Bob Crane, a breezy, articulate ex-drummer and recent disc jockey-turned-actor, stars in Hogan’s Heroes, a CBS comedy series which has Col. Hogan (Crane) as the leader of Allied prisoners in a German POW camp in World War II.
There’s the vainglorious German commandant, Col. Klink, played with gorgeous gullibility by Werner Klemperer — when stroked with a compliment, this man actually purrs. And there’s Schultz, the guard, played by John Banner as a latter-day S Z (Cuddles) Sakall. Against such adversaries, Crane Operates as the personification of Yankee ingenuity — the glib, resourceful American.
The other day I talked with Mr. Crane, his Army Air Corps pilots’ cap perched typically on the back of his head, as he analyzed the appeal of Hogan’s Heroes.
“I know,” he said. “Some reviewers prejudged us by our format. They wanted to know what’s so funny about World War II? What’s funny about a prisoner-of-war camp? Well, we’re not saying that life in a POW camp was fun. We’re simply doing a comedy show about a bunch of guys doing a job in the war — and we play it for fun, for laughs. Our show is so outrageous it can only be accepted as outrageous comedy. And, we hope, funny comedy.”
Hogan’s Heroes not McHale’s Navy
Crane believes strongly that interpretation is the key to television or, very likely, comedy of any kind.
“I think on our show we use taste. Sure, we use a little slapstick, but we’re not a bunch of clods. We’re not Bilko. We have adventure, but we’re not ‘I Spy.’ We have tension in our stories — if you lose that tension, we turn into ‘McHale’s Navy.’
“Mainly, we use an old comedy technique. The theme is authority being brought down to size, and that’s as old as time. Everybody likes to see the braggart get his comeuppance. Take Klink — he’s such an egomaniac. Everybody likes to see Klink get bamboozled.
“Klink and Schultz may be jerks, but let me point out that the guys who come from headquarters in Berlin, these guys aren’t jerks. If they were — down goes the tension, and we blow it all.”
Crane is quick to cite the pitfalls that must be avoided.
“If we sacrifice touches of reality for cheap laughs, we’re dead,” he said with a shrug. “We’ve got to go for character trait comedy, not one-joke concepts.”
Crane paused. “The whole concept of Hogan’s Heroes is walking a thin wire. We got sharp sides, but we don’t fall off. I walked my own kind of a wire for nine years on a radio show. People would say, ‘No. he’s not a disc jockey. He’s not a comic. What is he?’ The only answer was, you’ve got to listen.