01 October 2015

John van Dreelen

Today EFSP presents in our unofficial Netherlands Film Star Postcards Festival: John van Dreelen (1922-1992). This distinguished Dutch actor played German officers and other bad guys in many European and American films, but he is best remembered as an A-list guest star in dozens of American television shows from the early sixties to the mid-eighties. Van Dreelen also enjoyed an international stage career and starred as Captain von Trapp in the original American touring production of The Sound of Music. His smooth charisma and distinctive Dutch accent kept him in worldwide demand throughout a career that spanned more than 40 years.

John van Dreelen
German postcard by Ufa/Film-Foto (Universum-Film A.G., Abt. Film-Foto), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 435. Photo: Ewald / Ariston / Columbia.

Disguised as a German Officer

John van Dreelen was born as Jacques van Drielen Gimberg in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 1922. He was the son of celebrated Dutch actor/director Louis Gimberg and the French baroness Josine Elise Labouchere. Despite his mother's desire that he joined her family's well-established porcelain business, young Jack Gimberg chose his father’s profession.

Only 19 years old, he made his stage debut at the Residentie Toneel in Den Haag (The Hague) in 1941. Two years later he was sent to the Emslandlager labour camp near Papenburg in Nazi-occupied Holland, where he was assigned to grueling street construction. In the camp he joined a performers' troupe, and during one performance, he managed to grab a German uniform from the audience cloak room. Fluent in Dutch, English, French, Italian ánd German, he escaped by disguising himself as one of the German officers which he would later so often play on both big and small screens.

After the war, he made his film debut in the Dutch war drama Niet tevergeefs/But Not in Vain (Edmond T. Greville, 1948) with Max Croiset and Jopie Koopman. In France, he played a bit part in the original film version of Colette’s Gigi (Jacqueline Audry, 1949) starring Danièle Delorme and Gaby Morlay.

He was invited by Laurence Olivier to co-star in his 1950 production of Daphne Laureola. He changed his stage name from Jack Gimberg to John Van Dreelen. Following a tour of England, the play landed briefly in New York. There Van Dreelen appeared in a few TV shows, but restrictive immigration laws made it impossible for him to stay in America.

Disappointed he returned to Europe. He played Audrey Hepburn's husband in both the English and French versions of the comedy Monte Carlo Baby/Nous irons à Monte Carlo (Jean Boyer, Lester Fuller, 1951). Next he appeared in the French crime film Brelan d'as/Full House (Henri Verneuil, 1952) based on stories by Peter Cheney and Georges Siménon.

The following years he mainly appeared in German films, including a leading role in the Heimatfilm Rote Rosen, rote Lippen, roter Wein/Tender and True (Paul Martin, 1953) opposite Gardy Granass, a small role in the war film Der letzte Akt/The Last Ten Days (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1955) about the last ten days of Adolph Hitler, and the crime film In Hamburg sind die Nächte lang/In Hamburg Nights Are Long (Max Michel, 1956) with Barbara Rütting.

John van Dreelen
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 823. Photo: Arthur Grimm / Apollo Film / Deutsche London Film. Still for Rote Rosen, rote Lippen, roter Wein/Tender and True (1953).

The Man Who Shot Frank Sinatra

John van Dreelen made his U.S. film debut in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (Douglas Sirk, 1958), a grim movie about Germany in the last months of World War II. Director Douglas Sirk was instrumental in helping John and his wife Jane emigrate to America. Although he would never become a major player in the American cinema, he nonetheless scored a few choice roles in the following years.

He was one of the victims of Coleen Gray in the horror/SciFi film The Leech Woman (Edward Dein, 1960). In Von Ryan’s Express (Mark Robson, 1965) he played a German officer who shot Frank Sinatra. During the rest of his career he would play many more German officers and other bad guys.

Despite his close identification with despotic roles, he also easily breezed through light drama and comedy. For instance as a Danish concert pianist who rescues and woos Lana Turner during an extended sequence in Madame X (David Lowell Rich, 1966).

But he is best remembered for his guest starring roles in many legendary TV series. He cut a dashing and memorable villain in such sixties pop culture series as Gunsmoke (1961), Rawhide (1962), Twilight Zone (1964), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964), Perry Mason (1964-1965), I Spy (1965), Mission: Impossible (1967), The Mod Squad (1968) and The Wild Wild West (1966-1969). Van Dreelen became the quintessential urbane sadist. His turns as unrepentant Nazis, aristocratic dictators, and cold-blooded Iron Curtain assassins are without peer.

Van Dreelen also enjoyed an international stage career and starred in 1962 as Captain Von Trapp in the first national tour of The Sound of Music opposite alternately Barbara Meister and Jeannie Carson. He was considered composer Richard Rodgers's first choice to play the film role that eventually went to Christopher Plummer. It was the most bitter disappointment of Van Dreelen’s career.

A Tribute to Madame X (1966). Source: Monique classique (YouTube).

Memorable TV Series

John van Dreelen continued to appear in both Hollywood movies and European films. Among his later films are the satire Die Ente klingelt um halb acht/The Duck Rings at Half Past Seven (Rolf Thiele, 1968) with Heinz Rühmann, the Cold War thriller Topaz (Alfred Hitchcock, 1969), the musical Lost Horizon (Charles Jarrott, 1973), the thriller The Formula (John G. Advilsen, 1980) with Marlon Brando, and the silly slapstick romance The Money Pit (Richard Benjamin, 1986) starring Tom Hanks.

Meanwhile he guest-starred in such memorable TV series as Get Smart (1970), McCloud (1970), Ironside (1967-1970), the German Krimi Tatort (1974), Police Story (1975), The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1976), Charlie’s Angels (1977), The Rockford Files (1978), The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1978), Falcon Crest (1984), Knight Rider (1985), Dynasty (1985) and Airwolf (1985).

In the last phase of his career he returned to Europe, especially to Germany and the country where he was born, the Netherlands. Through the years he had appeared in Dutch productions such as the TV musical Vadertje Langbeen/Daddy Longlegs (Willy van Hemert, 1964) opposite Jenny Arean, the TV series De kleine Zielen/The Little Souls (Bob Löwenstein, 1969-1970) based on the novel by Louis Couperus, the action film Rufus (Samuel Meyering, 1975) opposite Rijk de Gooyer and Yoka Berretty, the thriller Mascara (1987, Patrick Conrad) starring Charlotte Rampling, Odyssée d'amour (1987, Pim de la Parra), the romantic thriller Zoeken naar Eileen/Looking for Eileen (Rudolf van den Berg, 1987) with Thom Hoffman, and the sweet TV comedy Beppie (Rob Herzet, 1989).

His final film was the German-English-French production Becoming Colette (Danny Huston, 1991) starring Mathilda May as the young writer Colette.

John van Dreelen died in 1992 in Cap d’Agde. The Dutch press acknowledged the passing of one of its most famous expatriates. Van Dreelen was married three times. His second and third wives were dancer Rosemarie Rand and Philippine Rosemarie Detayo.

Scenes from the Dutch TV series De kleine Zielen/The Little Souls (1969-1970). Source: John Knap (YouTube).

Sources: David Durrett (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Monica said...

Is there any place where I could buy some postcards with John Van Dreelen? I need them for a website that I intend to open. Thank you.