Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Hans Conried, Acrid Humourist

Hans Conried loved to talk. Not only in outrageous European accents and mock Shakespearean and melodramatic tones on camera (or behind a mike). And not only on a talk show (he and Jack Paar were friends). Hans seems to have done all kinds of newspaper interviews over the years as he was involved in all kinds of projects, both on the air and on stage.

It’s been a little while since we posted about the droll and erudite Hans on the blog, so allow me to pass on this piece from the Buffalo Courier-Express of March 5, 1961. He was promoting two satires, one with Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams that was about to appear on television on The U.S. Steel Hour and, way down at the bottom of the story, a syndicated romp being produced by Jay Ward. Unfortunately, the publicity photo with Conried and Pat Carroll that accompanied the story is a little too murky so we’ve substituted a different one from another paper.

Hans Conried to Poke Fun at Network Sleuths

MANY ROLES—Shakespearean actor—Nazi villain comedian—quiz panel expert. You name it, Hans Conried has been it.
You've heard Hans, with a supercilious look, sprinkle his acrid humor over many a quiz show panelist or contestant. You've heard his witty comments on the Jack Paar how many times, and you probably remember him for a steady series of movie roles as monocled German meanie.
SATIRE— Those who have sampled his quick wit on Ernie Kovacs' "Take a Good Look" panel (it was carried last night for the first time on Ch. 7), know what a fast man with a quip he is. And on Wednesday night at 10, Ch. 4, you'll see Hans on a real free-wheeling satire spree in "Private Eye Private Eye."
What does he do on this anew? Conried told us by phone the other day: "This is show in which we really take private investigators of fiction and TV for a sleigh ride. As usual, I play second banana to Ernie."
Hans has made a career out of being a second banana, but a mighty talented one who often steals the show.
WITH PAAR—His appearances with Jack Paar, he feels, have been a big boost.
"For 25 years I was an actor," said Hans. "Now, because of the Paar show, I'm suddenly a personality."
And a well-rounded personality he is. Conried began his career in 1937 when, at the age of 20, he played Laertes in NBC Radio's production of "Hamlet" with the late John Barrymore.
He played a wide variety of classical roles for a full season on the air, "and this was about the only Shakespeare I've done."
DIALECTICIAN—Conried's such a clever dialectician no one knows whether he's Austrian, English or what have you. Actually, he hails from Baltimore and New York, but his father was Austrian. A tribute to his versatility is that he once did 18 parts on a 30-minute "March of Time" radio show.
He was the "voice" of Captain Hook in Walt Disney's "Peter Pan," and has made a series of recorded readings of famous children's stories.
MOVIE ROLES—He made the first of his 90 motion pictures in 1938, and filled endless roles as a Nazi villain.
"I think my best role was in "The 3,000 Fingers of Dr. T.," said Conried, "It was the best fantasy ever made. It was a smash hit in Tokyo, Paris and points east, and in the U.S. set a record for losing most money as a box office flop."
So how did he become a comedian and a character actor of the quiz shows? "I was in the Army for three years. When I got out, I was offered comedy, which I hadn't tried and didn't want. Suddenly — to quote my agent — I was a sensation."
RADIO AND TV — Conried had radio assignments on "Life With Luigi" and "My Friend Irma," the latter for seven years. On the stage, he won raves from the critics for his role of the professor in Cole Porter's "Can-Can."
On TV, he was on the regular-panel of "Pantomime Quiz" for five years, and has been featured with Bob Hope, George Gobel and Rod Skelton.
THE FUTURE — And what of the future? "I'll do a "Steel Hour" with Faye Emerson called "The Odd Ball" on April 5," said Hans. "And I've made countless pilot films for possible TV series.
"Of course, only about one out of 75 of these pilots click. I hope fervently the hand of God will strike on one of mine, such as 'Fractured Flickers."
In this show, old silent movies are re-edited and narrated by Conried and company, with a new twist in dialogue. Can you imagine how he could cut up "The Great Train Robbery" or "Birth of a Nation?"

I really love Hans Conried’s work, even though he always struck me as an intelligent chap who really wanted the chance to do the classic dramatic plays on stage instead of ducking from Danny Thomas’ spit-takes as Uncle Tonoose. On radio, he always seemed to be playing some preposterous foreign eccentric. On television, you could drop the adjectives words. And he captured the essence of John Barrymore in pulling out the stops as Snidely Whiplash on Dudley Do-Right, a triumph of wit and casting over animation (which really could describe all of the Jay Ward studio’s best cartoons).

Private Eye Private Eye came and went. So did Fractured Flickers, remembered only by second-generation cult fans today. But Hans Conried carried on because of his love of show business. There was always another opening, another show.


  1. Conried's Fractured Flickers segments really are ahead of their time for being both self-depreciating of the show and of the artificialness of TV medium in general, something that would only come into vogue on the networks by the mid-1970s.

  2. I like Gale Gordon's assessment of Conried in Leonard Maltin's book "The Great American Broadcast":
    "He was an actor-holic. I'm sure that Hans' idea of heaven would be to do a play that had thirty characters, men and women, and he would do them all."