On this day in 1910, the fine character actor John Banner was born. And 63 years later — to the day — he died. He had gone back to visit his home town. So apparently, you can go home — but it will kill you.
Banner is known for one thing: he played Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes. As you may know, I was crazy about the show when I was a kid. And I’ve never really abandoned that, although my interest has become much more about what the show said about American attitudes about its place in the world. There was the bumbling, by-the-book British Colonel Crittendon. There was the mysterious and never quite trustworthy Russian spy Marya. But most of all, there was Sergeant Schultz: the good German who is just caught in the middle of a bad situation.
In one episode where Hogan manages to convince the Nazis that the war is over, we learn that Schultz was the owner of Germany’s largest toy maker before the government took it over to convert it to military uses. He’s probably a social democrat. He doesn’t like the Nazis. But mostly, he just doesn’t like conflict, “When it comes to war, I don’t like to take sides.” But there are times when the plot is used to turn Schultz into a real Nazi as when he takes over as commandant and when he is put in charge of making a movie. As I wrote before, “Schultz was the heart of the show.”
A lot of people seem to have the idea that Banner died during the series run. This is not true. He went on to star in another situation comedy, The Chicago Teddy Bears. I don’t know much about it except that it took place in Chicago during Prohibition. Banner starred with Dean Jones (who by federal law had to star in every Disney movie from 1965 to 1980) as partners in a speakeasy. It sounds like a decent show, but few watched it and it was canceled after 13 episodes. The only thing I’ve found is this terrible copy of the opening credits:
Happy birthday John Banner!