NAZI POW: Werner Klemperer's Col. Klink was bamboozled weekly by… (Associated Press )
CBS' 1965-71 sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" revolved around a slick American colonel and his colorful band of fellow prisoners at a Nazi POW camp. Every week, these wily prisoners made dummkopfs of their German captors.
Ironically, the series was originally set in a U.S. prison.
"Hogan was going to be captain of the guards," says producer Al Ruddy, who created the show with Bernard Fein. "Klink was going to be a warden. Hogan was an enlightened penologist. He ran a happy prison, and everyone was content."
But Ruddy and Fein couldn't sell it to the networks. "No sponsors wanted to bring you a night in jail," Ruddy says, laughing. About three months later, while the two were trying to salvage the series, Ruddy came up with the idea of setting it in a German POW camp. This time around, the concept quickly sold.
And the sitcom, which aired on Friday evenings, was an instant success. "The next thing I know I get calls from every studio about ideas," says Ruddy, who went on to produce such films as the Oscar-winning 1972 classic "The Godfather."
All six seasons of the series arrived on DVD this week in the 28-disc "Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Series, Kommandant's Kollection," from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment. Extras include a new interview with Richard Dawson, best known as the kissing host of "Family Feud," who played the cockney Cpl. Peter Newkirk; a segment of the old variety series "Hollywood Palace," featuring the cast of "Hogan's Heroes"; and an extended version of the pilot episode, "The Informer."
Bob Crane, whose kinky sex life and murder were chronicled in Paul Schrader's film "Auto Focus," played the charmingly brilliant Col. Robert Hogan, who was always scheming to outwit the Nazi brass at Stalag 13, including the officious but clueless Col. Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) and thick-headed Sgt. Schultz (John Banner). Besides Newkirk, Hogan's heroes included Sgt. Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon), Sgt. Carter (Larry Hovis) and Cpl. LeBeau (Robert Clary).
The series was a hit with audiences and received three Emmy nominations for outstanding comedy series. Crane earned two nominations for lead actor and Klemperer received back-to-back Emmys in the supporting category. "Hogan's Heroes" garnered controversy from some quarters for making light of World War II, but defenders of the show noted that several cast members were Jewish, including Klemperer. Banner had fled Europe because of the Nazis, and Clary had been in a World War II concentration camp.
" 'Hogan's Heroes' lasted longer than the war," joked Dawson in a recent interview. "Our producer, Edward H. Feldman, he was just the dearest man. He never allowed blood, violence. You never saw someone being shot. You never saw someone being blown up."
The cast, Dawson said, was like an alternate family. Clary lives near Dawson in Beverly Hills. "We became very good friends," says Dawson. "John Banner was a dear man. He used to come home with me and play with my boys."
Dawson was a popular comic in his native England, known as Dickie Dawson when he came to Los Angeles. He had been spotted in a comedy club by Carl Reiner, who gave him a part in an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Soon he was asked to audition for "Hogan's Heroes."
"I went in and did the interview with Ed Feldman," Dawson said. Surprisingly, he was asked if he wanted to audition for the American Hogan. "I must have been on narcotics, because I said I would love that."
Because he couldn't do an American accent, he imitated Phil Silvers' blustery "Sgt. Bilko" character. "I realized I must have been most embarrassing," said Dawson.
But not embarrassing enough for Feldman, who asked Dawson to play Newkirk. "He said, 'What sort of Englishman do you want to be?' Everybody does cockney, usually, and I said I would like to do a little something different."
So he gave Newkirk a Liverpool accent, like the Beatles. "When we shot the pilot, I had just two or three sentences. About the third day, Eddie Feldman said the New York executives just called and they don't understand what you are saying. So I went in and looped it, and I made Newkirk a cockney."