Oct 31, 2012

Hogan's Heroes: The Wackiest POW Camp in Germany

Our older brothers and fathers were in Vietnam, where casualties were mounting every day, but at home we watched wacky soldiers: McHale's Navy, No Time for Sergeants, F-Troop, Gomer Pyle USMC, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, and, the wackiest of all, Hogan's Heroes (1965-71), which also drew from the spy and "I've got a secret" craze.

It was set in a World War II prisoner of war camp, Stalag 13, where the "prisoners," deliberately captured, were all spies:

Back row: LeBeau, covert operations; Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane), the leader; Kinch (Ivan Dixon), communications.

Front row: Newkirk (Richard Dawson), impersonations and con games; Carter (Larry Hovis), explosives and all things scientific.

The commandant, Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer, right), was an incompetent bureaucrat. The only guard was Sergeant Schultz (John Banner, left), a sweet-tempered toymaker in civilian life, who turned a blind eye to the unusual activities ("I see nothing!").  Both were victims of circumstance, not actively evil; the  villains were the Nazi higher-ups, who might discover the secret operation and shut it down.

What was the attraction for gay kids, other than the fact that the only other choices on Saturday night were The Lawrence Welk Show and the first half of a movie?

1. Lack of displayed heterosexual interest. Other entries in the spy genre, such as I Spy and Wild Wild West, involved its heroes in endless leering at bikini-clad women, but the POW camp was an all-male world, with no women visible except for Colonel Klink's secretary and an occasional female resistance agent. Hogan occasionally smooched with a woman, but no episodes involved hetero-romance.

2. Dreamy guys in the cast, especially Robert Clary.  No beefcake, unfortunately -- no one as much as unbuttoned a button, even while lying around in the barracks. In fact, it's almost impossible to find nude shots of any of the cast members, even in other projects.

3. Hogan and Klink certainly weren't buddies. Klink was constantly annoyed by Hogan's  irreverence. Hogan found Klink stuffy and old-fashioned (another 1960s clash between the establishment and the counterculture).  Yet as they strategized against each other, or more often worked together toward some common goal, they developed a love-hate bond that one could easily see spinning into a forbidden romance.  It was a pleasure to watch them interact every week.