Howard Morris: The Hamlet of Animation

After learning about Your Show of Shows and the stars of the show, I turned my attention to the cast members. Carl Reiner and Howard Morris were the two actors who were most involved with the skits. Reiner had a long and successful career, and we’ll look at his life in more detail later, but today I would like to concentrate on Howard Morris. 

Howard Morris Theatre Credits and Profile
Photo: abouttheartist.com

Most people recognize Morris as Ernest T Bass from The Andy Griffith Show. While I have a great appreciation for the series and the well-written scripts and delightful characters of Mayberry, I was never a big fan of Ernest T or the Darling family. They seemed to be a bit too over the top for me and diminished the reality of Mayberry.

J. Mark Powell on Twitter: "Howard Morris, better known as Mayberry's  rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass on @AndyGriffithShw, was born 101 years ago  today.… https://t.co/AwvE2WMBvR"
Ernest T Bass Photo: twitter.com

So, when I began to learn more about Morris who first became known to television fans for his work on Your Show of Shows, I was amazed at how versatile an actor he was and how much he accomplished during his career. 

Howard Morris was born in The Bronx in 1919. He later received a scholarship to attend New York University as a drama major, planning to work as a classically trained Shakespeare actor. During WWII he became first sergeant in the US Army Special Services unit. The group was based in Honolulu and entertained troops throughout the Pacific. Maurice Evans (who played Samantha’s father on Bewitched among other roles); Carl Reiner (whom we all know and love); and Werner Klemperer (Col Klink on Hogan’s Heroes) were all part of this unit.

In 1945 he married Mary Helen McGowan. While they were married until 1958; he had four other marriages during his life.

When Morris got the offer to appear in Sid Caesar’s new show, he was able to work with Reiner again. This was his first television or movie appearance, but it would not be his last.

Howard Morris - Net Worth, Bio, Wife, Children, Death, Biography - Famous  People Today
With Reiner and Caeser Photo: famouspeopletoday.com

One of the sketches from the show was a take on This is Your Life, the Ralph Edwards show. Morris said it was his favorite skit from the series. David Margolick wrote in the New Yorker in 2014 that “Though the competition is stiff, many feel that this sketch is the funniest that Your Show of Shows ever did . . . that night nearly sixty years ago, the show produced what is probably the longest and loudest burst of laughter—genuine laughter, neither piped in nor prompted—in the history of television.”

Morris moved to Hollywood in 1961. In the 1960s he began his multi-talented career of television actor, movie actor, director, and animation voice-over star. Unbelievably, he would rely on the quartet of skills the rest of his professional life, excelling in all of them.

Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) on The Lucy Show - Sitcoms Online Photo  Galleries
On The Lucy Show Photo: sitcomsonline.com

As a television actor, he appeared in a variety of series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, Fantasy Island, Trapper John MD, The Love Boat, and Murder She Wrote.

Although he is known for his role of Ernest T Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, he was only made five appearances as that character on the show. Aaron Rubens sent him the script that introduced Ernest to Morris to look over and “fix.” Morris fell in love with the character. He said the show had a terrific cast, and they were wonderful people to work with. He said fans loved Ernest because he did whatever he felt like doing including spontaneously bad behavior choices that everyone wanted to make.

As a movie star, he appeared in several films throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Some of the highlights were The Nutty Professor; With Six You Get Eggroll; High Anxiety; The History of the World, Part I; and Splash.

On The Many Faces (and Voices) of Howard Morris – (Travalanche)
Photo: travalanche.com

Not content with just acting in films, Morris became interested in directing early in his career. He began his directing career in the sixties and continued through the eighties. His first directing job was on The Bill Dana Show. He was very busy in the sixties and seventies, directing episodes of Gomer Pyle, USMC; The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Andy Griffith Show; The Patty Duke Show; the pilot of Get Smart; Bewitched; Love American Style; Hogan’s Heroes, and The Love Boat among others. He also directed for the big screen. You’ll see directing credits in his name for Who’s Minding the Mint?, With Six You Get Eggroll, and Don’t Drink the Water.

During an interview with the television academy, he said he loved directing Hogan’s Heroes. Robert Clary became one of his best friends for life. He also loved Klemperer. He said working on With Six You Get Eggroll was a wonderful experience. He said Doris Day just had a natural talent, and Brian Keith was a great guy. He felt being an actor allowed him to be a better director. He understood what the process was for the cast and was able to help them. He knew he could not teach them to act.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for a classically trained Shakespeare actor is that he had the most success in the animation world. I could not begin to list all his credits here, or you would still be reading next week when the new blog comes out. Beginning with Krazy Kat in 1962, he would go on to provide voices for more than fifty series. You will hear his voice in The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Mr. Magoo, The Magilla Gorilla Show, The Atom Ant Show, Duck Tales, a variety of Archie series, and Garfield and Friends.

