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.

The Everett Collection

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?'" 

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jholton30062 21 months ago
Werner bears a strong resemblance to his father.
BorisK 23 months ago
"Schuuuuuuulllllllzzzzz.....!" (waving his fist ...)
waccooga 34 months ago
Besides his role in Hogan's Heroes, I really enjoy the roles he played in the 50s and 60s when he played sinister characters, specially on Perry Mason. He didn't always play a bad guy, but, sinister.

One of my favorites is the Perry Mason episode when he plays a Swiss Policeman and you could see some of Klink's mannerisms. Then I realized, there were Klemperer's mannerisms!

As for his skill at playing the violin, at least SOME of his bad playing was fake. He could play well, maybe not great, but well.

A great actor all the same.
LynCarceo waccooga 23 months ago
In the 1st season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, he played the villain in a few episodes.
RedSamRackham waccooga 23 months ago
* In the 1961 docudrama Operation Eichmann he portrayed Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.
Klink 34 months ago
The best sitcom character off all time, on the BEST sitcom of all time.
GordARebelato 34 months ago
I remember an episode of HH where Werner Klemperer was playing the violin, living up to his father expectations.
JHP 34 months ago
there is nothing wrong with hogans heroes - and I am 80% kraut - and can sprechen de deutsche
ncadams27 34 months ago
Stated that Hogan’s Heroes drew “one-quarter of all television viewers in its time slot”. With only three networks, that is not very impressive.
Pacificsun ncadams27 34 months ago
It was very impressive, would be less so now, with hundreds of choices. That measurement is viewers "recorded" not casual / intermittent viewers too. Also, active watching (no DVRs). To pull a viewer away from another favorite / habit was tough. People didn't like changing channels. If they liked the Lead-in they followed the next show (unless they hated it).

Nominations: Best Outstanding Comedy Series in 1966, 1967 and 1968; Bob Crane for Best Actor in a Comedy Series in 1966 and 1967; Nita Talbot for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1968; and Gordon Avil for cinematography in 1968. In 1966-67 ranked #17

(About Nielsen Ratings currently). - https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/tv/permanent/faqnielsen.htm)
ncadams27 Pacificsun 34 months ago
These numbers are the ratings which measure number of viewers of all tv households. The article mentions 25% of all television viewers, which is its share. As you mention, Hogans Heroes had close to a 25% rating - which is very impressive. You got it right, the article was incorrect.
BrittReid ncadams27 34 months ago
The show aired for five seasons and the ratings were impressive.
texasluva Pacificsun 34 months ago
Weekend Bonus Movie

Human Desire (1954) 1 hr 30 min
Drama, Film Noir, Romance
Director: Fritz Lang
Glenn Ford
Gloria Grahame
Broderick Crawford
A Korean War vet returns to his job as a railroad engineer and becomes involved in an affair with a co-worker's wife following a murder on a train where they meet.

justjeff 34 months ago
"...wearing a red turtleneck beard"??? Don't the mean "wearing a red turtleneck AND A beard"???
LoveMETV22 justjeff 34 months ago
That would be interesting LoL. I think their referencing his appearance on the Doris Day show. Still I think the turtleneck beard would be funny.
MrsPhilHarris LoveMETV22 34 months ago
I agree. 😉
Snickers justjeff 29 months ago
That line kind of made me wonder what a red turtleneck beard would look like.
Andybandit 34 months ago
Werner's father should have been supportive of his decision to be an actor. As Shultz said "I know nothing".
MrsPhilHarris 34 months ago
Sad that people spend a lifetime trying to get the approval of their parents.
country46 34 months ago
I grew up watching Hogan and Klink i liked the show
Moverfan country46 34 months ago
Same here. The fun thing now is seeing all the people who became well-known after the show--James K. Sikking (Howard Hunter on Hill Street Blues), William Christopher (M*A*S*H), Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin, The Bob Newhart Show), the gentleman who played the grandfather on Gimme A Break (I cannot remember your name, sir!), Gavin McLeod (Love Boat)--and a tall, skinny guy named Noam Pitlik, who went on to create a little thing called Barney Miller...
Mike Moverfan 34 months ago
For the Record:
Gimme A Break's grandfather was John Hoyt, who had a considerable career long before that series - indeed, long predating his Hogan's Heroes appearances.
If he were still around, Hoyt could have done one of your MeTV "All Over Me" spots - including to a Svengoolie nod for "Attack Of The Puppet People".
Kiyone57 Moverfan 34 months ago
Noam Pitlik directed many Barney Miller episodes, but didn't create it. Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker were the creators.
Moverfan Mike 34 months ago
Thanks for the report. I could remember his first name was John, but his last name was gone!
Moverfan Kiyone57 29 months ago
At least I remembered he was connected to it--that should count for something. And I just read an article about Sanford & Son that mentioned old Noam. He played Officer Swannhauser, Officer Smith's first partner.
Pacificsun 34 months ago
I'm glad a profile has finally been done on Werner Klemperer. He accomplished so much more than Col. Klink. And he won ore Emmy's than quoted. And there are more interesting things to say about him (see below).

