Saturday, January 9, 2016

Rod Serling Hated 'Hogan's Heroes' — And That's Okay!

My mother hates Hogan's Heroes.

Yes, that's right. The woman who gave birth to the author who would one day write and publish a 660-page tome about the show's star despises the series that gave the world Colonel Hogan and made Bob Crane an international celebrity. Yikes!

My mom and I have a healthy, loving, mother-daughter relationship. She is the backbone of the entire family, and she supports my sister and me in all we do. She also likes Bob Crane as a radio personality and as an actor in general. And through the work of her rather determined and somewhat tenacious daughter, she has come to understand Bob Crane on a truer, more human level.

But Mom just never liked Hogan's Heroes. And for that matter, she never liked M*A*S*H or Doctor Who, but she can binge-watch NCIS and the Hallmark Channel's Christmas movies like it's nobody's business.

And so it goes. We all like and dislike certain things in the world. That's what makes us unique. If we want people to respect us for what we like, then the opposite must hold true. And if we dislike a certain television show or movie, it does not necessarily mean we hate the actors appearing in it. In most instances, we just don't care for the plot.

Recently, a Twitter discussion ensued about Rod Serling, the creative genius behind The Twilight Zone, and his abhorrence of Hogan's Heroes. His disgust of the series was so profound that his daughter, Anne Serling, felt compelled to include it in her highly acclaimed memoir, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.

Serling's daughter doesn't hold back when she talks about her father's hatred of Hogan, Klink, and Schultz, and their World War II German POW camp antics. She writes:

One program, though, that we are never allowed to watch is Hogan's Heroes, about a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. My father has a particular abhorrence of this show and no tolerance for how it perversely twists what happened in Nazi prison camps into something remotely comical. Years later, in a speech at the Library of Congress in Washington, it is clearly still on his mind.
'You take a show like Hogan's Heroes. Now, here you have a weekly, mirth-filled half hour that shows what a swinging ball it must have been in a Nazi POW camp. Now, there's a slight deviation from the norm in that there are good guys on this show; certainly, but there are no bad guys, at least not in the sense that we're used to recognizing our enemies as they appeared in old Warner Brothers films... 
'Now through the good offices of Hogan's Heroes, we meet the new post-war version of the wartime Nazi: a thick, bumbling fathead whose crime, singularly, is stupidity—nothing more. He's kind of a lovable, affable, benign Herman Goering. Now this may appeal to some students of comedy who refuse to let history get in the way of their laughter. But what it does to history is to distort, and what it does to a recollection of horror that is an ugly matter of record is absolutely inexcusable. Satire is one thing, because it bleeds, and it comments as it evokes laughter. But a rank diminishment of what was once an era of appalling human suffering, I don't believe, is proper material for comedy.'
He goes on to suggest that the success of Hogan's Heroes could lead to The Merry Men of Auschwitz, or Milton Berle in a new musical version of the Death March on Bataan, or a singular shot spectacular, The Wit and Wisdom of Adolph Hitler (pp. 133-134).

There is little doubt that Rod Serling loathed Hogan's Heroes. His words are harsh, and they cut to the quick. Any fan of Hogan's Heroes (and I'm one of them!) would leap to the show's defense. Robert Clary, who is Jewish, spent two years in concentration camps and lost many of his family members to the Nazis. Yet he wasn't offended by Hogan's Heroes and enjoyed portraying his character Corporal Louis LeBeau. Other series stars who were Jewish (or of Jewish heritage) include Werner Klemperer, John Banner, Leon Askin, and Howard Caine. Cynthia Lynn and her mother and grandmother survived German-occupied Latvia. John Banner is quoted as saying Schultz is, in fact, not stupid: "Notice that he survives." And Werner Klemperer agreed to play the role of Colonel Klink only if Klink were always made out to be the fool.

Bob Crane's brother almost died serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II (he was badly injured), so before Bob even considered signing the contract to play Colonel Hogan, he insisted that the producers show veterans and former POWs an early trailer to be sure they were not offended by the series. They loved it, saying without humor, they never would have made it through the war. Bob also spent a great deal of time defending the plot of Hogan's Heroes, saying it was not about making the Germans look foolish. Klink and Schultz are the buffoons, but the Nazis that visited the camp from Berlin had to be convincing as bad guys. He also defined it as a show that was a mock of authority, and according to his fan mail, people loved it when he gave it to Klink because they could relate: it was like giving it to the boss.