Howard Morris voiced more than 100 characters on The Flintstones
Photo: metv.com

In a Television Academy interview, he admitted that he accepted voice-over work because he needed the money. It also appealed to him because you did not have to worry about wardrobe or make-up. He said the actors sat in the room together recording the show at the same time which allowed them to relate to each other better than today when everyone records by himself.

In 1962, he married Dolores Wylie and they were together until 1977. I read several sources that listed him being married five times but could not find confirmation of the other marriages, although one cite mentioned two other spouses, Judith and Kathleen and noted that he was married to one of his spouses twice. They all ended in divorce.

In 2005 Morris died from congestive heart failure. Carl Reiner was one of the people who gave a eulogy at his funeral.

The Andy Griffith Show" My Fair Ernest T. Bass (TV Episode 1964) - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Howard Morris had a very long and prolific career. About the only genre he did not act in was Shakespearean drama, which is what he trained for. I was curious about whether he enjoyed his comedic career, or if he was disappointed that he did not work more in drama.

During his Television Academy interview, when asked what advice he would give someone thinking about entering the acting or directing profession, he replied “to avoid it and shun every opportunity because it was too hard.” He certainly deserves to be remembered for more than being Ernest T Bass even though he is a much-loved character. Morris said he would like to be remembered as a guy that was able to reveal certain things of humor and reality to the public and for his great gratitude for the fans who have always been there.” Well said. And, well done.

My Heroes: Hogan and Company

In looking at war-themed television shows, M*A*S*H has to be number 1.  An episode could have you sobbing one minute and laughing hysterically the next minute. Hogan’s Heroes might not be at the same level, but it is a fun, well-written show with an interesting cast of characters. Debuting about two decades after the war ended, the show first aired in September 1965 and continued till April 1971, producing 168 episodes.

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The setting of the show is Luft Stalag 13, a prisoner of war camp where Allied prisoners are held north of the town of Hammelburg.

The POWs are using the camp as their base for Allied espionage tactics to sabotage the Nazis and to help other Allied POWs and defectors escape Germany. Colonel Robert E. Hogan, played by Bob Crane, is the mastermind of the crew. While Hogan and his boys help the Allied cause, the two men who aid the cause the most do it unwittingly. Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) and Sergeant of the Guard Schultz (John Banner) are easily tricked and proud of the fact that no prisoner has ever escaped Stalag 13. The incompetent Germans are more concerned with making sure they do not cause trouble with their superiors which could get them sent to the Russian front. The Germans in the camp are portrayed as inept and easily manipulated. In later episodes Sgt Schultz tends to look the other way, realizing that Hogan and his men are much more than mere prisoners.

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A series of tunnels allows Hogan and his men to come and go at will. A doghouse in the guard dog compound is one of their doors and they make friends with the dogs who never track them down. A bunk in the barracks is another trap door and the main entrance into the tunnels. A periscope disguised as a sink faucet allows them to view the compound. Hogan is also able to listen in to the telephone switchboard and to make phony calls when necessary. A planted microphone in Klink’s office allows the men to hear any conversation taking place there. A portion of the barbed wire fence is a frame that can be lifted to get in and out of camp. Sometimes the guys “borrow” cars from the Germans or have planes land near the fence for air drops.

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NBC actually turned down the show. From what I read, they didn’t think the pilot was bad; they seemed to think it was so good that the innovative story lines could not be sustained in a weekly show. The pilot was filmed in black and white, but after CBS put the show on the schedule, it decided to film the rest of the episodes in color.

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The show ranked in the top 20 for most of the seasons it was on television. However, the show engendered debate because it was a comedy about WWII. One critic wrote “Granted, this show is often funny and well-acted. But there’s simply no excuses for turning the grim reality of Nazi atrocities . . . for yet another brainless joke.”

The outdoor scenes were filmed on the 40 Acres Backlot in Culver City, California. The set was also used in a Mission Impossible show as a South American prison. In 1975 it was destroyed and became part of an industrial park.

The instrumental theme song was composed by Jerry Fielding. He wrote lyrics for it, so it could be featured on an album, “Hogan’s Heroes Sing the Best of World War II,” songs sung by cast members Ivan Dixon, Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, and Larry Hovis. It was also on Bob Crane’s album, “Bob Crane, His Drums and Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV.”

Actors often played a variety of roles on the show. For example, William Christopher (who would later star in M*A*S*H) played a POW, a German soldier, and a British pilot. Arlene Martel appeared as a resistance fighter in one show and Olga and Gretchen in other episodes.

