Robert Clary, who played the French chef Corporal Louis LeBeau on Hogan’s Heroes, has died. Clary’s granddaughter Kim Wright confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the actor died on the morning of Wednesday, November 16, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 96.
Best known for his role as Cpl. LeBeau on Hogan’s Heroes, Clary brought a hard-lived reality to the role. A Holocaust survivor, Clary was imprisoned by the Nazis at the of 16.
“I had to explain that [Hogan’s Heroes] was about prisoners of war in a stalag, not a concentration camp,“ Clary wrote in his 2001 memoir From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes. ”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.”
Born on March 1, 1926, in Paris, France, Clary got the showbiz bug early. The youngest of 14 in a strict Orthodox Jewish household, he began singing at 12. Four years later, he’d be kidnapped by the Nazis and imprisoned at Buchenwald and later Auschwitz for 31 months. He was the only member of his family to survive.
“Singing, entertaining, and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “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”
When the camp was liberated in 1945, Clary returned to Paris, where he began recording music. He made his earliest recordings in 1948 before making his American television debut in 1950 on the Ed Wynn Show. Shortly after, Clary met Eddie Cantor, who helped the French singer’s career “tremendously.” Cantor helped land Clary on The Colgate Comedy Hour, which put him on Broadway’s radar.
Clary performed on Broadway throughout the next decade before landing a role as Cpl. LeBeau on Hogan’s Heroes. Though his character would faint at the sight of blood, LeBeau was an integral character in Robert Hogan’s numerous schemes, escape attempts, and pranks on his Nazi foils. As the cook, he nourished his fellow prisoners and would frequently use his skills to create diversions for Colonel Klink.
LeBeau remained on Hogan’s Heroes until 1971, appearing in more than 165 episodes. But his acting continued throughout the 70s, playing Robert LeClair on 500 episodes of the soap opera Days Of Our Lives and Pierre Jourdan on The Bold And The Beautiful.
Clary married his wife Natalie Cantor, his mentor Eddie’s daughter, in 1965 after 15 years of friendship. She died in 1997.
Inspired by a documentary he saw in the 80s, Clary spent his remaining years touring the U.S. and Canada, speaking about the Holocaust. He said that the talks helped him heal. As Clary put it, “I stopped having nightmares the moment I opened my mouth.”