For Bob Crane: The Definitive BiographyHogan's Heroes director Robert Butler explained to Linda Groundwater and me that the backdrop of war was a crucial element in the success of a show. It just "works." The drama is heightened because any one of the good guys could "get drilled" at any time. He said you do "moments," where the viewer is given a taste of that wartime tension before the comic relief. 

An example of one of those "moments" comes from a fan favorite, "Will the Real Adolph Please Stand Up," where Sergeant Andrew Carter (Larry Hovis) impersonates Hitler for the first time (and really convincingly, I might add!). Carter stumbles onto his uncanny ability to impersonate Hitler rather innocently, and he makes the mistake of doing his Adolph schtick in front of his commanding officer, Colonel Hogan. And Hogan really lets him have it. Check out the 1:17 mark in the clip below:

This is what separates silly nonsense from smart comedy. Realism. There is no way Stalag 13 could have existed in real life, but the tension of war did. And Bob Crane and his fellow cast members capture that tension regularly throughout the run of the series. Hogan's Heroes was not allowed to grow, however, in the same way that M*A*S*H eventually did. It always stayed in the same formula week after week, and part of that is the era in which it was produced. 

But I can talk until I'm blue in the face. There will always be those people who just don't like Hogan's Heroes. They, including my Mom and Rod Serling, can't get past the horrors of war and the atrocities caused by the Nazis.

And that's okay.

In fact, it's more than okay. To each his own. What would we talk about if we were all exactly the same and liked all the same things?

All of this aside, what should not be confused is how Rod Serling felt about Bob Crane. Just because Serling hated Hogan's Heroes does not mean he hated Bob. He held absolutely no personal animosity toward Bob despite his utter dislike of Bob's star vehicle.

The truth is—Rod Serling did like Bob Crane. He simply disliked a television series. It could have been anybody in the title role of Colonel Hogan. Serling would have hated the series just the same. While it's a safe bet that Serling would have preferred it if Bob had declined the role of Hogan, his hatred of Hogan's Heroes was not a personal attack on his friend and colleague.

Bob Crane and Rod Serling enjoyed a long professional relationship over the years. Serling was a frequent guest on Bob's KNX radio program. Ironically, in the clip below (which aired live on December 11, 1961), they discuss those people who hate The Twilight Zone (in this case, the episode "The Shelter") and those who write compulsively to Serling to tell him about it. Serling's response is to quote the 1st Amendment, stating that there should be no abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. Regarding his hate mail, Serling says, "I'm delighted. Let them write anything they want. I don't think we're in trouble in this country if we let people say, talk, think, comment. This isn't our problem. It's when we start to abridge that."

In November 1960, Bob got his first major break in television. Rod Serling hired him to play the uncredited radio announcer in The Twilight Zone episode, "Static." Bob was known as radio's Man of 1,000 Voices, and he performs all of the voices heard on the radio in this episode. The episode taped on November 20, 1960, and Bob was paid $155.00 for his voice over work "of more than five lines" in the episode. "Static" aired on March 10, 1961.

During Bob's post-Hogan's Heroes days, Serling hired Bob to perform several times in his Zero Hour radio mystery series. And Bob also guest-starred on Serling's television series Night Gallery in the episode "House with Ghost" (also with co-star and friend Bernard Fox). Further, Bob's daughter, Karen Crane, grew up with Anne Serling, and the two remain friends to this day.

When all is said and done, Rod Serling simply didn't like Hogan's Heroes and wanted to let people know. He expressed himself constructively and without personally attacking any one individual, from Bob Crane to anyone connected with the series. I see Hogan's Heroes differently, as did Bob and many others. But I respect Serling's feelings and those of others who dislike the very program that I describe as brilliant and one of my all-time favorites. 

It's not the the end of the world if we are different from one another and have varying opinions. That's what makes life fun! We're only in trouble if, as Serling states, we start to abridge that diversity.


