‘Hogan’s Heroes’ corporal Robert Clary dies at 96

The French actor and singer spent 31 months in a Nazi concentration camp

Holocaust survivor Robert Clary dies at 96: He played Corporal Louis LeBeau in the WWII-set sitcom ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’ The actor and singer passed away yesterday morning, Wednesday 16 November, at his home in Los Angeles.

The announcement of the disappearance was given by his granddaughter Kim Wright to ‘The Hollywood Reporter’. Clary was mentored by famous entertainer Eddie Cantor and had married one of his five daughters, Natalie, who died in 1997. Clary has also starred in the soaps ‘The Young and the Restless’, ‘Times of Our Lives’ and ‘Beautiful’.

The TV series ‘Hogan’s Heroes’, which aired for six seasons on the CBS network from September 1965 to April 1971, ironically narrates the everyday life of a group of prisoners of war in a concentration camp Nazi during World War II. It stars Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan, an American who leads an international group of POWs in an operation to defeat the Nazis from inside Stalag 13. In the show, Louis LeBeau hid in small spaces , dreamed of girls, got along with guard dogs and used her cooking skills to help confused Nazi Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) get out of trouble with his superiors.

Born Robert Max Widerman in Paris on March 1, 1926, Clary was the youngest of 14 children of a strict Orthodox Jewish family. At the age of 12 he started singing and performing; one day when he was 16, he and his family were deported by the Nazis and transferred to Auschwitz. Clary’s parents were murdered in the gas chambers the same day they arrived at the camp.

Clary remained in Nazi camps, including Buchenwald, for 31 months (he worked in a factory that produced 4,000 wooden heels every day) and was tattooed with the identification ‘A-5714’ on his left forearm. He was the only one of his captured family to get out alive.

Clary has chosen not to talk about her experience of the Holocaust for nearly four decades. “For 36 years I kept these experiences during the war locked inside me,” she once said in an interview. “But those who are trying to deny the Holocaust, my suffering and the suffering of millions of others have forced me to speak out.” Clary has worked closely with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, speaking about the Holocaust at universities across the country for more than two decades.

Did Clary have any reservations about doing a comedy series dealing with Nazis and concentration camps? “I had to explain that ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ was about POWs in a Stalag and not a death camp and while I didn’t want to detract from what the soldiers went through during their internments, it was like night and day from what that people endured in the death camps,” he wrote in his memoir ‘From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes’ (2001).

After being released, he returned to France in May 1945 and sang in dance halls. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1949 to record for Capitol Records and a year later appeared in a French comedy skit on a CBS variety show hosted by Ed Wynn.

Clary appeared in films ’10 of the Legion’ (1951) and ‘Heroes of a Thousand Legends’ (1952), then met Eddie Cantor, who took him to New York to perform at the club ‘La Vie en Rose’. She caught the eye of producer Leonard Sillman, who cast Clary for the 1952 Broadway musical revue ‘New Faces.’ She sang ‘Lucky Pierre’ and ‘I’m In Love With Miss Logan’ in the show, which also featured Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Ronny Graham, Alice Ghostley and Carol Lawrence and had sketches written by Mel Brooks. Clary appeared again on Broadway in 1955 in the musical ‘Seventh Heaven’, starring Gloria DeHaven, Ricardo Montalban and Bea Arthur.

The actor appeared in the film set in Paris with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward ‘My love with Samantha’ (1963) and in the film directed by Robert Wise ‘Hindenburg’ (1975) he played a passenger (a circus acrobat) in the last voyage of the airship. In addition to television work, he sang on several jazz albums that featured the work of songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer. Also part of his discography is ‘Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of WWII’ recorded with his castmates Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis and Ivan Dixon.

(by Paolo Martini)