More than a Hogan's Heroes Star
Ivan Dixon is best remembered for his role at Sergeant “Kinch” Kinchloe in the late 1960s TV series “Hogan’s Heroes.” But, Ivan Dixon’s role in “Hogan’s Heroes” is just one small piece of a career that lasted over three decades.
He began his career on Broadway and then went on to perform in numerous television shows and movies. However, Dixon didn’t follow the traditional path of being an actor for his entire career. He also became a successful television and movie director, helping to break color barriers for African-Americans in the entertainment industry.
Ivan Dixon was born in Harlem, New York on April 6, 1931. He was raised in the south and attended a special boarding school for African-Americans in Gaston County, North Carolina. The school, Lincoln Academy, was one of the few all-Black boarding schools in the country with an all-Black faculty. It was here that Dixon’s interest in drama began to emerge.
After graduating from Lincoln Academy, Dixon attended North Carolina Central University, a Historically Black College and University in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated in 1954 with a degree in Drama.
Ivan Dixon’s first big break came with a role in the Broadway stage play, “The Cave Dwellers” in 1957. Two years later, he got a role in the groundbreaking play, “A Raisin in the Sun” which would go on to become one of the most famous African-American stage plays ever produced. He was part of the original Broadway cast which also included acting luminaries Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee. (He played the role of Asagai, the Nigerian boyfriend of daughter Beneatha.)
Ivan Dixon's Movie Roles
When “A Raisin in the Sun” was made into a movie in 1961, Ivan Dixon played the same role in the movie as he did in the play. But, by this time, Dixon had already started his film career. He began as a stunt double for Sidney Poitier in the movie “The Defiant Ones” and also had a role in the renowned Black cast musical film “Porgy and Bess.”
But Dixon’s defining movie role would come in 1964 when he starred in the film “Nothing But a Man.” (Read related article about this movie.) Many critics agree Ivan Dixon’s finest movie performance was as Duff Anderson in “Nothing But a Man.”
Other, notable Black Classic Movies that Ivan Dixon also starred in were “A Patch of Blue” and “Car Wash.”
Ivan Dixon's Television Roles
Before landing his role at Sergeant Kinchloe on “Hogan's Heroes,” Ivan Dixon had been in over twenty different television shows. Some of the well-known 1960s TV shows that he appeared in were “The Twilight Zone”, “Perry Mason” , “Dr. Kildare” and “I Spy.”
Ivan Dixon’s role in “Hogan's Heroes ” was his most famous television role and is the one that he is best remembered in by audiences. It was not only Dixon’s acting that made his character, Sergeant “Kinch” Kinchloe, stand out, but also the fact that his character didn’t fit a Black stereotype. Sergeant Kinchloe was not a “Black part” and could have been played by an actor of any race. These types of parts weren’t usually awarded to African-American actors which made it even more groundbreaking.
Ivan Dixon’s role on “Hogan's Heroes ” also made him one of the few African-Americans to be a regular cast member on a major television show at that time. (Other African-American male actors who were being regularly seen on television during the sixties were Bill Cosby in “I Spy” and Greg Morris in “Mission Impossible.”)
Ivan Dixon - The Television Director
Even though Ivan Dixon was a successful actor, he spent more time in his career as a director than as an actor. His directing career spanned over twenty years and included numerous television shows, movies and made-for-television features.
The first television program that Ivan Dixon directed was for an episode of “The Bill Cosby Show.” He then went on to direct episodes for other TV shows starring African-American actors like “Room 222” and “Get Christie Love.”
But these TV shows represent only a small body of Ivan Dixon’s directorial work. He actually spent more time directing episodes for popular, mainstream television shows that did not necessarily feature African-American actors. This included highly-rated programs like “The Waltons”, “The Rockford Files” and “Magnum P.I. ”
In all, Ivan Dixon directed almost 100 television episodes for over 35 different programs.
Ivan Dixon - The Movie Director
In addition to directing programs for television, Ivan Dixon also directed two classic Black movies – “Trouble Man” (1972) and “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (1973). His most controversial movie was “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” which is about a former CIA agent who secretly becomes the head of an underground Black Revolutionary Group.
Faught Against Stereotypes
Throughout his career, Ivan Dixon went against stereotypes and broke new ground in the entertainment industry. He played roles that offered new and different portrayals of Black men on screen and he became an influential force as a director of many mainstream television programs. His contributions are often overlooked, because he did so much work behind-the-scenes that helped to open more doors for other African-American in the movie and television industry.
Ivan Dixon passed away in 2008 from complications from kidney failure and a brain hemorrhage in Charlotte, North Carolina.