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Robert Clary, the French actor, singer and Holocaust survivor who portrayed Corporal LeBeau on the World War II-set sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, has died. He was 96.
Clary, who was mentored by famed entertainer Eddie Cantor and married one of his five daughters, died Wednesday morning at his home in Los Angeles, his granddaughter Kim Wright told The Hollywood Reporter.
CBS’ Hogan’s Heroes, which aired over six seasons from September 1965 to April 1971, starred Bob Crane as Colonel Robert E. Hogan, an American who led an international group of Allied prisoners of war in a covert operation to defeat the Nazis from inside the Luft Stalag 13 camp.
As the patriotic Cpl. Louis LeBeau, the 5-foot-1 Clary hid in small spaces, dreamed about girls, got along great with the guard dogs and used his expert culinary skills to help the befuddled Nazi Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) get out of trouble with his superiors.
Clary was the last surviving member of the show’s original principal cast.
Born Robert Max Widerman in Paris on March 1, 1926, Clary was the youngest of 14 children in a strict Orthodox Jewish family. At age 12, he began singing and performing; one day when he was 16, he and his family were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.
“My mother said the most remarkable thing,” Clary told The Hollywood Reporter’s Peter Flax in late 2015. “She said, ‘Behave.’ She probably knew me as a brat. She said, ‘Behave. Do what they tell you to do.'”
Clary’s parents were murdered in the gas chamber that day.
At Buchenwald, Clary sang with an accordionist every other Sunday to an audience of SS soldiers. “Singing, entertaining and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived,” he told Flax.
Clary was incarcerated for 31 months (he worked in a factory making 4,000 wooden shoe heels each day) and tattooed with the identification “A-5714” on his left forearm. He was the only one of his captured family to make it out alive.
He chose not to talk about his Holocaust experience for almost four decades. “For 36 years I kept these experiences during the war locked up inside myself,” he once said. “But those who are attempting to deny the Holocaust, my suffering and the suffering of millions of others have forced me to speak out.”
Did Clary have any reservations about doing a comedy series dealing with Nazis and concentration camps?
“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,” he wrote in his inspirational 2001 memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes.
After being liberated, Clary returned to France in May 1945 and sang in dance halls. He came to Los Angeles in 1949 to record for Capitol Records and a year later appeared in a French comedy skit on a CBS variety show hosted by vaudevillian Ed Wynn.
Clary appeared in such films as Ten Tall Men (1951) and Thief of Damascus (1952), then met Cantor, who took him to New York to perform at the tony La Vie en Rose club. He came to the attention of producer Leonard Sillman, who cast Clary in the Broadway musical revue New Faces of 1952.
He sang “Lucky Pierre” and “I’m In Love With Miss Logan” in the show, which also featured Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Ronny Graham, Alice Ghostley and Carol Lawrence and had sketches written by Mel Brooks. New Faces was filmed by Fox and played in movie theaters in 1954.
Clary then appeared again on Broadway in 1955 in the musical Seventh Heaven, which starred Gloria DeHaven, Ricardo Montalban and Bea Arthur.
The actor showed up in the Paris-set Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward film A New Kind of Love (1963), and in the Robert Wise-directed The Hindenburg (1975), he portrayed a passenger (a circus acrobat) on the doomed airship’s final voyage.
Clary also worked on the daytime soap operas Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless (his character, Pierre Roulland, owned a restaurant/club in Genoa City, then was murdered) and The Bold and The Beautiful.
He sang on several jazz albums that featured the work of songwriters like Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer. (Also a part of his discography: Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of WWII, recorded with his castmates Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis and Ivan Dixon.)
Clary worked closely with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, speaking at universities across the country for more than two decades.
An accomplished painter, Clary was married for 32 years to the late Natalie Cantor, the second daughter of Eddie Cantor. She died in 1997.
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