John Banner, who achieved television immortality for his portrayal of the Luftwaffe POW camp guard Sergeant Schultz in the TV series Hogan’s Heroes (1965). He was born on Tuesday, January 28th, 1910 in Vienna. Vienna was the capital of what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The 28-year-old Banner, who was Jewish, was forced to flee from his homeland & avoid being captured after the 1938 Anschluss (union) between Nazi Germany and Austria. This happened to occur while he was engaged in a tour of Switzerland with an acting company. Unable to return to Austria due to Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies of persecution. He emigrated to the United States as a political refugee.
Soon after reaching the United States of America, John Banner, who knew nothing of the English language, was hired to emcee a musical revue. He had to learn his lines phonetically. But the total immersion paid off in that he rapidly picked up English. His accent and “Nordic” look ironically meant that Sergeant typecast in several films as Nazis during the 1940s decade. He survived the war playing the same villains who were murdering every member of his family, who had been left behind in Austria. All of them perished in concentration camps. He was the only survivor, of his biological parents and siblings.
John Banner who had emigrated to the US weighed a trim 180 pounds. Apparently, he eventually added another 100 pounds to become the chubby figure character actor, that America would come to know and love. The 280 pound weight John Banner became a character actor who appeared regularly in movies and on TV. He extremely specialized in foreign-official types, such the Soviet Ambassador in Fred MacMurray’s comedy movie, Kisses for My President (1964).
In 1965, Bing Crosby Productions cast Banner as “Sergeant Schultz”, in the wartime comedy sitcom, Hogan’s Heroes (1965). Hogan’s Heroes (1965), debuted on Friday evening, September 17th, 1965, on CBS channels. The series was a take-off on Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953), but with much more humor and less drama. The bumbling Dutch uncle that Sergeant Schultz portrayed was a continent apart from the wickedly evil Nazis he specialized in during World War 2. Spectacularly inept as a guard of Allied prisoners of war, Sergeant Schultz was prone to ignoring the irregularities that transpired in the fictive Stalag 13, bellowing firmly, “I know nothing! I see nothing! Nothing!!!”
John Banner enjoyed the role but demurred when accused of portraying a “cuddly” Nazi. He told TV Guide, “I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in every generation.”
Character roles: “Sergeant Schultz” (was acted by John Banner) and “Colonel Klink” (was acted by Werner Klemperer). [“Colonel Klink”] (just like Banner was a Jewish refugee, that was able to avoid being captured & prevent themselves from an immediate death from Hitler’s German Gestapo army, both of whom played comical, bumbling Nazi’s in Hogan’s Heroes (1965), co-starred with leading actor, Bob Crane with character role of [“Colonel Hogan”] in The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (1968). A bizarre movie “comedy” about a defecting East German athlete. The picture bombed and the trio went back to turning out the highly popular series without losing too much pride or momentum.
After the cancellation of Hogan’s Heroes (1965) in 1971, Banner was signed for another TV show set in the past. The Chicago Teddy Bears (1971), which used the Prohibition era as its setting. Banner’s Uncle Latzi was a close cousin of Schultz, but lightning did not strike twice and the series was canceled, only after 13 episodes in a three month season.
John Banner died on his 63rd birthday, Sunday, January 28th, 1973, in his hometown and country of Vienna, Austria. His character role still lives on as the inimitable “Sergeant Schultz”, to the legions of Hogan’s Heroes (1965) fans who now span the generations. Complete life span of John Banner, was, his date of birth occurred Friday, January 28th, 1910 & his life expired on Sunday, January 28th, 1973. His 63 year (& 16 Leap Years, of February 29th’s), was 23,011 days, equaling 3,287 weeks & 2 days.
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