Hans Conried and Jewish Baltimore?
Last weekend I was listening to an episode of “The Life of Riley” on classic radio (as though I needed to establish my credentials as a nerd). At the close of the episode the announcer declared “And that episode featured the voice of Hans Conried who was born on April 15th in Baltimore in 1917″.
Now this sparked at least a little curiosity. Was Hans Conried an overlooked persona in the history chronicled by the Jewish Museum of Maryland?
First I need to explain to the part of the audience that did not grow up in the golden age of television (or radio) exactly who Hans Conried is. Mr. Conreid was an actor on stage, on radio and TV, who had one of the most distinctive voices in any medium. If you’ve seen old cartoons you may recognize him as the voice of Captain Hook, Snidely Whiplash and the scary voice of the Magic Mirror on Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Your parents would chuckle at his narration in something called Fractured Flickers… a distant ancestor of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Though Conried was as likely to play a British aristocrat as he was an ethnic character – his continuing roles as the ne’er-do-well Professor Kropotkin on “My Friend Irma” on radio and as Uncle Tanoose on the Danny Thomas Show on television had left me with the impression that he might have a Jewish connection.
So the search began. The easy part was finding confirmation that Hans Georg Conried Jr. was indeed born in Baltimore (Maryland General Hospital) and that he was the son of Hans Georg Conried Sr. (an Austrian Jew) and Edith Beyr Gildersleeve (a descendant of pilgrims). I suppose I’m not the only one who finds Edith’s maiden name ironic for someone whose son would make his career in radio. Wikipedia went on to assure me that Hans Conried was “raised” in Baltimore and New York.
It seemed like it was time to go deeper. Who was Conried’s father and what brought him to Baltimore? My next stop was a recent biography of the actor written by Suzanne Gargiulo in 2002. Gargiulo reveals that the name “Conried” was a late 19th century invention and that as late as the 1850s, the family’s name was either “Cohn” or “Cohen”. The family business in Austria was textiles but the younger generation of Conried’s was of more theatrical bent. Uncle Heinrich, a professional actor, comes to the US in 1878, develops into an opera impresario and takes over the Met just in time to introduce Enrico Caruso to America. Hans Sr. comes to the US in 1903, lives with his uncle in New York and enters the theatrical publishing business. In nearby Bridgeport, CT he courts and marries Edith.
But what about Baltimore?
Well it turns out that there was a lot of travel in theatrical publishing and that Edith sometimes accompanied Hans Sr. on his journeys. In 1917 this included a trip to Baltimore when she was nine months pregnant. As life would have it, this decision leads to a frantic search for a hospital and Hans Jr.’s birth at Maryland General. The family stayed on in the city for a short period to give Edith a chance to recover but that summer returned to New York. In a 1967 interview Hans Conried is reported to have responded to a question about whether he was truly a native son of Baltimore. He answered “Born in Baltimore – but left as a babe of six weeks. So they can’t claim me. Claim me? They don’t even want me. I’ve never been back, and I’ve heard no public outcry to have me return and put my feet in cement…”
Hans Conried passed away in January 1982. I guess we’ll have to put a hold on the wet cement.