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02 October 2015

Lily Bouwmeester

Dutch theatre and film actress Lily Bouwmeester (1901–1993) was a member of the famous Bouwmeester family, mostly consisting out of actors. In 1991, she was awarded with a Pre-Golden Calf for being ‘the best actress in Pre-War Dutch cinema’.

Lily Bouwmeester in Morgen gaat 't beter (1939)
Dutch postcard by Colosseum Theater, Rotterdam. Photo: Neerlandia-Filmex. Publicity still for Morgen gaat het beter/Tomorrow It Will Be Better (Friedrich Zelnik, 1939).

Violinist, dancer or actress?


Lily Geertruida Maria Henriëtte Bouwmeester was born in Amsterdam in 1901. She was the daughter of violinist Ludovicus Adolphus Bouwmeester and pianist Julie Marie Arpeau.

As a child, Lily toured with her parents through Europe, while preparing to become a violinist as well. The touring proved to be too exhausting for Bouwmeester, so in 1913, she moved in with her aunt, the famous actress Theo Mann-Bouwmeester. She dreamed to become a dancer, but her aunt sent her to several theatre auditions. At the age of 14, she debuted in a theatre production of the stage company Tooneelvereeniging managed by author Herman Heijermans.

In 1916, Bouwmeester started acting in silent films as well. She debuted at the Hollandia studios in the silent drama Majoor Frans/Major Francis (Maurits Binger, 1916), which starred Dutch silent film diva Annie Bos. It was followed by by other Hollandia productions such as Het geheim van Delft/The secret of Delft (Maurits Binger, 1917) and Het goudvischje/The Little Gold Fish (Maurits Binger, 1919) with Lily as Annie Bos’s sister.

In 1917, she landed a contract with the prestigious Toneelvereeniging directed by the innovative actor-director Eduard Verkade and she performed at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam. Verkade inspired her to make a real career out of her acting and she was praised by theatre critics.

In the meanwhile, she appeared in films like Pro Domo (Theo Frenkel, 1917) as the daughter of Louis Bouwmeester and Theo Mann Bouwmeester, De duivel in Amsterdam/The Devil in Amsterdam (Theo Frenkel, 1919) with Eduard Verkade as the devil, and Helleveeg/The Shrew (Theo Frenkel, 1920), featuring Mien Duymaer van Twist. Her last silent film was the British-Dutch silent drama Zaken zijn zaken/Sheer Bluff (Frank Richardson, 1921) with Henry Victor.

Lily Bouwmeester and Paul Storm in Vadertje Langbeen (1938)
Dutch promotion card by Cinema Odeon, Den Haag. Photo: Neerlandia. Publicity still for Vadertje Langbeen/Daddy Longlegs (Friedrich Zelnik, 1938) with Lily Bouwmeester as Judy and Paul Storm as Vadertje Langbeen.

Eliza Doolittle


Lily Bouwmeester married actor-director Theo Frenkel Jr. in 1921. She left the Stadsschouwburg to produce her own plays with her husband. They moved to the Hague in 1923 and performed in Rotterdam, where she became more famous. Through the years, Bouwmeester developed in theatre and decided she was on her best at comedic roles. She and her husband divorced in 1933.

Two years later, she married stage manager Cor van der Lugt Melsert. He wanted her to become a housewife. Bouwmeester, needing a break from acting, did what she was asked to and left the theatre.

However, she didn't give up acting. In 1935, when the sound film had just been introduced in the Netherlands, she auditioned for the lead role in De Kribbebijter/The Cross-Patch (1935), but was refused on accounts of being 'too plain looking'. But she was noticed by director Ludwig Berger, who cast her as Eliza Doolittle in his Dutch adaptation of G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion (1937). It would be her first film since 1921.

Pygmalion grew out the be the most successful Dutch Pre-War film. She became an instant star and even had to hire a secretary to handle her fan mail. She was offered a five-year contract with Paramount Pictures. She declined, however, because her husband was unwilling to travel to the United States with her. Instead, she remained acting in the biggest Dutch film productions of the 1930s.

Her following films all became box office hits, with only one exception. With her round face and her big expressive eyes the 37 years old Bouwmeester could easily play young girls in Vadertje Langbeen/Daddy Long Legs (1938) and Morgen gaat het beter/Tomorrow It Will Be Better (1939), both directed by German immigrant director Friedrich Zelnik.

She also convinced as the fragile coquettish wife opposite Jan de Hartog in Ergens in Nederland/Somewhere in the Netherlands (Ludwig Berger, 1940), about the mobilization on the brink of the Second World War. The film was just ready for release when the Netherlands were conquered by the Nazis, who forbade its exhibition. World War II forced the Dutch film industry to stop doing business and Lily Bouwmeester’s promising film career was abruptly and definitively finished.


Long fragments of the silent film Ulbo Garvema (Maurits Binger, 1917). Source: Eye (YouTube).

The Fourposter


During World War II, Lily Bouwmeester refused offers by the German studio Ufa and she secretly took in two Jewish boys in her home in The Hague.

After the liberation in 1945, she was offered film roles again, but declined all offers. She decided to return to the theatre instead and from September 1945 on, she worked for the Residentie Tooneel.

In 1948, she moved to the Rotterdams Toneel for five seasons. She returned in her success role of Eliza Doolittle and would play Pygmalion on stage for more than 800 times. She was also remembered for playing the lead role in the play Het Hemelbed (The Fourposter) in 1952. Author Jan de Hertog had written it especially for her. She would play it more than 500 times.

However, in 1955 she took a break from acting again to take some rest. In 1960 she returned to theatre, performing on stage in Arnhem. Meanwhile, she appeared on several television shows, including the TV film Een stukje van jezelf/A piece of yourself (1967).

In 1969, she resigned from acting completely. After the death of her husband in 1990, she moved to Sliedrecht, where she spent the rest of her life in seclusion. Although she was awarded with a Pre-Golden Calf - being named the ‘Best Actress of Pre-War Dutch Cinema’ - in 1991, she was lonely in her final years.

Lily Bouwmeester died in 1993 in a local hospital in Sliedrecht, at the age of 92. She was cremated in the Hague. She had no children.


First part of Vadertje Langbeen/Daddy Long Legs (1938). Source: Dutchclassics (YouTube).


Clip of Ergens in Nederland/Somewhere in the Netherlands (1940). Source: Eye (YouTube).

This is a post for Postcard Friendship Friday, hosted by Beth at the blog The Best Hearts are Crunchy. You can visit her by clicking on the button below.


Sources: A.J.C.M. Gabriëls (Huygens ING – Dutch), Chip Douglas (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Beth Niquette said...

Oh! I'm so envious! You are going to a silent film festival...How wonderful. And to have family from far away staying with you must have been such a lovely thing. Family is the best of all things, I think--and Friends.

Thank you for posting! I can hardly wait to see what you will post next. I had never heard of this actress before. You keep these amazing people alive with your posts about their lives, times and accomplishments.

Have a great week yourself, my Friend, and Happy Postcard Friendship Friday! :D