The recent passing of comedian Gilbert Gottfried reminded me that a voice artist doesn’t always need a repertoire of dozens of different voices but just only one highly distinctive voice like Sterling Holloway.
Hans Georg Conried Jr. (April 15, 1917 – January 5, 1982) was a prolific and versatile American character actor who was well known for his classical roles on stage, his decades on radio as well as multiple live action film and television work.
Conried performed in nearly 10,000 radio shows and hundreds of television programs and stage plays, as well as more than 80 films. Over the years, Conried also lent his distinctive voice to numerous animated projects, phonograph records, commercials, and more.With his patrician accent and lean face, he longed to play Shakespearean roles but was often cast as supercilious types, often poking comedic fun at the character’s haughty pretensions or a character that was vaguely Eastern European or Mediterranean even though Conried was born in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1950 he was cast as the face and voice of the slave in the Magic Mirror for Walt Disney’s first television Christmas special One Hour in Wonderland (1951) and Walt so enjoyed working with the actor that he approached him to provide the voice for Captain Hook in the upcoming production of Peter Pan (1953).
In 1953, besides appearing as the voice of Captain Hook and Mr. Darling in Peter Pan, he starred in the title role of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a surreal movie written by Dr. Seuss; was featured in three other movies; and made his Broadway debut as the zany sculptor Boris in Can-Can by Cole Porter.
Conried continued to be the face and the voice of the slave in the Magic Mirror on several of the weekly Disney television shows (Walt Disney Christmas Show 1951, Our Unsung Villains 1956, All About Magic 1957, Magic and Music 1958, and Disneys Greatest Villains 1977).
He also did the voice and live action reference for Thomas Jefferson and a crook in the featurette Ben and Me (1953), the voice of a prosecutor in The Story of Anyburg U.S.A. (1957) and voicing and doing live action reference for King Stefan in Sleeping Beauty (1959) until he was replaced by Taylor Holmes.
As Walt Disney had learned on Cinderella (1950), he could save time and money by shooting a live action version of the storyboard using minimal props, sets and costumes and eliminate much of the trial and error of hand drawn animation. So a live action film was shot for Peter Pan.
Animator Frank Thomas said, “Walt was desperate for money at the time and he said, ‘We’ve got to go the cheapest way to make this picture’. Doing animation over again if it was done wrong was terribly expensive so we had to figure out some way to do it right the first time.“By shooting the film in live action, the director and the animator could look at the footage and say, ‘This part is not right; it needs to be faster’ and so on. And if you had good live action to start with, it would make your job a whole lot easier to get some imagination out of it.”
Conried, in full costume, performed on a rudimentary set as both Captain Hook and Mr. Darling.
As Conried told writer Leonard Maltin, “Usually, they had pantomimists and or dancers but they felt that I could play the part. Now when I say I worked two and a half years, I don’t say that I worked constantly, but over a period they would say, ‘Have you got two weeks?’ or ‘Have you got four days?’
“I was in costume and they had an elemental set and I would go through the business making my physical action coincide with the sound track, which was already finished. Usually in dubbing which I’ve done for foreign actors, you have to make your sound coincident with his latent action, but here you make your physical action coincident with the sound track.
“That was lots of fun. It was a very friendly, familial surrounding at Disney, particularly in those days.”
Thomas recalled, “I really have to give him an awful lot of credit. During the live action he gave us a real consistency of character. In fact, when he’d put on the outfit, he really became Captain Hook!”
Two-thirds of the way through the filming, actor Henry Brandon noted for playing villainous roles was brought in for two weeks while Conried had commitments elsewhere to film some scenes in Captain Hook’s costume including a few previously done by Conried.
Unfortunately, all he live action film seems to have been destroyed but there are still photos in existence and telltale mannerisms of Conried are evident in both characters he portrayed. Conried used no accent, just his own familiar affected somewhat English accent.Conried’s most extensive animation work was for Jay Ward. Bill Scott had earlier directed the recording sessions for UPA’s The Boing-Boing Show in 1956 and used Conried to narrate the “Favorite Painters” series.
Ward had always loved Conried’s distinctive voice and the actor had worked previously with many of Ward’s other voice actors. Conried was cast as the melodramatic villain Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties cartoon segments of the 1961 Rocky and Bullwinkle television series.
Ward then cast Conried as the live action host of Fractured Flickers (1963) and once again in animated form as con man Waldo P. Wigglesworth in the Hoppity Hooper 1964 syndicated series. He also did some Quisp and Quake commercials as the character Simon LeGreedy who was similar to Snidely Whiplash.
As Conried recalled in a 1970 radio interview, “(The Ward cartoons) were ostensibly tailored for children but we had an awfully good time making them. It’s a very adult humor. Bill Scott, who wrote them, is a brilliant man. And we had more fun than we should have in those recording sessions.”
When I interviewed Scott, he was effusive about how much he loved working with Conried on the Ward shows. Here is a segment from Fractured Flickers featuring both Conried and Bill Scott (as Bullwinkle):
Halloween is Grinch Night (1977) that was later released as Grinch Night and It’s Grinch Night was a half hour television special written by Thedor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel for DePatie-Freleng. It won the 1978 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program.It is assumed to be a prequel with the Grinch encouraged by a sour-sweet wind to leave his cave on Halloween night to terrify the citizens of Whoville.
The original voice of the Grinch, Boris Karloff, had passed away so Hans Conried was cast in the role of the Grinch and narrator. Thurl Ravenscroft returned to provide the vocals for the songs.
Drak Pack was a Saturday Morning cartoon series that aired on CBS from September 6 – December 20, 1980. The young descendants of Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolfman join together as sort of superheroes with the powers of their ancestors.
The Drak Pack’s principal opponent was Dr. Dred, a blue-skinned evil genius voiced by Conried. His evil organization was O.G.R.E. (“The Organization for Generally Rotten Enterprises”).
Conried died of cardiovascular disease in 1982. His wife of 40 years, Margaret, was at his side. They had four children: Trilby, Hans 3d, Alexander and Edith.