28 January 1910
|Died||28 January 1973
John Banner (28 January 1910 – 28 January 1973), born Johann Banner, was a film and television actor, who was born and died in Vienna, Austria. He is best known for his role as Master Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz in the situation comedy Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971). Schultz, constantly encountering evidence that the inmates of his stalag were planning mayhem, frequently feigned ignorance with the catchphrase, "I know nothing! I see nothing! I hear nothing!"
Banner was born to Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He studied for a law degree at the University of Vienna, but decided instead to become an actor. In 1938, when he was performing with an acting troupe in Switzerland, Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to Nazi Germany. Banner emigrated to the United States, where he rapidly picked up English.
World War II
In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, underwent basic training in Atlantic City and became a supply sergeant. He even posed for a recruiting poster (see external link below for a photo of him posing). He served until 1945.
Banner appeared on Broadway three times: in a musical revue called From Vienna, which ran for two months in 1939; and in two comic plays: Pastoral, in which he had a leading role, but which had a very brief run in November 1939; and The Big Two, which also ran briefly in January 1947. Early on, before he became fluent in English, he had to learn his lines phonetically.
He began acting in Hollywood films where, ironically, he would usually play a German soldier. He appeared in over 40 feature films. His first credited role was a German captain in Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. He played a Gestapo agent in 20th Century Fox's Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas (1943). His typecasting did not please him – he would later learn that his family members who had remained in Vienna all perished in Nazi concentration camps – but it was the only work he was offered. Banner himself was held briefly in a prewar-concentration camp.
From the 1950s to Hogan's Heroes
Banner made more than 70 television appearances between 1950 and 1970, including the Lone Ranger (episode "Damsels In Distress", 1950), Sky King (premiere episode "Operation Urgent", 1952), Mister Ed, Thriller (episode "Portrait Without a Face", 1961), The Untouchables (episode "Takeover", 1962), My Sister Eileen, The Lucy Show, Perry Mason, The Partridge Family, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (episode "Hot Line", 1964), Alias Smith and Jones, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (episode "The Neptune Affair", 1964), and Hazel (episode "The Investor", 1965).
In the late 1950s, a still slim Banner portrayed Peter Tchaikovsky's supervisor on a Disneyland anthology series about the composer's life. This followed a scene with fellow Hogan's Heroes actor Leon Askin (General Burkhalter) as Nikolai Rubinstein.
In 1954, he played the regular role of Bavarro in the children's series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Two years later, he played a train conductor in the episode "Safe Conduct" of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, appearing with future co-star Werner Klemperer, who played a spy. He played Nazi villains in several later films, as Rudolf Höss in Operation Eichmann (1961) and Gregor Strasser in Hitler (1962). The year before the premiere of Hogan's Heroes, Banner portrayed a soldier in the World War II German "home guard" in 36 Hours (1964). Although it was a non-comedic role in a war drama, Banner still displayed some of the affable nature that would become the defining trait of the character he would create for television the following year. By coincidence, during the final moments of 36 Hours, John Banner's character meets up with a border guard played by Sig Ruman, who had portrayed another prisoner-of-war camp chief guard named Sergeant Schulz, in the 1953 film Stalag 17, starring William Holden.
According to Banner in a newspaper interview, before he met and married his French wife Christine, he weighed 178 pounds (81 kg); he claimed her good cooking was responsible for his weight gain to 260 pounds (120 kg), as of 1965. This helped gain him the part of the kindly but inept German prisoner-of-war camp guard in Hogan's Heroes. Banner was loved not only by the viewers, but also by the cast, as recalled by cast members on the Hogan's Heroes DVD commentary. The Jewish Banner defended his character, telling TV Guide in 1967, "Schultz is not a Nazi. I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in any generation."
After Hogan's Heroes was cancelled in 1971, Banner starred as the inept gangster Uncle Latzi in a short-lived television situation comedy, The Chicago Teddy Bears. His last acting appearance was in the March 17, 1972, episode of The Partridge Family. He then retired to France with his Paris-born second wife.
Less than one year after moving back to Europe, while visiting friends in Vienna, John Banner died from an abdominal hemorrhage on his 63rd birthday. He was survived by his wife Christine; they had no children. He was buried at the cemetery in the Mauer neighborhood in Vienna. His grave is in Gruppe 57 Reihe 2 Nummer 26. His tombstone no longer stands, as the space has been leased by the cemetery to the Johann Hübner family, but a small marker in German is there, saying (in English translation):
Here is the last resting place of the actor John Banner, known as “Sergeant Georg Schultz” in the comedy show A Cage Full of Heroes [in English, Hogan's Heroes]. You have provided us with many unforgettable hours; in our hearts you will live forever. We, your fans, will never forget you.
- Charles Witbeck (April 16, 1967). "Ex-Villain John Banner Turns 'Good Guy'". Fresno Bee. p. 96. Retrieved September 12, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- Erskine Johnson (October 2, 1965). "Meet John Banner, He Ate His Way to New Character". North Adams Transcript. p. 11. Retrieved September 12, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Actor John Banner (Sgt. Schultz) dies". Long Beach Independent. February 2, 1973. p. 2. Retrieved September 12, 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- Arthur Pollock (November 2, 1939). "'Pastoral,' a Comedy by Victor Wolfson: Ruth Weston and John Banner Head Cast at Henry Miller's Theater". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. p. 10. Retrieved September 11, 2014 – via Newspapers.com. Note his photo at the bottom left of the article.
- John Banner at the Internet Broadway Database
- John Banner at Find a Grave
|This biography needs additional citations for verification. (January 2010)|
- John Banner at the Internet Movie Database
- John Banner at the Internet Broadway Database
- Photograph of Banner posing in the 1942 recruiting poster