Saturday, December 4, 2021

Hans Conried: Scene Stealer in Radio, in Movies, & On Television

(This post is a part of the 10th Annual What a Character Blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Outspoken & Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen.)

Like most character actors, Hans Conried had a bit of a niche. That is, he may be best known for playing pretentious intellectuals. Despite this, what may be his best known characters were not pretentious intellectuals. He was Uncle Tonoose on the classic sitcom Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show. He was Snidely Whiplash on Dudley Do-Right and yet other characters on Jay Ward's cartoons. He played hapless pilot Wrongway Feldman on Gilligan's Island twice. Hans Conried was a versatile actor who may have been best known for playing pretentious intellectuals, but he played a whole host of other character types as well.

Hans Conried was born on April 15 1917 in Baltimore. He was raised in both Baltimore and New York City. He studied acting at Columbia University with the goal of becoming a serious actor who played Shakespeare. He appeared on stage before going into radio, where he first made a considerable mark. He was a regular on the radio sitcom My Friend Irma, playing Professor Kropotkin, the upstairs neighbour of Irma and her family. His performance as Professor Kropotkin demonstrated one of his talents as an actor. Quite simply, he was a master of dialects. As Professor Kropotkin he spoke with a Russian accent. Through the years he would play characters who spoke with other accents, from East European to Mediterranean. Mr. Conried would also appear regularly on other classic radio shows. He was a psychiatrist that George often consulted on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. He also appeared regularly on The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show, Ceiling Unlimited, The Judy Canova Show, Life with Luigi, My Favourite Husband, The Alan Young Show, and yet others. He guest starred on many radio shows, including Hallmark Playhouse, The Jack Carson Show, The Dinah Shore Show, Lights Out, and many more. His last performance on radio was on CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in the Seventies.

Hans Conried moved from radio into movies. He made his movie debut in a small part in Dramatic School in 1939, but he would play bit parts in movies (often uncredited) until 1942. It was in 1942 that he appeared in his first major role in Blondie's Blessed Event. In Blondie's Blessed Event, Hans Conried plays George Wickley, a down-and-out playwright that Dagwood (Arthur Lake) had met at a hotel at a architect's convention. George moves in with Dagwood and Blondie (Penny Singleton) and quickly takes over their household. Hans Conried easily steals every scene that he is in, and he is easily the best part of Blondie's Blessed Event.

Hans Conried's career in film and radio would be interrupted by military service during World War II. In September 1944 he enlisted in the United States Army. At Fort Knox he trained to be a tank crewman until it was determined he was too tall for such. He was then trained as a heavy mortar crewman. He served in the Philippines until fellow actor Jack Kruschen (another master of dialects) was able to have him transferred to the Armed Forces Network.

Hans Conried resumed his movie career playing Karl, a hotel waiter who also happens to be a Communist, in The Senator is Indiscreet. While Hans Conried would appear in several movies, his biggest impact may have been as the voices of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in the classic Disney movie Peter Pan (1953). That same year he played what may be his most notable movie role aside from the two in Peter Pan: Dr. Terwilliker, the imperious piano teacher of the title in The 5,000 fingers of Dr. T. (1953). That very same year he played Professor Amos Pomfritt  the meddlesome English instructor in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953). While Hans Conried primarily appeared in television following the Fifties, he continued appearing in movies into the Seventies. He played Professor Whatley in The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and Dr. Barnes in Oh, God! Book II (1980), his final film role.

Hans Conried appeared in the medium of television very early, making his TV debut in 1949 in an episode of Oboler Comedy Theatre. It was in 1955 that he would appear in one of his most famous roles, that of Uncle Tonoose on Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show. Uncle Tonoose was Danny's brash, over-the-top, highly traditional uncle and the patriarch of the family. Uncle Tonoose may well have been the most popular character on the show and it is safe to say his appearances were highly anticipated by viewers. Hans Conried would reprise his role as Uncle Tonoose in the sequel to Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show, Make Room for Granddaddy in 1970 and 1971.

