The Holocaust survivor and French actor Robert Clary, who played Corporal LeBeau in the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes set during World War II, has passed away. He was 96. According to his granddaughter Kim Wright, Clary passed away Wednesday morning at his Los Angeles home. He was trained by renowned entertainer Eddie Cantor and wed one of his five daughters.
From September 1965 through April 1971, CBS broadcast Hogan’s Heroes, starring Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan, an American who oversaw a multinational team of Allied POWs in a covert plot to overthrow the Nazis from inside the Luft Stalag 13 camp.
The 5-foot-1 Clary played the patriotic Cpl. Louis LeBeau and used his culinary prowess to help the confused Nazi Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) get out of trouble with his superiors while also hiding in tight spaces, dreaming about girls, getting along well with the guard dogs, and dreaming about girls.
The final surviving member of the original main cast of the show was Clary. Clary, born Robert Max Widerman in Paris on March 1, 1926, was the youngest of a strict Orthodox Jewish family’s 14 children. He started singing and performing when he was 12 years old, and when he was 16 years old, his family was taken away and transferred to Auschwitz.
Late in 2015, Clary revealed to Peter Flax of The Hollywood Reporter, “My mum said the most astonishing thing.” “She commanded, “Behave. She likely thought of me as a brat. Behave, she commanded. Follow their instructions.'” That day, Clary’s parents were gassed to death.
May his memory be for a blessing. FWIW, my dad, who was a concentration camp survivor, used to love watching Hogan’s Heroes. The Nazis were presented as buffoons who were outsmarted every time and were the butt of every joke. That always made dad smile. https://t.co/asicByAYkS
— Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) November 17, 2022
Every other Sunday at Buchenwald, Clary performed with an accordionist in front of SS men. He said to Flax, “Singing, entertaining, and being in quite an excellent condition at my age, that’s why I survived.
Clary served a 31-month sentence (while producing 4,000 wooden shoe heels per day in a factory) and had “A-5714” tattooed on his left forearm as a form of identification. He was the only member of his abducted family to survive.
He decided to remain silent for nearly four decades regarding his Holocaust experience. He once remarked, “For 36 years, I kept these experiences of the battle locked up inside myself. “But those who want to deny the Holocaust, my agony and the suffering of millions of others have compelled me to speak out,” he continued.
Was Clary hesitant to star in a comedy series about concentration camps and the Nazis? In his moving 2001 memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes, he said, “I had to explain that [Hogan’s Heroes] was about prisoners of war in a stalag, not a concentration camp, and although I did not want to diminish what soldiers went through during their internments, it was like night and day from what people endured in concentration camps.”
After being freed, Clary returned to France in May 1945, where she performed in nightclubs. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1949 to record for Capitol Records, and a year later, he appeared on a CBS variety show hosted by comedian Ed Wynn in a French comedy spoof.
After appearing in movies like Thief of Damascus (1952) and Ten Tall Men (1951), Clary met Cantor, who brought him to New York to sing at the upscale La Vie en Rose club. Producer Leonard Sillman noticed him and decided to cast Clary in the Broadway musical revue New Faces of 1952.
In the Mel Brooks-penned comedy, which also included Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Ronny Graham, Alice Ghostley, and Carol Lawrence, he performed the songs “Lucky Pierre” and “I’m In Love With Miss Logan.” In 1954, Fox produced the motion picture New Faces, which was seen in theatres.
The following year, in 1955, Clary made a comeback on Broadway in the production of Seventh Heaven, which also starred Gloria DeHaven, Ricardo Montalban, and Bea Arthur.
The actor appeared in the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward movie A New Kind of Love (1963), set in Paris, and in the Robert Wise-directed movie The Hindenburg (1975), which included a circus acrobat as a passenger on the disastrous airship final flight.
Additionally, Clary worked on the daytime serial operas The Bold and the Beautiful, The Young and the Restless, and Days of Our Lives (where his character Pierre Rolland operated a restaurant/club in Genoa City before being killed off).
He contributed vocals to some jazz records that included songs by writers like Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer. (Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of WWII, recorded with Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis, and Ivan Dixon from the cast, is also a part of his discography.)
For more than 20 years, Clary spoke at national campuses while maintaining a close relationship with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. Clary, a skilled painter, was married to Natalie Cantor, Eddie Cantor’s second daughter, for 32 years. 1997 saw her passing.