Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ivan Dixon, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

You always had the feeling that if something had gone wrong with the espionage group at Stalag 13, that if Colonel Hogan himself were ever in trouble, Kinch would have been the one to step in and take charge. He was the most serious and the most loyal of Hogan’s subordinates, rarely questioning even the most outrageous of Hogan’s schemes, and usually the first one to ask “how are we going to do it” when the rest of them were saying it couldn’t be done. He (along with Hogan himself) was the oasis of sanity in that delightfully insane lot, and the one real regret of Hogan’s Heroes was that Ivan Dixon, alone among the original cast, didn’t stick around to the end. That last season just wasn’t the same without him. And so it was good to hear from his daughter that “he had no mixed feelings about being recognized” for his years on the show.

There was a lot more to Ivan Dixon than playing a POW, of course. For example, I remember his performance in a 1967 television play called “The Final War of Olly Winter." I didn’t really understand the play, which dealt with the struggles of a black soldier during the Vietnam war, but it was the first time I’d seen him in anything other than Hogan, and even a precocious seven-year-old could tell he was good. (So could his not-so-precocious peers, who nominated him for an Emmy for his performance.) Not as funny in that role, though…

You might have wondered what happened to Ivan Dixon after that, as he seldom appeared in front of the camera. He had a terrific career behind it though, and if you paid attention to the credits you’d have noticed his name on the hundreds of episodes he directed of shows such as Magnum, P.I. and The Rockford Files.

Back in another life, when I was hosting my “Richfield Republicans on TV” cable access show, I did a bit spoofing the then-hot rumor that the soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” was synched up to “The Wizard of Oz.” I suggested that we do the same thing with C-SPAN and Hogan’s Heroes. And when it came to Kinch, I remarked that he was probably the best actor in the show who people didn’t notice. (I compared him to Alan Keyes, as I recall, who was the best speaker in politics who people didn’t pay any attention to.)

In reality, though, it was hard not to notice the quiet dignity and class that Ivan Dixon brought to his profession. He died today at 76, and he will be missed. It’s funny that we've been talking a lot about Hogan recently on this site, and now we're talking about it again. It's only Robert Clary and Richard Dawson from that original cast now, and it just goes to remind us once again how quickly the years seem to pass by. Enjoy them while you can – and there are far worse ways to enjoy life than by watching an episode of Hogan’s Heroes, where Ivan Dixon, as well as the rest of us, will always be young.

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