John Banner

Active - 1942 - 1970  |   Born - Jan 28, 1910 in Vienna  |   Died - Jan 28, 1973   |   Genres - Comedy

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Actor John Banner was forced out of his native Austria in 1938 when Hitler marched in. Though most familiar to filmgoers and TV viewers as a man of considerable heft, he was a trim 180 pounds when, while touring with an acting troupe in Switzerland, he found he couldn't return to Austria because he was Jewish. Banner came to America as a refugee; though unable to speak a word of English, he was almost immediately hired as emcee for a musical revue, From Vienna, for which he had to learn all his lines phonetically. Picking up the language rapidly, Banner was cast in several films of the 1940s, starting with Pacific Blackout. Because of his accent and Teutonic features, he most often played Nazi spies -- a grim task, in that Banner's entire family in Austria was wiped out in the concentration camps. Tipping the scales at 280 pounds in the 1950s, Banner worked steadily as a character man in films and on television; he can be seen as a variety of foreign-official types on such vintage TV series as The Adventures of Superman and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. In 1965, Banner was cast as Sgt. Schultz in the long-running wartime sitcom Hogan's Heroes. A far cry from the villainous Nazis he'd played in the 1940s, Schultz was a pixieish, lovable blimp of a man who'd rather have been working as a toymaker than spending the war guarding American POWS, and who, to protect his own skin, overlooked the irregularities occurring in Stalag 13 (which as every TV fan knows was Colonel Hogan's secret headquarters for American counterespionage) by bellowing "I know nothing! I see nothing! Nothing!" John Banner enjoyed playing Schultz, but bristled whenever accused of portraying a cuddly Nazi: "I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in every generation," the actor told TV Guide in 1967. As to the paradox of an Austrian Jew playing a representative of Hitler's Germany, Banner replied, "Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?" Or who could play them funnier than John Banner?

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