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The regular cast included the following:

Colonel Robert E. Hogan (Bob Crane). He is the senior ranking POW officer and the leader of the group. He commanded the 504th Bombardment Group. He was shot down during a raid on Hamburg. Many of his plans are quite complex. Being a ladies’ man, all the women fall for Hogan. Bob provided the drums for the theme song. He also played them in a couple of episodes.

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Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon). Part of the US Army Air Force, “Kinch” is responsible for the radio, telephone, and other electronic communications for the POWs. He can also mimic German officers. He worked for the telephone company in Detroit before the war. He left the show after the fifth season. He was replaced by Kenneth Washington for the final episodes.

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Technical Sergeant Andrew Carter (Larry Hovis). United States Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant Andrew J. Carter is in charge of ordnance and bomb-making. Hovis was intended to be in the pilot only, but he was then offered a regular role moving from lieutenant to a sergeant. He worked in a drug store in Indiana and hoped to become a pharmacist after the war. He produces formulas, various chemicals, and explosive devices.

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Corporal Louis LeBeau (Robert Clary). Free French Air Force Corporal Louis LeBeau is a Master Chef who is passionate about his cooking and a notoriously patriotic Frenchman. Schultz and Klink nickname him “The Cockroach.” His cooking talent often get the Germans out of bad situations. Hogan uses LeBeau’s culinary skills to bargain for extra privileges. In real life, Clary was a French Jew who was in the Nazi concentration camps at Ottmuth and Buchenwald and had his serial number tattooed on his arm.

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Corporal Peter Newkirk (Richard Dawson). Royal Air Force Corporal Peter Newkirk is the group’s jack of all trades. When necessary he performs as a conman, magician, pick-pocket, card sharp, forger, bookie, tailor, lock picker, and safe cracker. He does numerous impersonations of German officers and a voice imitation of Adolf Hitler. Newkirk was convinced to dress as a woman for various plots.

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Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer). Wilhelm Klink is an old-line Luftwaffe officer from aristocratic Prussian descent, but he is portrayed as inept, a bit dimwitted, cowardly, and often clueless. He has been stuck at the rank of colonel for twenty years with an efficiency rating a few points above “miserable.” Klink often gets splashed with water or snow.

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Sergeant Hans George Schultz (John Banner). Hans Schultz is Klink’s clumsy, but lovable, Sergeant of the Guard who is forever taking small bribes from the prisoners, with whom he is overly friendly. Sometimes the boys talk in front of him or tell him exactly what they are going to do. He always says, “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!” Before the war, he owned the most successful toy company in Germany.

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General Albert Hans “Hansi” Burkhalter (Leon Askin). General Albert Burkhalter is Klink’s superior officer, a gruff man. Burkhalter frequently tires of Klink’s babbling and says, “Shut up, Klink!” He regularly threatens to send him to the Russian Front or have him shot.

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Some of the other regular roles included Sigrid Valdis as Hilda, Howard Caine as Major Hochstetter, and Cynthia Lynn as Helga.

 

There are some famous “goofs” in the filming of the show. (1) In one scene, a periodic table of elements is hanging on a wall. It shows all the 103 elements known to science in the 1960s; however, in the 1940s, fewer than 92 elements were known. (2) On numerous occasions Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, is mentioned either by Hogan’s men or the Germans. Braun’s association with Hitler was a closely guarded secret only known to Hitler’s inner circle, whose existence wasn’t revealed until after the war. (3) The center top ribbon on Colonel Hogan’s dress uniform is the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, an award that was created by the Air Force after World War II.

The most surprising thing I learned about the cast members were their backgrounds. Werner Klemperer, Howard Caine, Leon Askin, and John Banner, who portrayed the Germans Klink, Hochstetter, Burkhalter, and Schultz, were all Jewish. All of them also served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Klemperer was born in Cologne, Germany, and Banner and Askin were both born in Vienna, Austria; the three of them immigrated to the United States after fleeing the Nazi regime. Banner had been held in a pre-war concentration camp, and his family was killed during the war. Robert Clary, John Banner, and Leon Askin were all survivors of the Holocaust. Werner Klemperer escaped Nazi Germany in 1933 with his parents. When asked about their willingness to play these roles, Klemperer said, “I am an actor. If I can play Richard III, I can play a Nazi.” Banner’s response was “Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?”

As mentioned earlier, Robert Clary was imprisoned for three years in Nazi camps. His comment when asked about his participation on the show was “Hogan’s Heroes was very different—we weren’t really dealing with Nazism.”

While it is surprising that this show was able to get produced so soon after WWII, the show received a lot of praise from critics. Hogan’s Heroes had 12 Emmy nominations, with two wins, both for Werner Klemperer for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy.

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The show has held up amazingly well since it aired 53 years ago. All seasons are available on DVD, and the show is currently seen on Me TV weeknights from 9-10 pm, CST. Tune in some night when you want to go to bed laughing–it’s a nice break from the news.

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