Aside from Uncle Tonoose, it is possible that Hans Conried's most famous television character was Snidely Whiplash, the moustache twirling villain on the "Dudley Do-Right" segment of Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show. Hans Conried would do a good deal of voice work for Jay Ward beyond Snidely Whiplash. He was the host and narrator of Jay Ward's show Fractured Flickers. On Hoppity Hooper he was the voice of Waldo P. Wigglesworth, the title character's friend, a fox who sold patent medicines and often engaged in confidence schemes. He served as the narrator on the pilot episode of George of the Jungle. Hans Conried did other voice work beyond Jay Ward's animated series. He did voices for characters on various episodes of Disneyland. As Boris Karloff died, he served as both the narrator and the voice of the Grinch in the TV special Halloween is Grinch Night. Later he was Dr. Dred on the 1980s cartoon Drak Pack and provided various voices for Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

Among Hans Conried's most famous roles is one he only played twice. Hans Conried played the role of Wrongway Feldman on the Gilligan's Island episodes "Wrongway Feldman" and "The Return of Wrongway Feldman." Wrongway Feldman was a World War I fighter pilot who tried to fly around the world in his plane The Spirit of the Bronx. The problem is that Wrongway, true to this name, has a terrible sense of direction. The first time he crashed on the island, he left in hopes of getting help for the castaways. He later returned, only to leave again and crash on what he described as a strange island (that sounded suspiciously like Hawaii). In the Disneyland episode "Davy Crockett and the Alamo," he made another notable appearance, playing the conman Thimblerig. Hans Conried would make many other notable guest appearances through the years on such shows as I Love Lucy; The Red Skelton Show; Have Gun--Will Travel; Mister Ed; Hogan's Heroes; Love, American Style; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; and yet others.

Hans Conried continued acting until his death in 1982 at age 64 from a major heart attack.

Hans Conried was certainly a great character actor. Over the years he played many intellectual types, from Professor Kropotkin to Dr. Terwilliker  in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. to Professor Pomfritt in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis to a number of guest appearances on television shows. Mr. Conried was nothing if not versatile, however, so that he played a number of different sorts of roles. He was as convincing as the brash Uncle Tonoose as he was as the clueless Wrongway Feldman. He could be Victorian melodrama Snidely Whiplash, but then he could also be the hapless playwright George Wickley. What is more, he was a master of accents and dialects, so that over the years he played everything from Nazi officers to Russians. Regardless of the role, Hans Conried played all of them well, to the point that he very nearly stole every scene in which he ever appeared. Hans Conried could easily dominate every scene he was in, even against such heavyweights as Danny Thomas and Lucille Ball. He was utterly unique, and is safe to say there will never be another like him.


Caftan Woman said...

Indeed, there will never be another like Hans Conried. My favourite Captain Hook. My son does a perfect imitation of Conried's narration of Horton Hears a Who. I dragged my whole family to a big screen presentation of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T when they had no idea what they were getting into. I've recently been getting my daughter into The Danny Thomas Show and proudly report that she loves Uncle Tonoose. Recently, we saw Conried play a down and out Shakespearean actor on an episode and he made us cry! What a guy!

Silver Screenings said...

I first learned of Hans Conried on an old radio show, and thought he was European. I was quite surprised later on to learn he was an American. He was a master of dialects, indeed!

FlickChick said...

I absolutely adore this man - and your post. Such a wonderful choice. of course he was everything that you outline (who does not love Uncle Tonoose?). However, I read once, long ago, someone described his real life personality as a "boulevardier." I've never forgotten that description and I would like to think it fits him to a tee. I've always seen him as Clifton Webb's nicer, younger brother.

Kurt Burgess said...

I always perked up when discovering Conried was going to be on a TV show. It usually meant laughs. He was a delight to be seen and heard.

Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

Another actor added to my newly discovered list, Thanks Terence.

Irish Jayhawk said...

Love seeing him on the small screen or big. As always, another informative piece. Thanks so much for this and for joining our blogathon!

Rebecca Deniston said...

I agree with you about Conried and accents--he was such a chameleon.