Lesson Learned: Always Print a Copy.
I was cleaning out a basement closet yesterday, going through boxes of GIjOEs, vintage toys and miscellaneous “to be scrap-booked” photos and papers, when I suddenly stumbled upon a copy of an interview that I had conducted with actor-singer-entertainer, Larry Hovis. Mr. Hovis is perhaps best remembered for his role as “Sergeant Carter” on the classic TV series, Hogan’s Heroes, and for numerous guest appearances on ’60s and ’70s shows such as The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, Laugh-In, The Liar’s Club, Match Game and many others.
As I studied the papers, I was reminded that our back-n-forth email exchange had occurred during June 2001, just two years prior, it turned out, to his untimely death of esophageal cancer at the age of 67. Looking back on that time now, I also remembered that my computer crashed not long afterwards and (as can happen) all of my emails, photos and other computerized records—including the Hovis interview—were lost. This would frustrate me for many years, but thankfully, I had had enough sense to print it out on paper; now the only remaining transcript of our interview. Imagine my elation at its discovery!
Larry’s Last Interview
After re-reading our interview, I realized that Hovis’ comments were quite insightful and felt that they should now be re-digitized and shared on the internet with fans and Hogan’s Heroes “historians” all around the world. It also occurred to me that sadly, this particular interview is likely the last one Hovis ever gave. While not privy to the final years of his life, I am aware of the devastating effects of esophageal/larynx cancer. My father-in-law died of the same affliction, and even if dealt with successfully, the disease often robs its victim of his or her natural voice and vocal cords, requiring years of difficult rehabilitaton therapy or the use of an artificial larynx device in order to speak audibly again. Furthermore, after a lengthy online search, I have been unable to find ANY other interview with Mr. Hovis that post-dates this one.
Finally, to put this “final interview” in better context, please remember that at the time, Larry was teaching drama courses at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX, and that fellow Hogan’s Heroes cast members Robert Clary (see HERE), Ivan Dixon, and Richard Dawson (see HERE) were all still alive (Dixon and Dawson have since passed away). Keeping all this in mind, here then, is Larry Hovis’ “final interview” as transcribed to yours truly, dated June 21, 2001. Enjoy!
TJR: May I take a moment to tell you how BIG a fan I am of you and your work? I’ve been watching Hogan’s Heroes off and on since its original airing, and I still have fond memories of when I was a little kid, marching around our living room (back in 1968) during the show’s opening theme song. Also, I’ve collected and enjoy many of your old records. What fun!”
“Thank you for your very kind words. I’m always amazed when people comment that they still watch the show in re-runs. And as well, when people comment that they have found copies of some of my records. It is very nice, but hardly expected.”
TJR: I’m very leery of intruding on your (or any celebrity’s) time. Therefore, if you’re too busy, or think that any question I’m asking is too personal, PLEASE feel free to just go on with your day.
“First of all, let’s deal with this celebrity nonsense. For some reason, those of us who work in the entertainment/arts industry seem to be dealt with differently by people for whatever reason. Let’s absolutely get beyond that. I’m a person who has been fortunate enough to have realized many of my dreams by getting to earn my living for the most part as an actor, singer, writer, comic, etc. For that, I’m extremely grateful.”
“Yes, like most people who do this, I’ve worked very hard and have given up the things this life demands you give up. The trade-off isn’t always equal or fair, but all of us know this going in and we make the bargain with our eyes open. In return, if we’re lucky, we get to do these ridiculous, silly things, instead of real jobs and we are usually well paid, and well treated along the way.
But my goodness, we’re just people like you, with hopes and dreams and aches and pains and fears and foolishness and despair and hardship and reward and loss, etc. All the things that make up living that we all endure.
For me, my life has been blessed by allowing me to know the joy of marriage (36 years to a wonderful woman who died from cancer in 1995), the privilege of fatherhood (4 children, two boys and two girls), all of whom are grown now, living their own lives with their own families. And the latest blessing; I get to be a teacher of young men and women in a field I love. None of this sucks!”
TJR: Can you tell us what you’re up to nowadays? I assume you’re retired and living the comfortable life in central Texas?
