Werner Klemperer forever lived under the shadow of his ''genius'' father
The Hogan's Heroes star tried throughout his life to impress his famous dad, but avoided following the same career path.
When Werner Klemperer was entertaining millions as Colonel Klink, he tried to explain Hogan's Heroes to his dad, Otto.
"'Hogan's Heroes?' My father didn't know what the series was. That took hours to explain," Klemperer recalled in a 1980 interview with The Los Angeles Times. The actor dutifully spelled out the concept of the sitcom and his role in it — a role which earned him two Emmy Awards.
His father listened patiently and then asked, "And who is the author?"
"The way he said author…," Klemperer remembered painfully. "I mean, how could I explain to him that these guys, a bunch of them, sit around a table and write a television script? To him, the question was, is it Shakespeare?"
Hogan's Heroes was not Shakespeare, but it was a Top 40 television series that, in its first season, drew one-quarter of all television viewers in its time slot. But Otto Klemperer was unlikely to have been impressed by Nielsen ratings. Otto was a cultured master of the arts. Otto was one of the leading conductors of the early 20th century, a man intimately familiar with Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, not sitcoms.
With his father a titan of classical music, Werner grew up with a musical education. "I studied piano and violin, but I made noises a dog shouldn't hear," Klemperer humbly explained to The Orlando Sentinel in 1985. Still, he was talented enough to fiddle with a violin on Hogan's Heroes, as seen in the image up top.
"It's no secret that when his father, the famous symphony conductor Otto Klemperer, was alive, son Werner stayed clear of the music world, fearing, perhaps, the inevitable comparisons between father and son," the LA Times mused in that 1980 profile.
Otto Klemperer died in 1973. It was only then that Werner finally summoned his courage and attempted to pursue a musical career. "Klemperer switches careers in middle age," the Time headline declared. He was 57 at the time, and his "midlife crisis," if you want to call it that, included a makeover.
"In the past two years, [Klemperer] has climbed steadily as a "nonsinging actor" in the Metropolitan Opera Co.… he has gone from silly Klink to serious Mozart," the journalist wrote. It may have been the dawn of the Eighties, but Klemperer dressed as a beatnik, wearing a red turtleneck beard. The interview was meant to take place in the dining room of the Ritz, but the stuffy restaurants would not allow Klemperer entry with his casual attire. Instead, he endured the uncomfortable interrogation in the bar. The TV star sounded like a man eaten up inside by his inability to live up to his father.
"Music has always been a conflict. I've always been a frustrated musician," Klemperer admitted, before trying to stress. "It has nothing to do with living under my father's shadow." Klemperer then drank out of the wrong water glass. The one belonging to his interviewer. He was nervous.
"He was a real kind of genius," Klemperer said of his pop in awe.
"My father would look down upon everything I've done with joy," the former Klink reflected, "except conducting. Then he would have said: 'Are you nuts?'"