Sorry for bumping a thread, but Askin was one of my favorite character actors and I just learned today he was dead. Ah well… so it goes. (He was 97 and still performing, so at least he didn’t just spend the last 20 years decaying and senile.)
Some interesting bio material on him:
*Born Leon Ashkenazi, as a child he and his class visited the Imperial Palace in his native Vienna and performed a song for Emperor Franz Josef. Later, Leon read a stanza he composed at one of the many memorial services for the Emperor. This makes Askin quite possibly the last surviving person ever to have performed before both Franz Josef and Gary Coleman.
*Askin’s parents were triply damned by Nazi standards: they were blind, they were Jewish and they were academics. Askin was originally intended for an academic career but fell in love with the stage and became a cabaret star first in Austria and later in Berlin (where he also graduated to legitimate theater).
*He was one of three Hogan’s Heroes stars to have spent time in a concentration camp (the other two being John Banner and Robert Clary). He was released on the condition that he leave the country, which he did, fleeing first to France and later to America. He was unable to help the rest of his family.
*His parents were arrested by the Nazis early in their regime and eventually housed in “The Paradise Ghetto” at Theresienstadt (the place where one of the most horrifying pieces of propaganda ever staged was fimed). His father died of disease there and his mother was deported to Auschwitz where she was gassed.
*Askin was a Sergeant in the American Army during WW2. After the war he had a stage career and began to appear in films (usually as either Nazis or Soviets). He became very good friends with Billy Wilder (who also lost his parents in the Holocaust) who called him “My one professional” because he never threw tantrums or held up production.
*He began returning to Germany and Austria for work in the 1960s (which was actually his most lucrative time as an actor as he made constant guest appearances on shows ranging from Hogan’s Heroes to The Monkees to Man From Uncle. His character actor career continued in America until the 1980s (playing a Soviet diplomat on Diff’rent Strokes was probably his last major appearance) and he did well enough to live in Beverly Hills (though I’m guessing not in the “rich” area) where schoolchildren would give him the Nazi salute on the street.
*In his late 80s he left his wife and home and became a full-time citizen of Vienna. He founded a home for elderly Jewish actors (guarded by an Uzi carrying security guard due to neo Nazi threats) and resumed his German language stage career. He achieved a lifetime goal of playing King Lear for the first time in his 90s and in a wheelchair. (His much earlier portrayal of Faust was called the definitive portrayal by some critics.)
*He married his middle-aged secretary a couple of years ago and continued to do dramatic readings and one-man shows until the week before he died.
Interesting old man. He’ll be missed (if only by me).
I’m always dismayed by the lack of progress in reinstantiation, for think of all the memories that died with him. He was possibly the last person with a clear memory of the Viennese Imperial Court (just as the Delany Sisters were probably the last to have known Booker T. Washington).
Obituary links from his official site (yep, he had a web-site).