“As for me and retirement, well, that’s never going to happen. I am still at SWT (later renamed Texas State University, ed.) in San Marcos, my eleventh year in fact, as a lecturer (that just means a teacher who is not a professor). I love it here and continue to act as well in an occasional film or TV movie that shoots in the area and quite a few stage productions with the University. I’m sort of their artist-in-residence.”
TJR: Do you ever meet with the public for autographs or talks? I’d love to have you sign my albums!
“Well, I’m pretty accessible here at school. If the opportunity ever comes up, I’d be happy to sign your albums.”
TJR: What do you know about the current lives of your Hogan’s Heroes co-stars, Ivan Dixon, Robert Clary and Richard Dawson?
“Robert Clary is busy recording CDs, jazz and show tunes, about two a year, and he also worked for Steven Spielberg’s project to video interviews with survivors of the Holocaust (Robert was in three concentration camps in WWII in Poland and Germany).
Ivan Dixon lives in Hawaii where he owns a radio station.
Richard (Dawson) still lives in Beverly Hills, has recently re-married and has a young daughter of about age 9, I believe.
I speak with Robert from time to time and Richard and I exchange e-mails often. I haven’t been able to reach Ivan, so we’re not in touch, which I regret because we were very good friends during the series filming years. I have great admiration for these guys, as do you.”
TJR: What do you do when you’re not working? I mean “hobby-wise.” This is a question I always wonder about.
“Well, I write, paint, fish, sing, read, browse, stuff like that.”
TJR: Have you been in any plays lately?
“I still do an occassional film. I just finished a small film, ‘Heathens,’ and am going to do a period film, ‘Yorick’ in July. I do an occasional play here at the University. Most recently, ‘Twelfth Night,’ and next Spring, I’ll be playing Willy Loman in ‘Death of a Salesman.”
TJR: Did you crack-up your Hogan’s co-stars with your impressions and such?
“We all cracked each other up all the time during the filming of Hogan’s. That was a very funny and talented group I worked with.”
TJR: Like many, I can get “tongue-tied” when meeting a famous individual in person. For example, I once saw Frank Gorshin signing autographs at a toy show in New Jersey. I’m a really big fan and remember seeing him on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson doing his Burt Lancaster impersonation, etc. and just rolling with laughter! But as much as I wanted to go up there and tell him that—I just couldn’t. I guess I’m a big chicken, but that made me think about the power and influence of television and movies. Isn’t it amazing how human beings can be so effected by them?
“Don’t forget that the people you enjoy watching are just people like yourself. Frank Gorshin is a very nice man and he would have loved for you to say hello. Telling anyone you enjoy their work is a very nice and thoughtful compliment, and I can’t imagine that not mattering to anyone. Remember this: The day the public stops caring is the day careers come to a screeching end. Or should.
As to the ‘power of TV and movies?’ I think it’s frightening. I think it can be a good thing and it can be used for good. Edward Murrow said of TV: ‘This instrument can teach.’ I believe that. I do wish everyone who makes movies and TV shows and records and books and paintings and dance…all the arts…would do their very best and create with the understanding that art touches all of us, and should by all means, examine and criticize the human condition, but it should also celebrate the human spirit and try to inspire and uplift mankind. Sounds pretentious and preachy, but that’s how I feel.”
TJR: Have you experienced any “Beatles-type” moments? You know, crowds of girls rushing after you, etc.? Seriously!
“Any ‘Beatles-type’ moments? Actually…yes. But that was a long time ago and it was when I was much younger; traveling the country, playing clubs and doing singing and stand-up. But never on that scale, mind you.”
TJR: Thank you so much for your time! My dream would be to treat you to some BBQ some day and just listen to you talk—about ANYTHING.
“You said the magic word! BBQ! My brother, Tommy Davis, owns a couple of BBQ places in Austin (The Green Mesquite). I love BBQ. By all means, if you get down this way, arrange to say ‘hi’ and we’ll try to make time to visit, my treat. I’ll be happy to sign your records, etc.”
Bottom Line: Unfortunately, I never did have an opportunity to share some BBQ and conversation with Mr. Hovis in person. But what a blessing it was to have him spend some time and share his thoughts with me via email for this interview. And to find the “lost” hard copy of it all over a decade later! How great is that? When I finally do make it back to Austin, I think I’ll pay his brother’s restaurant a visit, raise a fork full of brisket (or a smoky rib) to the sky and say, “This one’s for you, Larry. Thanks for everything!”