February 20 was the birthday of the late Larry Hovis (1936-2003). The Heyday of Hovis of course was the ’60s and ’70s when he had regular gigs on Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971) and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in (1967-1972). While he acted in many roles, a bigger picture shows he was more naturally a creature of the variety theatre (sketches, stand-up and songs) and that’s the best context for looking at his career.
As a child he sang with his sister Joan Hovis on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. When he got older he sang in nightclubs with the Mascots and the Bill Gavin Trio, and released the 1958 record album My Heart Belongs to Only You. Yes! You too, can take home the sounds of Larry Hovis.
In 1960 Hovis appeared in the Broadway revue From A to Z with Bob Dishy and Hermione Gingold. Next he did stand-up for a few years until he got his big break, getting cast in a recurring part of Gomer Pyle USMC.
Hovis’ mild yet strange manner, combined with an Apple-Pie All American personality made him perfect for the role of the demolitions expert Sgt. Carter on Hogan’s Heroes — the sort of guy who likes to blow things up a little too much. At the same time he was able to do straight-up comedy bits on Laugh-In.
In the midst of all this he found time to co-write the teen comedy Out of Sight (1966) directed by Lenny Weinrib, and write TV specials for Mitzi Gaynor in 1968 and 1969.
Through the late ’70s you could see him in guest shots on shows like The Doris Day Show, McMillan and Wife, Adam-12, Chico and the Man, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Alice, as well as game shows like Match Game and Liar’s Club. He was one of the producers on the latter show and throughout the 1980s that was mostly what he did, produce game shows, including So You Think You’ve Got Troubles (with Jay Johnson), Anything for Money, Lingo, Yahtzee, and Totally Hidden Video.
In the ’90s he returned to his home state of Texas, where he taught college drama, and acted in the occasional role for local shoots. His last part was in a 2002 film called Lone Star State of Mind.
To find out more about the history of variety entertainment, including TV variety like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,