Hans Conried

Active - 1929 - 2019  |   Born - Apr 15, 1917   |   Died - Jan 5, 1982   |   Genres - Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Actor Hans Conried, whose public image was that of a Shakespearean ham, was born not in England but in Baltimore. Scrounging for work during the Depression era, Conried offered himself to a radio station as a performer, and at 18 became a professional. One of his earliest jobs was appearing in uncut radio adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, and before he was twenty he was able to recite many of the Bard's lengthier passages from memory. After several years in summer stock and radio, Conried made his screen debut in Dramatic School (1938). Conried's saturnine features and reedy voice made him indispensable for small character roles, and until he entered the service in World War II the actor fluctuated between movies and radio. Given a choice, Conried would have preferred to stay in radio, where the money was better and the parts larger, but despite the obscurity of much of his film work he managed to sandwich in memorable small (often unbilled) appearances in such "A" pictures as Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), The Big Street (1942) and Passage to Marseilles (1944). While in the army, Conried was put in charge of Radio Tokyo in postwar Japan, where he began his lifelong hobby of collecting rare Japanese artifacts; the actor also had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of American Indian lore. As big-time radio began to fade during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Conried concentrated more on film work. He was awarded the starring role in the bizarre musical 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1952), written by his friend Dr. Seuss; unfortunately, the studio, not knowing how to handle this unorthodox project, cut it to ribbons, and the film was a failure. Later he was engaged for a choice co-starring role in Cole Porter's Broadway musical Can Can; in addition, he became a favorite guest on Jack Paar's late-night TV program, popped up frequently and hilariously as a game show contestant, and in 1957 made the first of many special-guest visits as the imperishable Uncle Tonoose on The Danny Thomas Show. Cartoon producers also relied heavily on Conried, notably Walt Disney, who cast the actor as the voice of Captain Hook in the animated feature Peter Pan, and Jay Ward, for whom Conried played Snidely Whiplash on The Bullwinkle Show and Uncle Waldo on Hoppity Hooper. In 1963, Jay Ward hired Conried as the supercilious host of the syndicated comedy series Fractured Flickers. Conried cut down on his TV show appearances in the 1970s and 1980s, preferring to devote his time to stage work; for well over a year, the actor co-starred with Phil Leeds in an Atlanta production of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. Just before his death, Conried was cast in a recurring role on the "realistic" drama series American Dream, where he was permitted to drop the high-tone Shakespearean veneer in the gruff, down-to-earth part of Jewish oldster Abe Berlowitz.

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