With his patrician accent and lean face, Hans Conried was ideal for playing supercilious types – and he usually played them for laughs, subtly poking fun at the character’s pretensions. Whether as the pseudo-distinguished host of Fractured Flickers, or the campy piano teacher from hell in 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, or the voice of Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Conried delivered his lines with conviction and, often, priceless self-parody.
Born in Baltimore in 1917, Conried was drawn to the theater already when a boy. He played the part of the elderly Polonius in a school production of Hamlet when he was only twelve years old and continued to dabble in theater throughout his school years. He went to college in New York, performing in several classical works, including The Tempest, as a member of the Columbia Laboratory Players. Moving to California, he gained notice for his many accents and soon got work on the radio, where his voice would be heard for years to come. In 1937 he worked with the legendary John Barrymore on the Streamlined Shakespeare radio series.
In 1938 he appeared in the first of his many movies, Dramatic School, in which he played a drama student. The following year he was in the company of Claudette Colbert and James Stewart in the comedy It’s a Wonderful World. Like most of his films, these have long been forgotten, though he did have a small part in The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin’s famous anti-Nazi film. He also worked with Orson Welles on several projects while continuing to act in B movies in the 1940s and 1950s.
A high point in his career took place in 1953, when he starred in the title role of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a surreal movie written by Dr. Seuss; was the voice of Captain Hook in the animated film Peter Pan; played in three other movies; and made his Broadway debut as the sculptor Boris in Can-Can, by Cole Porter. Set in nineteenth-century Monmartre, the musical is about a judge who is outraged at what he considers obscene behavior when the dancing girls perform the notorious can-can. The production won two Tonys and a Theatre World Award.
Later in the 1950s, Conried returned to Broadway in the comedy Tall Story (1959). Although he had only a small part in Tall Story, he was a leading character in his next venture on Broadway, 70, Girls, 70 (1971), Kander and Ebbs’s musical about a group of oldsters who steal so they can make enough money to purchase their retirement hotel. Conried can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording.
Later in the 1970s Conried stepped in as Madame Lucy in a Broadway revival of the musical Irene, and in 1977 he made his last appearance on the Great White Way, starring in the comedy Something Old, Something New – a flop that closed after one performance.
The host of the show Fractured Flickers, Conried appeared on numerous other television programs, and several cartoon characters—including Snidely Whiplash (Rocky and Bullwinkle) and the Grinch (Halloween Is Grinch Night)—spoke with his voice.
Conried died of cardiovascular disease in 1982.