil he was 22. I must admit I got turned off on Dawson when he hosted a game show and had to kiss every woman contestant. He must have been a good man though. He married and had 2 boys with English actress Diana Dors, who walked and left him to raise the boys.
    Actually, I can think of countless movies nd TV shows that were ‘war comedies’.
    My point is if my 2 friends who both were POWs in stalags thought the show was funny, that is enough for me to laugh at. Also several of the cast members who played the Germans were Jewish and saw battle in WWII.

  10. Ich weiß nichts! The only problem I had with this show was that they made the Nazis out to be bumbling fools. They were not. They were calculating, cruel and effective killers.

  11. I hope we never cancel comedy, being able to laugh sometimes at bad times helps people to get over them I think. I wonder about the person who asked for this, what makes them right? What if their opinions aren’t the right ones to someone else. My Dad will watch a show and I don’t see what’s so funny, I’ll watch a show and he doesn’t laugh, so what? You had a lots of wonderful experiences Don I’m glad to read about them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s