By Everett Evans
Larry Hovis, who began his career in Houston nightclubs and theaters in the 1950s and became a familiar face on such television series as Hogan’s Heroes and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In , died Tuesday at Austin’s Christopher House Hospice. He was 67.
Hovis, whose wife, Ann, died of cancer several years ago, had battled cancer for three months.
Born in Wapato, Wash., Hovis was 3 when his family moved to Houston and was a teen at Reagan High School when he began his professional career singing with The Mascots. The quartet won a talent contest and appeared on TV’s Arthur Godfrey Show .
As a member of the Bill Gannon Trio, Hovis became a popular figure in Houston’s nightclub scene in the late 1950s.
“ He sang all the high parts in harmony numbers,” recalled veteran disc jockey Paul Berlin. “But his strong suit was his sense of humor. He was very clever at dreaming up parody lyrics and clever comments between songs.”
Hovis wrote Every Time I Ask My Heart, recorded by the young Joel Grey. A few years later he recorded his solo album, My Heart Belongs Only to You , for Capitol Records.
In his early 20s, Hovis began acting in such early Alley Theatre productions as Seventeen, Make a Million and in the scene-stealing role of Ensign Pulver in Mr. Roberts . He also scored a popular success in Come Blow Your Horn at The Playhouse.
His comedic and musical talents lending themselves to revue format, Hovis appeared in New York productions of The Billy Barnes Revue and From A to Z.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1964, sold his screenplay for a beach party/spy spoof titled Out of Sight , and began performing his stand-up comedy act at The Horn in Santa Monica. He was “discovered” there by Richard Linke, Andy Griffith’s manager, and cast in a regular role on TV’s Gomer Pyle, USMC. This led to his role as Carter, the demolitions expert, in Hogan’s Heroes. The comedy set in a Nazi prisoner of war camp premiered in 1965, and Hovis stayed with it for all six seasons, through 1971.
Hovis also wrote for the popular Laugh-In variety series, and for two seasons appeared as a regular among its crew of zanies. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Hovis performed in TV movies, game shows and guest shots on such series as Ben Casey, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, My Living Doll and The Doris Day Show.
At the decade’s close, he returned to theater and Texas connections, playing outrageous Melvin P. Thorpe (the character based on TV personality Marvin Zindler) in the hit musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. He performed in both the first national tour and in the long-running Houston production that opened at the Tower Theater in 1979. Hovis and his family returned to Texas in the 1990s, and for 12 years he taught acting and directed plays at Texas State University-San Marcos (formerly Southwest Texas State University).
Hovis is survived by his mother, Ruth Davis; sisters, Joan Eubank and Janet Hudson; brothers, Tom Davis and Mike Hovis; and children, Kimberly, Deborah, Michael and Paul Hovis. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Theater Building at Texas State.