Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ivan Dixon makes three.

OK, he's not quite as famous as Arthur C Clarke or Anthony Minghella, but actor Ivan Dixon was a groundbreaking actor. He originally started on the stage and appeared in such films as "A Raisin in the Sun" and "A Patch of Blue" but was best known for his role as communications wizard, Sgt James Kinchloe on the long running 1960's P.O.W comedy, "Hogans Heroes". Kinch never got a lot to do on "Hogan's Heroes", but the character was an integral part of the team and the part was written with dignity; Kinch was never portrayed as a stereotype. Frustration with the size of the role led Dixon to leave the show in 1970, but his television experiences as an actor allowed him opportunities to become one of the first African-American television directors, helming hundreds of hours of such shows as "The Waltons" and "Magnum:PI".

Ivan Dixon, aged 76, died in Charlotte, NC from complications caused by kidney failure and was survived by his wife of 58 years.

"Hogan's Heroes" was a weird show. Part comedy and part adventure story, it managed to effectively combine the two and had the balls to make a WWII comedy about wacky Nazis only 20 years after the end of the war. (There were some protests; some Jewish groups AND some German groups objected to the frivolous nature of the show.) And Ivan Dixon was very good as Kinch and really an important part of the show. Bob Crane's Hogan and Dixon's Kinch were the only two "normal" characters on the show, the straight men to the zany antics of the broader drawn characters. The Germans were cartoon Germans and LeBeau was a cartoon Frenchman and Newkirk was a cartoon Cockney and Carter was a cartoon country bumpkin but Hogan and Kinch were just regular guys that got to deliver some funny lines but their main job was to be the sane center of the show, Hogan as the main character and Kinch in backup.

And I always thought Ivan Dixon was kind of sexy. He had a great voice and a stong masculine presence in all the roles he played. He was very, very good in the movie "Carwash" as the primary paternal figure for the other carwashers. Dixon was an actor that if he'd been born a generation later would have had better opportunities to play more important roles and could have had a major career as an actor.

And, who's left from "Hogan's Heroes"?; this cast is pretty much decimated. I think the only ones left are Robert "LeBeau" Clary and Richard "Newkirk" Dawson.

And interestingly enough, Clary, John "Schultzie" Banner, Werner "Klink" Klemperer, and Leon "General Burkhalter" Askin were all Jewish and Robert Clary was an inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp and was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. Banner was also imprisoned by the Nazis in the mid-30's but was released and managed to escape to the US.

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