  1. This reminds me of what happened to the real-life Luftwaffe Colonel whom Hannes Messemer's character in The Great Escape was based upon. He had no truck with the Nazis, and, after the Allied escape from the camp he commanded, he only avoided being executed or subject to some other severe punishment by feigning insanity. As you rightly note, the members of Germany's regular armed forces were not necessarily Nazis. This is a point that perhaps Mr. Serling simply failed to give sufficient credit to.

    Perhaps you have seen this: Hollywood's Last Survivors ( The Hollywood Reporter recently interviewed several persons associated with show business who had survived the Holocaust, and Robert Clary was one of them. His segment is very poignant (and all of the segments are worth watching and reading). And he too specifically draws the distinction, indeed concerning his choice to be in Hogan's Heroes, that the Stalags were not concentration camps.

    Excellent post.

  2. My name is Matt Underwood, and I currently live near Louisville, KY. From 2009 to 2015 I was the senior national Editor of the 11th Airborne Division Association newspaper "Voice of the Angels"---a full-sized old-fashioned paper. I am one of the most devoted Hogan's Heroes fan on earth, and a Bob Crane fan personally. I am an ordained Baptist minister, and a life-long historian of military, political, economic, cultural and religious aspects of Western Civilization and America in particular. As a religious and political conservative, it is simply a hobby of mine to discover some of the personal viewpoints of older Hollywood icons, and was always delighted to know Bob Crane to be a fairly traditional conservative.

    Rod Serling was a veteran of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. Many of our WWII vets whom I have met personally knew Rod, and most 11th vets knew the very basics of Rod's story in combat. I have the utmost respect and admiration for Rod and for his family, especially his daughter, whose wonderful biography on her one-of-a-kind papa is an inspiring tribute of love.

    As the 11th Airborne's main Editor, I had custodianship of the Editor's files---a group of boxes filled with materials that have made up the articles in our paper going back to 1975. The first 17 issues were misplaced long ago, I guess, but the early 1975 issues have letters in them from 50-year old Rod Serling, intending to be at the next reunion and jump 30 feet from a standstill into the lap of Sergeant so-and-so, with nothing on but his (Rod's) shorts, while singing some particular song. It was funny. He and other combat veterans remember the shenanigans and silly stupid stuff that 18- and 22-year-old kids do, aided and abetted by quite a few Army officers and non-coms who have passed the decrepit age of 30. It is a bit of America and American humor while continuing training in New Guinea, or slugging it out in the most miserable conditions on Leyte, or holing up in a bombed-out Spanish mission-style house on the south side of Manila, under fire from a Japanese machine-gun nest across a boulevard that bears one of our own American President's names.

    Rod Serling WAS in some of the rottenest combat conditions in WWII, which was the jungle mountain warfare on Leyte, when part of the 11th Airborne Division cut the island in half by cutting across the mountain backbone of Leyte. This was a grueling task, as some of the ruggedest terrain east of Burma fell in the 11th's path, and this jungle redoubt was infested with two notorious Japanese Infantry Divisions, the 26th and the 16th. The 16th Imperial Japanese Division was the unit who fought our American troops on Bataan in 1941-42, and were nearly losing to those hungry and under-armed, under-supplied men. After the fall of Bataan, the 16th Imp. Japn. Div. was the unit most responsible for the murderous conduct of the Bataan Death March.

    The 511th Parachute Infantry and many other 11th A/B Divisional units were so isolated from their supply-lines that they had to have airdrops of supplies by way of the tiny liaison planes used for artillery spotting. Some personnel jumped from those planes, but mostly there were cargo drops. The Leyte mountains are very foggy in November and December, which is when the Battle of Leyte took place.

    Rod Serling watched his best friend get killed by a falling crate of supplies. It was an accident, but if you are witnessing your best pal get crushed and decapitated by the corner edge of a heavy, huge crate falling silently out of a low hanging cloud just above you, and witness the mangled results---it will be something that you will never forget, and will be guaranteed to be one of the recurring nightmares you have for the rest of your life.

