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28 January 1910
|Died||28 January 1973
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, 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. He began acting in Hollywood films, ironically usually playing a German soldier.
His feature-film credits include more than 40 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.
From the 1950s to Hogan's Heroes
Banner made more than 70 television appearances between 1950 and 1970, including the Lone Ranger (1950 episode "Damsels In Distress"), Sky King (premiere 1952 episode "Operation Urgent"), Mister Ed, My Sister Eileen, The Lucy Show, Perry Mason, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables ("Takeover" episode; 1962) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ("Hot Line" episode; 1964), Alias Smith and Jones, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ("The Neptune Affair" episode; 1964), and Hazel (1965 episode " The Investor").
In the late 1950s, a quite slim Banner portrayed Peter Tchaikovsky's supervisor on a Disneyland Anthology series about the composer's life. This followed a scene with fellow Hogan actor Leon Askin (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. Banner had a small role in an episode of Adventures of Superman. 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 premier of Hogan's Heroes, Banner again portrayed a uniformed soldier of 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 odd coincidence, during the final moments of 36 Hours, John Banner meets up at the border fence with actor Sig Ruman who portrayed Sgt. Johann Sebastian Schulz in the 1953 film classic Stalag 17 featuring actor William Holden.
By the 1960s, the once lean and handsome Banner's weight had increased to 280 pounds (130 kilograms). 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 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.
- John Banner at the Internet Movie Database
- John Banner at the Internet Broadway Database
- Photograph of Banner in 1942
- John Banner at Find a Grave