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26 September 2016

Louis Bouwmeester

Every year in early autumn, the Netherlands Film Festival (NFF) takes place. For ten days, the city of Utrecht is the cinema capital of the Netherlands, and we join the fun with our own Unofficial Dutch Film Star Postcards Festival (UDFSPF). Dutch stage and film actor Louis Bouwmeester (1842-1925) is often seen as ‘the greatest actor of the Netherlands’ ever. He was born in a dynasty of traveling actors and some of his 12 children would become well known actors too. His career span 65 years, and included several silent films.

Louis Bouwmeester as Shylock
Dutch postcard by N.J. Boon, Amsterdam. Photo: Louis Bouwmeester as Shylock in the play The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

Louis Bouwmeester
Dutch postcard from 1910 showing Louis Bouwmeester as Shylock.

Passionate


Louis Frederik Johannes Bouwmeester was born in Middelharnis in 1842. His parents were the traveling actors Louis Rosenfeldt and Louisa Bouwmeester. He had three siblings and his youngest sister became the famous actress Theo Mann-Bouwmeester.

Louis started his stage career as a young boy and he would continue to play till he was 82. He made his start in popular melodramas, but in 1880 he was engaged by the prestigious theatre company Het Nederlandsch Tooneel (The Dutch Stage). There he became famous for his passionate and fiery roles in classic tragedies and comedies by William Shakespeare, Molière, Sophocles and Joost van den Vondel.

Bouwmeester caused a sensation in 1880 with his Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Recordedly, his Shylock was a rendering of remarkable originality and great tragic force. In the following forty years he would play this part over two thousand times.

The role established his fame throughout Europe. He played Shylock at the Comédie Francaise in Paris, in the Royal Theatre Berlin (1911), the Burgtheater in Vienna (1921) and in the Duke of York’s Theatre in London (1920).

The Times wrote in 1920 that Bouwmeester “speaking his native language, roused his English auditors to the highest pitch of excitement and enthusiasm.”

Louis Bouwmeester
Dutch postcard by Uitg. N.J. Boon, Amsterdam. Sent by mail in 1901. Photo: publicity still for the stage play Gier-Wally (Die Geier-Wally/The Vulture Maiden, 1885) by Wilhelmina von Hillern.

Louis Bouwmeester as Herod(es)
Dutch postcard by Ed. N.J. Boon, Amsterdam. The card seems dated as 14 December 1901. Louis Bouwmeester as Herod. It was on 19 December 1901 that Bouwmeester first performed Herod, a part created in 1900 by Herbert Beerbohm Tree on basis of a text by Stephan Phillips. Bouwmeester did so at his regular stage company Nederlandsch Tooneel, during a special night to remember the 40 years of his stage career.

Car Accident


Strikingly Louis Bouwmeester was the first major Dutch actor who worked for the cinema. In 1909 he made his film debut in De Greep/The Grip (Leon Boedels, 1909) based on La griffe by Jean Sartène, produced by Filmfabriek F.A. Nöggerath.

Between 1909 and 1924 he acted in several more silent films, including the Dutch-French coproduction Het vervloekte Geld/L'or qui brule/Arson at Sea (Alfred Machin, 1911-1912), Koning Oedipus/Oedipus (Leon Boedels, 1912), Fatum (Theo Frenkel, 1915) with Henriëtte Davids, De duivel in Amsterdam/The Devil in Amsterdam (Theo Frenkel, 1918) with Eduard Verkade, and Pro Domo (Theo Frenkel, 1918).

In Pro Domo, his sister Theo Mann-Bouwmeester appeared as his wife and their grand-niece Lily Bouwmeester played their daughter.

His last film part was as a circus director in Cirque Hollandais/Circus Hollandais (Theo Frenkel, 1924) with a young Johan Heesters in a supporting part. Bouwmeester was already more than 80 years old, when he played this role.

Sadly only fragments of his feature films have survived. He often performed live in cinemas before the screenings.

Bouwmeester died in Amsterdam in 1925 after a car accident. In 1955 the Louis d’Or, the award for the best male stage performance in The Netherlands was named after him. Among his many children of his six marriages and several extra-marital relationships are the actresses Tilly Perin-Bouwmeester and Wiesje Bouwmeester. Actor Henri de Vries was his nephew and the film actresses Dolly Bouwmeester and Lily Bouwmeester were grand-nieces.

Louis Bouwmeester
Modern Dutch postcard. Louis Bouwmeester as Jacques Frochard in the stage play De Twee Weezen (Les Deux Orphelines/The Two Orphans) by Adolph D'Ennery and Eugene Cormon, 1875. Photo: Albert Greiner.

Louis Bouwmeester
Modern Dutch postcard by Witcard, Amsterdam. Photo: collection Nederlands Theater Instituut, Amsterdam. Publicity still for the stage tragedy Narciss (Narziss/Narcisse, 1875) by Albert Emil Brachvogel.

Louis Bouwmeester
Dutch postcard in the series Hollandsche Kunstenaars (Dutch Artists) by Nederlandsche Uitgevers-Mij, Den Haag, 1920, Series I. Photo: Frits Geveke.

Sources: Simon Koster (De Bouwmeesters - Dutch), H.H.J. de Leeuwe (Historici.nl - Dutch), Film in NL (Eye - Dutch), Een leven lang theater (Dutch), Wikipedia (Dutch) and IMDb.

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