Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Hans, Hitler and Ham

Many actors have been masters of accents but none gave more enthusiastic performances than Hans Conried.

Hans was no ham thespian, though. He may have been over the top when spouting silliness on radio or TV in one of many dialects, or as the declamatory Snidely Whiplash in cartoons, but he could easily tone it down in dramatic performances on shows like “Suspense” and “Lux Radio Theatre.” Conried performed Shakespeare on stage as well. But accomplished actor as he was, he ended up building his reputation with comedy. A lot of situation comedy in the glory days of radio makes me roll my eyes, but Hans Conried can always make me laugh emoting with some foreign tongue saying something ridiculous.

Hans was profiled in the entertainment column in the National Enterprise Association in 1960. It doesn’t mention his work at Disney (“Peter Pan”). Forgotten, and perhaps rightfully, is his starring role in “The Twonky,” which would have been a fine social satire if it had fired on all cylinders. This story appeared in papers starting January 3, 1960.

All Entertainment Media Is Home For Hans Conried
By ERSKINE JOHNSON
NEA Staff Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD—(NEA)—When two generations of fans think of Hans Conried, the wild-haired, owlish-eyed fellow who looks like two profiles pasted together, chances are they will laugh over some unexpected grimaces or a wayout dialect—or both.
Radio fans remember Hans as Schultz on “Life With Luigi” and as Professor Kropotkin in “My Friend Irma.”
Movie fans recall him in “Bus Stop” and “Never Too Young.” Broadway stage fans remember him as the wacky Bulgarian sculptor in “Can Can” and the college professor in “Tall Story.”
TV fans know him as Uncle Tonoose on the Danny Thomas show, for his slick acting in all kinds of roles on other shows, and as himself, contributing to the nation's humor and insomnia, as a frequent Jack Paar guest.
But an old friend from his early (1936) days as a Hollywood radio actor remembers him for a quite different reason.
Mel Blanc, the actor with the trick voice (Bugs Bunny, Jack Benny's parrot) remembers him as an intense, dedicated Shakespearean actor. “Hans was so serious about acting,” says Mel, “that he cracked me up. I thought he was the funniest man I had ever met.”
Mel said the words when Hans, as a radio actor, was playing so many Nazi “heavies,” between Shakespearean chores, that Hans still laughs, “Hitler kept me alive until Uncle Sam put me in uniform and started feeding me.”
Well, when friend Mel Blanc found himself starred in a radio series after the war, he called in just-out-of-the-service Hans and have him the humorous character of a fellow who operated a Mr. Fix-it shop. That was the beginning of Hans Conried's fortune as a dialectian, and as stooge for every famous comedian on radio, as he rushed to and from as many as 20 different radio shows in one week.
Today Hans is still rushing — between Hollywood and New York for stage and TV appearances and telefilms — to recording studios for platter gems like “Peter Meets the Wolf in Dixieland”—to the St. Louis Municipal Opera stage in the summer for such musical dramas as “Lady In the Dark,” “Rosalinda,” and “Song of Norway.”
Home today for Hans Conried, a Baltimore, Md., lad, is a big Spanish stucco mansion on a hilltop overlooking Lake Hollywood where there is a Mrs. Conried, four little Conrieds and a rare collection of Oriental art objects. But he is home, with that rare flair for off-and on-beat comedy characters, in all entertainment mediums.
There's always talk of Hans Conried having a TV show of his own.
Fox has an option on his services in the series, “Mr. Belvedere,” when and if it is sold.
“But,” says Hans, “I'm not sure I want a show of my own. I'm the happiest when I'm doing something different every week.”
There's a strange oddity about Hans. He was never given a typical Hollywood publicity build-up and he hasn't ever sought the spotlight to become what Hollywood likes to call a “personality.”
But since his many TV panel-show appearances in New York and his stardom there in two Broadway shows, the usual Hollywood-New York pattern of fame has been reversed for him.
“Here in Hollywood,” he says, “I'm known as an actor. In New York—and I must say I blush about it—I'm considered to be a personality. But really, in 25 years of acting I've never worried much about whether I was known as an actor or as a personality. I just want to stay alive.”
One movie, “The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T,” gave Hans his only starring film role. But today he can still laugh about the film. "It was the outstanding money-loser of all time.
“One critic called it the worst waste of film in history. But at the same time the film made the ‘current & choice’ list in a national magazine. It was a strange movie—a fantasy—but no one ever saw it.”
Of course, Hans Conried is his real name.
“I would have changed it to Hans Conried?” he deadpans.


This story came out a year and a bit before Hans was hired by Jay Ward to channel John Barrymore (who could register high on the ham meter) as Snidely Whiplash. Ward later put him on camera as the host of “Fractured Flickers,” a short-lived syndicated show from 1963 featuring satiric voice tracks played over top of old silent films and bogus interviews with guests. Here’s one with the lovely Barbara Eden. The laughter and applause is more intrusive than helpful, but the premise is clever.

1 comment:

  1. Because the Danny Thomas syndication package has been split three ways and ended up with a 'B' level syndicator in Wolrdvision (as opposed to Viacom or one of the major studios), people forget how popular Conried's appearance on the show were. If anything, it's the Dudley Do-Right episodes that ended up lasting the longest, as far as bringing Hans to a younger generation of viewers.

    Conried's hosting role on "Flickers" share a lot of the self-depreciating/TV-bashing dialogue of Ward's other shows. But done live-action, it's almost a foreshadowing of what was to come with some of the more observatory comedians and self-aware late-night talk show hosts of 20-30 years later.

    ReplyDelete