Werner Klemperer

Active - 1956 - 1981  |   Born - Mar 22, 1920 in Cologne  |   Died - Dec 6, 2000   |   Genres - Comedy

Share on

Biography by Hal Erickson

Actor Werner Klemperer seemed destined for a career as a classical musician in his native Germany; his father was legendary orchestra conductor Otto Klemperer, and his mother was an opera singer. Otto Klemperer fled the Nazis in 1933 and secured a job with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, then sent for his wife and children. Trained in piano, trumpet and violin, young Werner never lost his love of music, but decided in the early '40s to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. A naturalized American citizen, Klemperer worked in Maurice Evans' special services unit in World War II, which gave Werner invaluable training before all sorts of audiences. Completely bald in his mid 20s, Klemperer had little problem securing theatrical work as older continental types, yet he yearned to broaden his range. To do this, he completely surpressed his German accent, the better to play such all-American character roles as the timorous press agent in the 1957 Cary Grant film Kiss Them for Me (1957). The capture of fugitive Nazi official Adolph Eichmann in 1960 sparked a renewal of interest in war films, and soon Klemperer found himself playing Eichmann (whom he vaguely resembled) in the 1961 quickie Operation Eichmann. He also essayed a suitably slimy role as a former Nazi jurist on trial for war crimes in 1961's Judgment at Nuremberg. Try though he might to break free of the stereotype, Klemperer was stuck in Teutonic roles, so he resigned himself to recultivating his German accent and worked steadily throughout the '60s. A low-comedy variation of Klemperer's standard character made him an international TV favorite: the actor played the heel-clicking, imperious and incredibly stupid Colonel Klink on the popular sitcom Hogan's Heroes from 1965 through 1970. In the '70s, Klemperer returned to his musical roots as a sometimes performer at the Metropolitan Opera, and as a lecturer/narrator for dozens of American symphony orchestras. Having spent most of his professional career chilling the audience's marrow as the archetypal Nazi officer, Werner Klemperer was the soul of geniality as the jovial narrator of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf at regional kiddie concerts of the '80s and '90s.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography