Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Robert Clary

(1926 - 2022)

Robert Clary was a French American actor, published author, and lecturer. He is best known for his role in the television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes as Corporal LeBeau (“Frenchie”).

Clary was born Robert Max Widerman in Paris, France on March 1, 1926. Clary was the youngest of 14 children in an Orthodox Jewish family. At the age of twelve, he began a career singing professionally on French radio and studied art at the Paris Drawing School.

In 1942, at age 16, he was deported to the concentration camp at Ottmuth. “My mother said the most remarkable thing,” Clary told the Hollywood Reporter about that day. “She said, ‘Behave.’ She probably knew me as a brat. She said, ‘Behave. Do what they tell you to do.’”

He was later sent to Buchenwald where the number “A-5714” was tattooed on his left forearm. He was in the camp for 31 months working in a factory making wooden shoe heels. “Singing, entertaining and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived,” he said of singing with an accordionist every other Sunday for SS soldiers. He was liberated on April 11, 1945.

Other members of his immediate family were sent to Auschwitz. Clary believed he was the only one who survived. When he returned to Paris after World War II, he learned that some of his siblings had not been taken away and had survived the Nazi occupation of France.

He returned to the entertainment business and began writing songs and performing in dance halls. Clary made his first recordings in 1948; they were brought to the United States on wire and were issued on disk by Capitol Records. He immigrated 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.

Cantor later got Clary a spot on the Colgate Comedy Hour. In the mid-1950s, he appeared on NBC’s The Martha Raye Show and on CBS’s Appointment with Adventure, a dramatic anthology series. In 1958, he guest-starred on NBC’s The Gisele MacKenzie Show.

Clary’s comedic skills were quickly recognized by Broadway, where he appeared in several popular musicals including New Faces of 1952 and Seventh Heaven in 1955.

He also appeared in several films early in his career, including Ten Tall Men (1951), Thief of Damascus (1952), and A New Kind of Love (1963).

In 1965, the diminutive (5’1") Clary was offered the role of Corporal Louis LeBeau on a new TV sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes, and he accepted the role when the pilot sold. The series, which ran from 1965 to 1971, was set in the fictional German POW camp Stalag 13. Clary played a prisoner nicknamed “Frenchie” who was a member of an Allied sabotage unit operating from inside the camp.

After Hogan’s Heroes, 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 was also in the 1975 film The Hindenburg, which dramatized a fictional plot to blow up the German airship after it arrived at the Lakehurst, New Jersey Naval Air Station. He played Joseph Späh, a real-life passenger on the airship’s final voyage.

Clary also made notable appearances on Days of Our Lives, The Bold and The Beautiful, and The Young and the Restless, where he played Pierre Roulland (1973–1979).

After Hogan’s Heroes went off the air, Clary maintained close ties to fellow cast members Werner Klemperer, John Banner, and Leon Askin, whose lives were also affected by the Holocaust. He did not talk publicly about his experience during the war for 36 years. “But those who are attempting to deny the Holocaust, my suffering and the suffering of millions of others,” he said, “have forced me to speak out.”

“I had to explain that [Hogan’s Heroes] 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,” he wrote in his 2001 memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes.

Clary spent years touring Canada and the United States, speaking about the Holocaust.

He was also an artist, painting from photographs he took on his travels.

Natalie, his wife of 32 years, died in 1997.

Clary died on November 15, 2022, at age 96. He was the last surviving member of the original principal cast of Hogan’s Heroes.

Sources: Wikipedia.
Erin Keller, “Robert Clary, ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ star and Auschwitz survivor, dead at 96,” New York Post, (November 16, 2022).
Mike Barnes, “Robert Clary, Corporal LeBeau on ‘Hogan’s Heroes,’ Dies at 96,” The Hollywood Reporter, (November 16, 2022).

Wikimedia, By William Morris Agency (management) (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons