Robert Clary, Holocaust Survivor and 'Hogan's Heroes' Actor, Dies at 96
Robert Clary, familiar to TV fans as Corporal LeBeau on the classic sitcom "Hogan's Heroes," died Wednesday at his L.A. home, THR reports. He was 96.
Launched just 20 years after the end of WWII, "Hogan's Heroes" was set in a German POW camp, where a group of Allied prisoners was attempting to liberate the camp and defeat the Nazis from within. It nearly lasted longer than the conflict in which it was set, running 168 episodes from 1965-1971.
Clary, whose character's cooking skills often helped run interference with the camp's menacing Colonel Klink, had been the last surviving member of the cast, which was headed by Bob Crane.
Born in Paris on March 1, 1926, Clary performed as a child before being interned with his family at Auschwitz, where his parents were immediately killed and the rest of his family perished. He managed to avoid being put to death over his 30+ months in Auschwitz and Buchenwald by singing for his captors, and also attributed his survival to his youth and health.
When the war ended, Clary became a performer in France before moving to L.A. There, he secured a contract with Capitol as a singer and made his TV debut on 1949's "Hollywood on Television."
Clary's film debut arrived in the Burt Lancaster action flick "Ten Tall Men" (1951). He next played Aladdin in "Thief of Damascus" (1952), and continued sporadic TV work while under the tutelage of legendary performer Eddie Cantor, who mentored Clary and who got him a high-profile gig at La Vie en Rose, an NYC club.
From there, Clary appeared in "New Faces of 1952" on Broadway, a revue that helped launch the careers of Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley and Carol Lawrence, and that featured the work of new face Mel Brooks. The revue proved so popular it was shot and released to movie theaters two years later.
He also appeared on Broadway in "Seventh Heaven" with Bea Arthur, Gloria DeHaven and Ricardo Montalban in 1955.
Aside from his great success on "Hogan's Heroes," Clary was also seen in the films "A New Kind of Love" (1963) and "The Hindenburg" (1975), and appeared on the soaps "Days of Our Lives" (1972-1987, over 500 episodes) and "The Bold and the Beautiful" (1990-1992, 43 episodes).
His final work as an actor was voicing French artist Henri Matisse — Clary himself was a painter — in the TV movie "Matisse & Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry" (2001).
Clary kept quiet about what he experienced in Auschwitz for decades, finally coming forth to speak about it in the face of a wave of Holocaust denialism. He worked with the Simon Wiesenthal Center as a speaker to spread the truth about the horrors of WWII and anti-Semitism.
Clary was preceded in death by his wife, Eddie Cantor's daughter Natalie, in 1997.