September 09, 1996 12:00 PM

WERNER KLEMPERER CAN’T EAT pasta in peace. “Whenever we go to Italian restaurants, he’s the center of attention,” says actress Kim Hamilton, 51, his longtime companion. “I don’t know why, but Italian waiters seem to know every episode of Hogan’s Heroes.”

At 76, Klemperer is constantly recognized as Colonel Klink, the bombastic Nazi he played on Hogan’s Heroes from 1965 to 1971. The only-in-Holly-wood sitcom, about wacky hijinks in a Nazi POW camp, still airs in reruns in 30 countries. This year it turned up in Klemperer’s native Germany, where, to his surprise, younger viewers have made it a hit. “I am told,” he says, “that Klink is the most popular character in Germany.”

The irony doesn’t stop there. Werner, the son of renowned conductor Otto Klemperer, fled Germany with his family four months after Hitler came to power. They settled in California, where young Werner discovered acting and enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse. Serious film roles (he played a Nazi on trial in Judgment at Nuremberg) made Klemperer, who is Jewish, an odd choice for the broad comedy of Hogan’s Heroes, but he turned the part of a pompous POW commandant into a TV icon. “The monocle and the riding crop were ideas of mine,” says Klemperer, who won two Emmys.

When Hogan’s Heroes died, Klemperer, who has been divorced three times, started a second career as a narrator for operas and orchestral productions, and he now keeps busy performing in 8 to 10 productions a year. “He’s always humming and moving his hands, conducting this music that only he can hear,” explains Hamilton. “So I’m the one who does most of the driving.” Colonel Klink a softie for symphonies? “I could not exist,” says Klemperer, “without music.”

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