    (continued below)

  3. (part 2, continued from above)

    Another nightmare witnessed personally by Rod was the bloody rotting corpses of tens of thousands of Filipino men, women, and children who had been butchered by the Japanese during the Battle of Manila---the worst urban combat any of our troops saw in either theater in WWII, and third worst in the whole war, next only to Warsaw and Berlin.

    The Japanese theater commander had ordered Manila abandoned rather than destroyed, as MacArthur's troops came closer, in January 1945. The XIV U.S. Corps, under Gen. O. W. Griswold, was racing to the city in a desperate attempt to free the large P.O.W. compounds there and in the vicinity, before another massacre could take place as did on Palawan Island just a few weeks before. With the Americans approaching, the Japanese high command in Tokyo ordered the execution of our P.O.W.s before the Japanese troops evacuated; so at Puerta Princesa, over 100 helpless and unarmed American P.O.W.s were herded into underground air-raid shelters and doused with gasoline and burned alive. Those trying to escape were shot, but a few men had jumped over a short cliff and survived---shot and wounded, and were never found in the last couple of days of the Japanese on the island. They escaped completely to tell the story, and U.S. investigations a few weeks later confirmed everything.

    The Japanese Admiral in charge of the Manila garrison countermanded his superior officer, and ordered his Japanese marines to fight to the death for the city of Manila. The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and 37th Infantry Division came down to Manila from the North, and the 11th Airborne Division came up from the south, fighting. They ringed the city and the Japanese set fire to the "Pearl of the Orient", and while Manila burned the Americans ringed the city and closed in. Absolutely trapped, the Japanese garrison didn't surrender, it just went insane while facing inevitable death and took out its rage on the hopelessly trapped civilian population of Manila, whom MacArthur took great pains to protect and evacuate out of harm's way as U.S. troops assaulted the city. But the expected civilian casualties of perhaps a few hundred or maybe even a thousand, were compounded to about 15 to 20 thousand whom the Japanese trapped between armies, and who were killed in the onslaught of direct, hand-to-hand combat and close artillery sieges, block-by-block. To that number, add about 85,000 more unarmed civilians that the Japanese directly murdered in cold blood. The atrocities and some of the extreme evils that were done to women and children and even infants is too graphic to relay here. As our troops finished the month-long knock-down-drag-out fight, it was only then that it became clear just how many civilians the Japanese has retained under their control and under their butchering hands while the battle raged on. Many of our battle-hardened infantry and artillery men were deeply disturbed by the thought that they may have somehow been responsible for those tragic deaths, so much so that many of them were emotionally effected for the rest of their lives.

    (continued below)

  4. (part 3, continued from above)

    My own uncle Paul Riggs Browning was in the 518th Artillery Battalion (AA/AW) of U.S. XIV Corps, who participated in the siege and capture of Manila, firing antiaircraft cannons horizontally to blow apart concrete Japanese bunkers and other tremendously adamant strongholds. As a direct result of harrowing nightmares and a sense of guilt artificially-imposed by the false accusations of some improper use of deadly force AGAINST CIVILIANS, he was honorably discharged early---with no slight on his record---but privately because he had become completely unable to deal with his feelings. He had seen the carnage that no American knew about until the last few days of that colossal engagement. He had been told by a lying enemy propaganda that he had participated in that horror, and his mind late began to believe it.

    My Uncle Paul always liked Hogan's Heroes, as did most other combat veterans of their generation whom I was privileged to know, including a few P.O.W.'s.

    I am not an apologist for those who cannot muster a sense of humor about a show like Hogan's Heroes, nor do I condemn them. But I do eventually ignore their criticisms---not ignore them as a person, and not quietly listen to their stories or their reasons. But I do eventually ignore their apparent inability to permit others to engage in gallows humor, even while they employ other creative ways to deal with their own hauntings of grief. Maybe it's merely a difference in tastes. Maybe it's them being self-righteous about the matter without meaning to be, and without malice, really. I simply have to believe that somewhere along the way, that part of them that should be able to see the humor and comedic genius in a show like Hogan's Heroes?---well that part of them was broken, never to be repaired. And more is the pity for our sake, for we all could have used their laughter. Almost as much as they could have.

    Matt Underwood
    Mt.Washington, KY
    Editor Emeritus, Voice of the Angels,
    11th Airborne Division Association


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