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Werner Klemperer

Werner Klemperer (March 22, 1920December 6, 2000) was an Emmy Award-winning comedic actor, best known for his role as Colonel Klink on the television sitcom, Hogan's Heroes.

Early life

Born into a musical family, Klemperer was the son of the renowned conductor Otto Klemperer and Johanna Geisler, a soprano. Klemperer was also musically talented, being a violinist and an accomplished concert pianist. He also broadened his acting career by performing as an operatic baritone and a singer in Broadway musicals. He was a second cousin of Victor Klemperer. Indeed, he can be seen playing in the violin section of the New Philharmonia Orchestra on the EMI Classics DVD "Otto Klemperer — Beethoven Symphony No. 9." at a concert that was performed on November 8, 1964, at London's Royal Albert Hall.

His father being Jewish, Klemperer fled the Nazi regime with his family in 1935; they all made their way to Los Angeles, where his father obtained a conducting post. Klemperer began acting in high school and enrolled in acting courses in Pasadena before joining the United States Army to fight in World War II.

While stationed in Hawaii, he joined the Army's Special Services unit, spending the next few years touring the Pacific entertaining the troops. At the end of the war, he worked on Broadway, and the advent of rapid growth in the television industry opened new doors to him.

Career

Klemperer received significant notice for his role in the award winning 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film presents a fictionalized account of the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials, with Klemperer portraying Emil Hahn, a Nazi judge and one of the defendants at the trial. Prior to this, he had a small role in the 1957 Errol Flynn film Istanbul and a pivotal part in the "Comstock Conspiracy" episode of Maverick that same year. He also played the title role in the film Operation Eichmann.

He is best remembered as Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the bumbling and self-serving Commandant of Stalag 13 on Hogan's Heroes, which ran on CBS from 1965 to 1971. Klemperer was very conscious of the fact that he was playing a German officer under the command of Nazis, and agreed to play Klink only on the condition that he would be portrayed as a fool who never succeeded. When Klemperer's father, the famous conductor, 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?". For his performance, Klemperer received six Emmy Award nominations for best supporting actor, winning in 1968, and again in 1969. It was on the set of Hogan's Heroes that he met actress Louise Troy, who was making a guest appearance. They fell in love, got married and eventually divorced (she died in 1994).

Klemperer reprised the role of Klink in an episode of The Simpsons in 1993 as Homer's guardian angel/spirit guide in the episode: "The Last Temptation of Homer" (episode # 5.9). According to the particular episode's DVD commentary, when he guested he had to be given a quick reminder of how to play Colonel Klink. Essentially, he imitated an imitation of the character. Additionally, he appeared in character and costume as Klink in a "Batclimb cameo" on the campy original Batman television series and as Officer Bolix in the Lost in Space episode "All That Glitters" in 1966.

An anecodote of this period that Bob Crane was fond of recalling involved Klemperer's car. Between 1970 and 1978, Klemperer owned a Mercedes Benz 6.9 V8, which was initially intended for Roman Polanski. When parked on the set of Hogan's Heroes, Crane always joked about it being "The Colonel's staff car". After Crane's murder, Werner sold his Mercedes-Benz because it brought back too many memories of his dead friend.

Later career

After his father’s death in 1973, Klemperer expanded his acting career with musical roles in opera and Broadway musicals. He earned a Tony Award nomination for his performance in Cabaret. A member of the Board of Directors of the New York Chamber Symphony, Klemperer served as a narrator with many other U.S. symphony orchestras. He also made occasional guest appearances on television dramas, and took part in a few studio recordings, notably a version of Arnold Schönberg's Gurrelieder in 1979. In 1981, he appeared, to critical and audience raves, as Prince Orlofsky in Seattle Opera's production of "Die Fledermaus." In 1992, he returned to television in a compelling episode of Law & Order (Title: Starstruck).

Werner Klemperer died from cancer on December 6, 2000, at the age of 80. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea. From 1997 until his death, Klemperer was married to African-American actress Kim Hamilton.

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