Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

From all of us to all of you—
Happy Thanksgiving!
We wish you a warm and happy holiday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Bob Crane's 'Terrible' German Accent on 'Hogan's Heroes'

Fans of Hogan's Heroes will remember all the times when Werner Klemperer, as Colonel Klink, had to play the violin. To put it mildly, Klink was a horrible violinist, but he held the ridiculous belief that he was just as good as, if not better than, the masters. He is so impressed with himself that in the episode "The Big Record," he allows Colonel Hogan to record him playing Mozart's String Quartet in D Major, K. 499, along with the other members of the rather pitiful Hammelburg Quartet. Of course, Klink has no idea that this is part of a scheme, and his quartet is not being recorded at all. So when General Burkhalter shows up, he wants the general to hear the recording. Thinking fast, Hogan grabs a record from Klink's collection, not the one Klink thinks they made, but instead, a professional recording by acclaimed musicians. Klink is so impressed with what he believes is his performance, you think he might just pop.

Yet Werner Klemperer was a skilled musician and vocalist. Born in Cologne, Germany, his parents were renowned conductor Otto Klemperer and soprano Johanna Geisler. Suffice it to say that when he performed the violin on Hogan's Heroes, he did it poorly on purpose, not because he could not play the instrument. He was directed to butcher the musical number to make the show funnier. And it did.

Recently, the question was asked regarding Bob Crane's German accent on the series. Frankly, it's awful! I will be the first to admit it, and I've thought it for as long as I've watched Hogan's Heroes (let's see, about forty-plus years or so).

The irony is that Bob was a noted voice impersonator. He was so talented at being able to impersonate anyone that while he worked for KNX-CBS Radio, the station dubbed him radio's "Man of 1,000 Voices." It's difficult to believe that a man who was so gifted at being able to impersonate others could have such a terrible time with a German accent.

To give you an idea of Bob Crane's capability as a voice impersonator, here are just a few examples of his on-air voice talent.

Here, Bob Crane interacts with a pre-recording of himself as a character
similar to the voice of Disney's Ludwig von Drake
(KNX-CBS Radio, circa 1960).

One of Bob Crane's first television appearances was on The Twilight Zone,
in the episode "Static." He is heard but not seen, providing all of the voices
heard on the radio.

Bob Crane excelled on the air, and his colleagues in radio hailed him as a
radio genius. Here, Bob impersonates a French designer and a reporter as part of a
commercial gimmick (KNX-CBS Radio, March 9, 1962).

When Linda Groundwater and I interviewed Hogan's Heroes director Jerry London for Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography, we asked Jerry, "If Bob Crane was so gifted as a voice impersonator and could impersonate anyone, why did he have such a terrible time with the German accent on Hogan's Heroes?"

Jerry answered us candidly. Below is an excerpt from Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography.

In truth, it was not difficult at all. He was directed to have a terrible German accent to make the show funnier. He adopted a horrible German accent because that was how the producers had wanted it done. “He wasn’t supposed to do it well!” Jerry London declared. “That was the comedy of it!”

Just like Werner Klemperer botching up a violin performance, Bob Crane botched up his German accent. The problem is, however, that when audiences watch the series today, they don't realize he's doing it poorly on purpose. The belief that he is incapable of this skill then becomes yet another way to ridicule him and deem him unprepared or unqualified as an actor. And that, to me and to others, is sad.

The take away point: Bob Crane was directed to perform his German accent horribly. He did as he was told, by his bosses at Bing Crosby Productions and CBS, to make Hogan's Heroes funnier.

And he did so, superbly.

Note: Bob Crane played an American, Colonel Hogan, on the series. However, he—along with Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis, and Ivan Dixon—often had to impersonate a German or Nazi officer as part of the plot. During those times, he spoke with a German accent.