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Klemperer
"According to co-star Richard Dawson, Klemperer supplied his own uniforms. When Klemperer's father, the famous conductor Otto Klemperer, saw his first episode of Hogan's Heroes, he said to his son, "Your work is good, but who is the author of this material?" In addition to the character's bumblings, Klink was also remembered for his excruciatingly bad violin playing. For his performance as Klink, Klemperer received six Emmy Award nominations for best supporting actor, winning successive awards in 1968 and 1969."

Not bad from a show that was considered a bit controversial at the time.

No matter what I see him in, he owned that role as Klink!!
Moverfan Pacificsun 34 months ago
Definitely--and not just him. I caught part of a Doris Day movie a while back (her husband's company sent him to England--no idea what the name of it was) and I knew I'd seen this rather chubby gentleman somewhere, but I couldn't place him. Then he opened his mouth--it was Leon Askin, General Burkhalter himself! I'd never seen him in a suit and tie before!
Pacificsun Moverfan 34 months ago
Ahh, you must be relatively young! (That's a compliment too). Leon Askin has been around. In civilian clothing (but in my experience) he's always played a bad guy or a "heavy." The accent seems to be native, maybe not as strong normally, but I don't remember hearing anything else. But he so fit the HH role it's hard to imagine him in anything else!
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Snickers Moverfan 29 months ago
Klemperer played a powerful role in the movie " Judgement at Nuremburg" as a Nazi War criminal on trial for war crimes along side Spencer Tracy. If you have not seen this movie you should, really well acted.
Moverfan Pacificsun 29 months ago
I'm sure Mr. Askin has quite an impressive resume, but I'd never seen him in anything except Hogan's Heroes (I don't think), so it was a shock to see him in civilian clothes. And thank you for the compliment...I'll be 60 this spring!
Pacificsun Moverfan 29 months ago
If you Google Leon Askin he has an extensive film and theater background as well as a personal biography. What I like so much about MeTV are the discussions (stories and comments) that lead to more discoveries about some who we might otherwise overlook. He was an incredible addition to Hogan's Heroes given his experience.

Thanks for giving me one of these opportunities. There's much more than what's posted below.

harlow1313 34 months ago
I have always liked the characters of Klink and Schultz, but then I remember the Holocaust, the blitzkriegs. This show doesn't sit quite right with me. Is this setting appropriate for light-weight humor?

But perhaps, a very funny sitcom could be constructed around a serial-killer. "Mr. Gacy's Neighborhood."

Perhaps I am a humorless stiff. I can live with that. C'est la vie.
Pacificsun harlow1313 34 months ago
I television in the 60's was known for attempting touchy subjects mindful of the public's reaction. Looking past the humor, not just for its own sake, but to celebrate the "resistance" heroes behind the scenes. Those who fought against received all the recognition (and rightfully so). But the underground did it's part as well. If we didn't have this "comedy" just as if we didn't have "MASH" (on TV) we might not be thinking about the unsung heroes who existed in other ways.

Read WK's wiki and know that he wasn't going to play that role (for obvious) reasons unless Klink was made to look "silly" and to "never succeed" but I'm betting there were enough fans involved who saw the message in the Show.
Michael harlow1313 34 months ago
But it's not a concentration camp, it's a prisoner of war amp. They were combatants that were captured, not people imprisoned out of hate.

If you read about WWII POWs, they felt an obligation to give the germans a hard time. Officers were trained in evasion and escape. The Red Cross packages were imlortant for the POWs, but luxury goods were also included for tye purposes of bribing the guards.

And laughing, maybe especially after making fun of the guards, helped keep moral up.

Hogan's Heroes wasn't realistic, but lots of sitcoms are based on an odd situation, and the jokes come from that. It made fun of the germans, and showed the allies as being way more capable.
harlow1313 Michael 34 months ago
I am fairly (though casually) studied in Nazi history. The Germans were quite capable, educated, and mostly Christian. Perhaps it isn't the best setting for light-weight comedy, considering the very real horror. Acerbic satire would work for me, had they used it.

I don't mind if others, like yourself, enjoy the show.
jeopardyhead harlow1313 34 months ago
Hogan's Heroes is one of the most critically panned series in TV history, but I've long thought that it deserves credit for, if nothing else, thinking outside the sit-com box.
Pacificsun jeopardyhead 34 months ago
I think I would go back and check on the review of "My Mother the Car." The only reason nobody thinks about it, is because it's not easily found.

TV critics (Cleveland Amory and the like) were notoriously negative about everything! If they didn't approach their job that way then readers would lose interest in a positive attitude. We read the paper daily and TV Guide weekly. And I can't even remember the Shows that stood out. But over time have become so of our favorites.
Leon75044 Pacificsun 34 months ago
There is always that one idiot who continues to shove the lies of the holahoax on everyone. It is a proven fact that it never happened.
Cougar90 Leon75 14 months ago
LoveMETV22 34 months ago
It appears he didn't have blessings, but according to the bios he had a successful Film/TV career.
Barry22 34 months ago
Werner Klemperer was also related to one of the members of Blue Oyster Cult.
horribleHDanny Barry22 34 months ago
Awesome!Which one?
Barry22 horribleHDanny 34 months ago
Really can't remember. There was a story back in 72, 73 (Rolling Stone? Zoo World?) that the band ran into him at an airport and one of the members introduced himself, and that they were "distantly" related.
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