Howard Stern likes to brag about how he's the "King of All Media." Which means that the shock jock starred in a major motion picture, written two best-selling books, appeared in a highly rated weekly TV series as well as being the host of an incredibly popular morning radio show for more than a decade now.
But even Howard would have to acknowledge that -- prior to his time of the throne -- there were other earlier "Kings of All Media." Super talented performers who immediately became stars in whatever venues they chose to perform in.
Such was the case with the late, great Hans Conried. It seems that whatever field of entertainment that Hans wandered into -- be it radio, movies, the stage, television, animation -- he quickly became an audience favorite. The sort of performer that you loved to have turn up as guest star on your favorite TV program or voicing a character in your favorite cartoon.
Sadly, Conried has been gone for over 20 years now. Hans passed away from a heart attack back in January of 1982. But -- thanks to the magic of technology -- his work lives on. So that we can still laugh as Conried -- in the guise of Uncle Tonoose -- effortlessly steals scenes away from Danny Thomas on "Make Room for Daddy" reruns. Or bust a gut at Hans' brilliant voice work as Snidley Whiplash in Jay Ward's "Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties."
But -- if you're like me -- it's not enough to just enjoy a performer's work. You have to get to know who they are. What they were like off-screen. When the spotlight was turned off. When the microphone was unplugged.
Until recently, Hans Conried's career was pretty much a mystery. Sure, he'd been the subject of a few magazine pieces. But no one (to date) had really waded in there. Kept tabs on everything that Conried had done over the years.
Well, thank goodness for Suzanne Gargiulo. She decided that she's been the one who'd try to write the definitive book on Hans Conried's career. So she spent several years researching the subject. With the end result being a 230-page book with the rather lengthy title of "Hans Conried: A Biography; With a Filmography and a Listing of Radio, Television, Stage and Voice Work (McFarland & Co., September 2002).
Now don't let that tongue twister of a title throw you, folks. If you can just get past that, there's actually a pretty entertaining book to be found inside. Featuring dozens of photos of Hans plus a really sweet foreword by film historian Leonard Maltin, "Hans Conried: A Biography" is a rather detailed but extremely entertaining look back on Conried's career.
It's all in here, gang. The stories about Hans' early days in radio. How he worked behind the mic with stars like Bing Crosby & Bob Hope. How -- during World War II -- Conried also became a screen performer. Making appearances in Alfred Hitchcock's "Saboteur" and Gene Kelly's "On the Town." Literally appearing on hundreds of radio shows, dozens of films.
But Disney fans ... Ah, Disney fans probably know Hans Conried best for his voice work (as both as the flustered Mr. Darling as well as the elegant Captain Hook) in Walt Disney's 1953 animated classic, "Peter Pan." But -- truth be told -- the part that actually got Hans his "Pan" gig was his appearance as the slave in the Magic Mirror in Walt's first foray into television, the 1950 Christmas special "One Night in Wonderland."
Conried so effortlessly stole the show from all the other performers that appeared on that TV program that Walt thought: "This is a guy that I've got to work with again." In fact, Disney was so impressed with Hans' timing & technique that he asked that Conried serve as the live action reference model for both Dr. Darling & Captain Hook. Which meant that Hans spent weeks working at Walt Disney Studios in the early 1950s, performing on a virtually empty soundstage dressed in full costume. So that his take on Captain Hook could be studied by Disney's animators. So that Conried's physicality, his exquisite comic timing could then be folded into the animated version of the Captain.
You'll find a picture of Hans in full Hook regalia in "Hans Conried: A Biography." As I understand it, Conried was particularly proud of his work in "Peter Pan." He used to boast that Disney has spent $4 million on that motion picture. Which -- up until that time -- was the most that Walt had ever spent on a feature length animated film.
And Disney clearly thought highly of Hans' work. Otherwise, why would Disney have asked Conried to come back -- in the mid-1950s -- to do even more film reference for the studio's animators. So -- once again -- Hans pulled on a costume and performed in front of a camera on a virtually empty soundstage. Just so the animators who were working on "Sleeping Beauty" would then have some idea about what they should be doing with Briar Rose's dad, King Stephan.
See? You didn't know that, did you? Hadn't heard that story before, had you? That's the beauty of Suzanne Gargiulo's book. The years she spent digging through old newspaper clippings, reading old magazine articles and such really paid off. For not only do you get these neat little never-before-told stories like Conried working on Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" ... But you also get to know Hans Conried the man. Who was a brilliant if somewhat neurotic (But in a lovable sort of way. Or so his friends said) man.
Anyway ... If you'd like to learn about Hans Conried and his amazing career, I can honestly think of no better book to pick than Suzanne Gargiulo's "Hans Conried: A Biography; With a Filmography and a Listing of Radio, Television, Stage and Voice Work."
Again, don't let the title throw you, folks. That lengthy handle may make this Conried bio sound dry & academic. It's not, really. "Hans Conried: A Biography" is loaded with all this great yarns about one of the original "Kings of All Media." There's great stories in here about the waning days of radio as well as the early days of television. If you're an entertainment history fan, just the stories about that misbegotten Dr. Seuss movie -- "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T" -- make "Hans Conried: A Biography" worth picking up.
So do yourself a favor, folks. Chase down a copy of Suzanne Gargiulo's excellent show biz biography today.