Robert Clary

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Robert Clary
Robert Clary 1953.JPG
Clary in 1953
Born Robert Max Widerman
(1926-03-01) March 1, 1926 (age 91)
Paris, France
Occupation Actor, painter, author, lecturer
Years active 1951–2001
Known for Corporal LeBeau in Hogan's Heroes
Spouse(s) Natalie Cantor Metzger (m. 1965; d. 1997)

Robert Clary (born Robert Max Widerman; March 1, 1926) is a French-American actor, published author, artist and lecturer. He is known for his role in the television sitcom Hogan's Heroes as Corporal Louis LeBeau.

Early life and Holocaust Survival[edit]

Born in 1926 in Paris, France, Clary was the youngest of 14 children.[1] At the age of twelve, he began a career singing professionally on French radio and also studied art at the Paris Drawing School.[2] In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth, in Upper Silesia (now Poland). He was tattooed with the identification "A5714" on his left forearm. He was later sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.

At Buchenwald, he sang to an audience of SS soldiers every other Sunday, accompanied by an accordionist. He said, "Singing, entertaining, and being in kind of good health at my age, that's why I survived. I was very immature and young and not really fully realizing what situation I was involved with ... I don't know if I would have survived if I really knew that."[3]

Writing about his experience, Clary said, "We were not even human beings. When we got to Buchenwald, the SS shoved us into a shower room to spend the night. I had heard the rumors about the dummy shower heads that were gas jets. I thought, 'This is it.' But no, it was just a place to sleep. The first eight days there, the Germans kept us without a crumb to eat. We were hanging on to life by pure guts, sleeping on top of each other, every morning waking up to find a new corpse next to you. ... The whole experience was a complete nightmare — the way they treated us, what we had to do to survive. We were less than animals. Sometimes I dream about those days. I wake up in a sweat terrified for fear I'm about to be sent away to a concentration camp. But I don't hold a grudge because that's a great waste of time. Yes, there's something dark in the human soul. For the most part human beings are not very nice. That's why when you find those who are, you cherish them."[4]

Clary was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. Twelve other members of his immediate family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp; Clary was the only member of his family to survive the camps.[5] When he returned to Paris after World War II, he learned that three of his 13 siblings had not been taken away and had survived the Nazi occupation of France.[3]

Career[edit]

Clary circa 1950, as a Capitol recording artist

Clary returned to the entertainment business and began singing songs that not only became popular in France, but in the United States as well.[1] Clary made his first recordings in 1948; they were brought to the United States on wire and were issued on disk by Capitol Records.[2] He went to the U.S. in October 1949. One of Clary's first American appearances was a French language comedy skit on The Ed Wynn Show in 1950. Clary later met Merv Griffin and Eddie Cantor. This eventually led to Clary meeting Cantor's daughter, Natalie Cantor Metzger, whom he married in 1965, after being "the closest of friends" for 15 years.[1] Cantor later got Clary a spot on The Colgate Comedy Hour.[1] In the mid-1950s, he appeared on NBC's The Martha Raye Show and on CBS's Appointment with Adventure, a dramatic anthology series.

Clary's comedic skills were quickly recognized by Broadway, where he appeared in several popular musicals, including New Faces of 1952, which was produced as a film in 1954. In 1952, he appeared in the film Thief of Damascus which also starred Paul Henreid and Lon Chaney, Jr. In 1958, he guest-starred on NBC's The Gisele MacKenzie Show.

LeBeau on Hogan's Heroes[edit]

As LeBeau in Hogan's Heroes with Fräulein Helga (Cynthia Lynn)

In 1965, the diminutive (5 ft 1 in) Clary was offered the role of Corporal Louis LeBeau on a new television sitcom called Hogan's Heroes, and he accepted the role when the pilot sold. The series was set in a German prisoner of war (POW) camp during World War II, and Clary played a French POW who was a member of an Allied sabotage unit operating from inside the camp.

Asked about parallels between LeBeau's incarceration and his own, Clary said, "Stalag 13 is not a concentration camp. It's a POW camp, and that's a world of difference. You never heard of a prisoner of war being gassed or hanged. When the show went on the air, people asked me if I had any qualms about doing a comedy series dealing with Nazis and concentration camps. I had to explain that it 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."[4]

Clary became one of the last two surviving principal cast members of Hogan's Heroes, with Kenneth Washington (Sergeant Richard Baker, final season), when Cynthia Lynn (Helga, first season, 1965–1966) died on March 10, 2014.

Later life and career[edit]

After Hogan's Heroes went off the air, Clary maintained close ties to fellow Hogan's Heroes cast members Werner Klemperer, John Banner and Leon Askin, whose lives were also affected by the Holocaust. Following the show's cancellation, he appeared in a handful of feature films with World War II themes, including the made-for-television film Remembrance of Love, about The Holocaust. Clary also appeared on the soap operas Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, where he played Pierre Roulland (1973–1979).

Clary appeared in the 1975 film The Hindenburg, which portrayed a fictional plot to blow up the German airship after it arrived at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. He played Joseph Späh, a real-life passenger on the airship's final voyage.

Clary spent years touring Canada and the United States, speaking about the Holocaust. He is a painter, painting from photographs he takes on his travels.[1]

Clary wrote a memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan's Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary in 2001.[6]

Films[edit]

  • Ten Tall Men (1951) — Mossul
  • Thief of Damascus (1952) — Aladdin
  • A New Kind of Love (1963) — Frenchman at restaurant
  • New Faces (1954) — various songs and characters in this musical comedy revue, recreating his role from Broadway's New Faces of 1952
  • The Hindenburg (1975) — Joseph Späh
  • Remembrance of Love (1982) — played himself as an Auschwitz survivor[7]

Television[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Susan King (March 24, 2013). "Robert Clary a survivor in life and entertainment". Los Angeles Times. 
  2. ^ a b "Robert Clary Biography". Capitol Records. 1950. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Flax, Peter; Baum, Gary; Roxborough, Scott; Guthrie, Marisa; Lewis, Andy (16 December 2015). "Hollywood's Last Survivors of the Holocaust share their stories". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 December 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Clary, Robert (March 1, 2015). "Happy Birthday Robert Clary!". Well Quotes Blog. Retrieved January 5, 2017. 
  5. ^ The Buchenwald Report, prepared and finished three weeks after the liberation of Buchenwald by the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force; first published in its entirety by Westview Press, with translation by David A. Hackett, 1999.
  6. ^ Clary, Robert. (2001). From the Holocaust to Hogan's Heroes. Madison Books. ISBN 1568332289.
  7. ^ DVD Video. Legacy Entertainment, Inc. Stars Kirk Douglas and Pam Dawber

External links[edit]