John Banner (28 January 191028 January 1973), born Johann Banner, was an American film and television actor, who was born and died in Vienna, Austria.
He is best known for his role as the World War II German Master Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz in the situation comedy Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971). A veteran of World War I, Schultz constantly encountered evidence that the inmates of his Stalag (prisoner-of-war camp) were planning mayhem, but realised he would be better off feigning ignorance. His constant catchphrase was "I know nothing! Nothing!" One episode of Hogan's Heroes was titled "At Last: Schultz Knows Something".
Banner was born to Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He studied for a law degree, but decided instead to become an actor. In 1938, when he was performing with an acting troupe in Switzerland, Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to Nazi Germany. Banner emigrated to the United States, where he rapidly picked up English. He began acting in Hollywood films, ironically usually playing a Nazi soldier.
His feature-film credits include more than 40 films; his first was Pacific Blackout. He played a Gestapo agent in 20th Century Fox's Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas (1943). His typecasting did not please him, as his family members who had remained in Vienna all perished in Nazi concentration camps, but it was the only work he was offered.
Banner made more than 70 television appearances between 1950 and 1970, including Mister Ed, The Lucy Show, Alias Smith and Jones, Perry Mason, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables ("Takeover" episode; 1962) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ("Hot Line" episode; 1964) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ("The Neptune Affair" episode; 1964).
In the late 1950s a quite slim Banner portrayed the supervisor of Peter Tchaikovsky on a Disneyland Anthology series about the composer's life. This followed a scene with fellow Hogan actor Leon Askin (Burkhalter) as Nikolai Rubinstein.
In 1954, he played the regular role of Bavarro in the children's series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Two years later, he played a train conductor in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, appearing with future co-star Werner Klemperer, who played a spy. Banner had a small role in an episode of Adventures of Superman. He played Nazi villains in several later films, as Rudolf Höss in Operation Eichmann (1961) and Gregor Strasser in Hitler (1962).
By the 1960s, the once lean and handsome Banner's weight had increased to . This helped gain him the part of the kindly but inept German prisoner of war camp guard in Hogan's Heroes. Banner was loved not only by the viewers, but by the cast of Hogan's Heroes as well (as recalled by cast members on the Hogan's Heroes DVD commentary). The Jewish Banner defended his character, telling TV Guide in 1967: "Schultz is not a Nazi. I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in any generation."
After Hogan's Heroes was cancelled in 1971, Banner starred as the inept gangster Uncle Latzi in a short-lived television situation comedy, The Chicago Teddy Bears.
His last acting appearance was in the March 7, 1972 episode of The Partridge Family. He then retired with his Paris-born second wife to France.
Less than one year after moving back to Europe, while visiting friends in Vienna, John Banner died from an abdominal hemorrhage on his 63rd birthday. He was buried at the cemetery in the Mauer neighborhood in Vienna. His grave is in Gruppe 57 Reihe 2 Nummer 26. His tombstone no longer stands, as the space has been leased by the cemetery to the Johann Hübner family, but a small marker in German is there, saying (in English translation):
Here is the last resting place of the actor John Banner, known as 'Sergeant First Class Hans Schultz' in the comedy show 'A Cage Full of Heroes' [in English, Hogan's Heroes]. You have provided us with many memorable hours; you will live forever in our hearts. We, your family, will never forget you.